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Prior to a trip to Islamabad last week, Canadian Defence Minister Peter Mackay (L, pictured here with Pakistan Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar) had said that Pakistan's nuclear weapons were under threat from the Taliban.—AP
OTTAWA Security around Pakistan's nuclear weapons is 'credible' and the threat of them falling into the hands of terrorists or rogue army commanders is remote, says a Canadian military analysts' report.

The report obtained by the Canadian Press under access-to-information laws was made public Friday morning. The assessment, contained in a briefing note last year to the country's top military commander, contradicts recent warnings by Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay, who said Pakistan was the most dangerous country in the world.

The report noted that the weapons are disassembled in deep underground bunkers. The fission cores are removed and placed separately from the non-nuclear explosive detonators. In addition, the warheads are kept nowhere near the missiles and aircraft meant to deliver them.

'This arrangement reduces the likelihood of terrorist theft or 'detonation in place' of an assembled nuclear weapon,' said the document. 'It also minimizes the possibility of an accidental or unauthorized launch of a weapon.'

The document noted that since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the US, Pakistan had taken a number of steps to safeguard its arsenal of 50-60 nuclear warheads. 'Recent domestic instability in Pakistan and the possibility that it could intensify has renewed concern over the security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons,' said the briefing note, written in the aftermath of the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

'Though the threat posed by 'insiders' with access to nuclear materials cannot be ruled out, a range of measures implemented in recent years have reduced the likelihood of this threat. Command and control arrangements are credible and have centralized authority for the use of nuclear weapons in the hands of senior government officials and the military.'

Prior to a trip to Islamabad last week, MacKay had warned that advancing Taliban forces posed a grave threat. 'Let's not forget what's at stake, in that Pakistan has nuclear weapons. Who is in control of those nuclear weapons is of great concern to everyone, as it should be,' MacKay was quoted as saying in an interview here.

A spokesman for the defence minister noted that the analysis was a year old and that MacKay's comments were in the context of rising violence and instability in tribal areas along the Afghan border.

'The minister's concern is that he wants Pakistan to remain strong and that it can defend against the Islamist threat within its own border,' said communications director of Ministry of Defence Dan Dugas.

During his recent visit to Pakistan, MacKay also said that Canada was prepared to end its 11-year arms embargo on the sale of military technology to Pakistan - a statement that angered India, which said the high-tech weapons would in all likelihood be turned on them.

The comments also shocked the Foreign Affairs Department, which took the unusual step of publicly contradicting MacKay, who once was foreign minister. 'Canada's policy regarding military exports to Pakistan remains unchanged,' said Catherine Loubier, director of communications for Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon.

The bottom line 'There are no plans to lift restrictions on the arms sales ban with Pakistan.'

MacKay was visiting HMCS Winnipeg on anti-pirating operations in the Middle East and not available for comment.

The contradictions are baffling to the NDP's foreign affairs critic of left wing New Democratic Party (NDP), who called on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to rein in a minister who had overstepped his bounds.

'What is going on?' asked New Democrat MP Paul Dewar, who criticized MacKay the day before over the arms proposal.

He said southwest Asia is a tinder box ready to explode and the minister has succeeded over the last three weeks in alienating both Pakistan and India with ill-timed musings. 'What you are trying to do is get both groups together so that they're not at each other's throats,' Dewar said.

'You don't get people working together by ticking them off.'

Dewar said the recent incidents are even more troubling because MacKay also warned about a resurgent Russia and airspace incursions in the Arctic only to be contradicted by a leaked report that showed relations with Moscow have continued normally.

Dugas said the minister stands by his assessment of the Russian threat and that Canada is doing its duty within NORAD.

Meanwhile, Bob Rae, foreign affairs critic of main opposition Liberal party said the contradictions make Canada look foolish in the eyes of the international community. 'This is kind of thing that leads other countries to take Canada much less seriously.'