NATIONAL

Pak. nukes in safe hands: Jamali

ISLAMABAD Dec. 4. The Pakistan Prime Minister, Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, has asserted that Islamabad's nuclear weapons are in ``safe hands'' and that there is no merit in the concerns expressed in certain quarters over the safety of the nuclear assets.

Mr. Jamali reassured the international community about the security of the nuclear assets during an interaction with a group of Pakistani journalists here today. He was responding to the Russian President, Vladamir Putin's statement in his interview to The Hindu and the NDTV at his Kremlin residence last week.

Islamabad is agitated over Mr. Putin's remarks, made first at a news conference on November 22 in St. Petersburg, and subsequently to the Indian media. Three days after his comments at St. Petersburg, Pakistan summoned the Russian Ambassador in Islamabad and registered its protest. The Pakistan Ambassador in Russia followed it up with the Russian Foreign Office in Moscow.

Two days before Mr. Putin's visit to India, the Pakistan Foreign Office came out with an angry reaction to the concern expressed by him over the possibility of Pakistan's nuclear weapons falling into the hands of ``bandits and terrorists.'' Not only did Islamabad strongly deny that its nuclear weapons would fall in "wrong hands" but went a step further and raised serious questions about the safety of nuclear weapons in Russia and some of the Central Asian Republics that were part of the erstwhile Soviet Union.

The Foreign Office said that Russia was engaged in $ multi-billion programme with the U.S. to safeguard its assets and materials and also to subsidise scientists so that they would not be ``tempted'' to work abroad. It alleged that there were reports of over 200 cases of attempted smuggling of nuclear material out of Russia while serious doubts had been expressed about the whereabouts of its suitcase bombs.

In his comments, however, Mr. Jamali was matter-of-fact and did not repeat the charges made by the Foreign Office. "Pakistan's nuclear assets are in safe hands. Pakistan is a positive thinking country and there is no need for worry about the country's nuclear programme.''

It appears that Pakistan has decided not to harp too much on the subject as the first meeting of Pakistan-Russia Joint Working Group on countering terrorism concluded its deliberations on Tuesday. It was clearly overshadowed by Mr. Putin's comments.

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