President Pervez Musharraf Friday formally assumed control of Pakistan's National Command Authority (NCA), responsible for the security of the country's nuclear arsenal, amid media reports of US concerns about its vulnerability to terrorist subversion.
The NCA was established in Feb 2002 but its functions and command were only legally defined Thursday through a presidential order from Musharraf, whose powers have diminished since he retired as army chief last month, requiring new rules to ensure his control over the country's estimated 90 nuclear warheads.
The authority, which has the country's prime minister as deputy chairperson, has "complete command and control over research, development, production and use of nuclear and space technologies and other related applications in various fields," the presidential order said. Musharraf also chaired an NCA meeting Friday morning.
The order followed recent media reports that Washington was drafting contingency plans to seize Pakistan's nuclear arsenal if an ongoing political crisis in the country spun out of control.
Pakistan's military warned Tuesday that it would resist any international attempt to seize its nuclear arsenal by force.
"Pakistan's nuclear assets are very safe and secure, and there is a very strong security system in place which can ward off all threats, internal as well as external," a statement released by General Tariq Majeed, chairman of Pakistan's joint chiefs of staff, said.
However, Pakistan's record of nuclear management has been cloudy. It was revealed in 2004 that the father of its nuclear programme, Abdul Qadir Khan, had secretly sold restricted technology to North Korea, Iran and Libya.
Khan was pardoned by Musharraf after publicly confessing to the charges and apologizing to the nation. The scientist has since been held under house arrest in Islamabad.