Pakistan government on Wednesday dismissed as "baseless and ridiculous" reports that a US Special Forces squad is on standby to "seize or disable" this country's nuclear weapons in the event of the collapse of the administration after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.
"We know how to defend our nuclear assets," Foreign Office spokesman Mohammad Sadiq was quoted as saying by the state-run APP news agency.
He was reacting to a report in British newspaper The Herald, which quoted military sources as saying that a US Special Forces squad and volunteer scientists from the Nuclear Emergency Search Team had orders to take control of Pakistan's estimated 60 nuclear warheads dispersed around six to 10 high-security military bases to prevent them falling into the hands of "Islamic extremists".
The report also said some of the US forces were already in neighbouring Afghanistan to "seize or disable" Pakistan's nuclear weapons in the event of the collapse of the administration following the killing of Bhutto.
Sadiq rejected the report as "baseless and ridiculous", saying Pakistan has an effective command and control system.
"People circulating such sinister stories are aiming at further upsetting the people of Pakistan, who are still in a state of shock after the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in a dastardly attack on December 27."
A US embassy official, requesting not to be named, too said, "any such action would be contrary to our long standing military and diplomatic cooperation with Pakistan".
Over the past few weeks, Pakistan has persistently rejected concerns expressed by Western nations about the safety of its nuclear arsenal, saying it has an established command and control system.
Meanwhile, the PPP has initiated efforts to remove legal complications hampering a probe by the UN probe into Bhutto's assassination, including the lack of a formal endorsement from the Pakistan government.
The PPP has formed a committee for this purpose that consisting of top lawyers Latif Khosa, Farooq H Naek and Begum Abida Hussain. Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) office-bearers Asma Jahangir and Hina Jillani are also separately attempting to press the UN to conduct a probe.
"Yes, there are legal complications and the request for the commission needs the government's endorsement for which we are trying to find a solution," Jillani said.
"There is also a need for endorsement and full support of at least one UN Security Council member and general support of other members so that the resolution is not vetoed."
She said the UN Secretary General could also be directly requested to help in the setting up of a commission to carry out the probe. She said the difficulties faced by the UN Commission that is probing Hariri's assassination would be analysed to ensure the success of any probe into Bhutto's killing.
PPP leader Latif Khosa said the party has started writing to embassies of different countries for their support for a probe by the UN. He said the PPP committee would prepare a draft of its case soon and it would then be sent to PPP co-chairman Zardari for his approval.