WASHINGTON: The United States expressed concern on Friday over the security of Pakistan’s tactical nuclear weapons. The statement followed the US announcement about its intention to sell F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan.

At a State Department news briefing, Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner said that tensions between India and Pakistan were equally worrying and urged the two nations to continue their dialogue to alleviate some of those tensions.

“We’re concerned both about the security of those nuclear weapons, and that’s been a common refrain in our discussions with Pakistan,” said Mr Toner while responding to a question about the alleged increase in Pakistan’s tactical nuclear weapons.

“But we’re also concerned, clearly, about tensions between India and Pakistan in the region, and we want to see a dialogue between those two countries, clearly, to help alleviate some of those tensions,” he said.

Earlier this week, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry dismissed claims that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal programme was the world’s fastest growing, and repeated Islamabad’s demand for induction into a club of nuclear trading nations.

The foreign secretary also said that the Nuclear Suppliers Group’s “discriminatory waiver” to India and the Indo-US nuclear deal had allowed New Delhi to increase its fissile material and disturb the strategic stability in South Asia.

A recent joint study by the Carnegie and Stimson research organisations estimates that Pakistan has the capability to produce 20 nuclear warheads annually while India appears to be producing about five warheads.

“Pakistan only goes for credible minimum deterrence. Our nuclear deterrence is for self-defence. It is not status driven,” he said.

He also dismissed safety and security concerns about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, saying the United States “in unambiguous terms” has appreciated the safety measures Islamabad has taken over the past 15 years to prevent proliferation.

The US Defence Intelligence Agency director, Lt Gen Vincent Stewart, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this week that Pakistan continued to take steps to improve nuclear security and was aware of the threat presented by extremists to its programme.

But the general also said that Islamabad’s nuclear stockpile continued to grow.

Published in Dawn, February 14th, 2016

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