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Next attack on US will originate in Pakistan: US panel

By Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC
December 03, 2008 12:19 IST
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'Were one to map terrorism and weapons of mass destruction today, all roads would intersect in Pakistan,' a report by a high-powered bipartisan commission that was mandated by the United States Congress, that nation's parliament, has said.

The report titled, World at Risk, The Report of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, said Pakistan 'has nuclear weapons and a history of unstable governments, and parts of its territory are currently a safe haven for Al Qaeda and other terrorists.'

'Moreover, given Pakistan's tense relationship with India, its buildup of nuclear weapons is exacerbating the prospect of a dangerous nuclear arms race in South Asia that could lead to a nuclear conflict,' the report warned.

The Commission was chartered by the US Congress to assess America's 'progress in preventing weapons of mass destruction proliferation and terrorism, and to provide the next President and Congress with concrete, actionable recommendations that can serve as their road-map to a safer homeland and world.'

The Commission was chaired by former US Senator Bob Graham with another erstwhile US Senator Jim Talent, serving as vice-chairman, and included Wendy Sherman, a former senior Clinton administration official who is now the chair of the foreign policy transition team of the incoming Obama administration and Indian American Rahul 'Richard' Verma, a partner at the international law firm of Steptoe & Johnson, who was until recently the senior national security adviser to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

The report, which had one whole chapter on Pakistan, titled, Pakistan: The Intersection of Nuclear Weapons and Terrorism, acknowledged that 'Pakistan is an ally, but there is a grave danger, it could also be an unwitting source of a terrorist attack on the United States, possibly with weapons of mass destruction.'

The members of the Commission said that it had 'singled out Pakistan for special attention in this report, as we believe it poses a serious challenge to America's short-term and medium-term national security interests. Indeed, many government officials and outside experts believe that the next terrorist attack against the United States is likely to originate from within the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in Pakistan.'

'In terms of the next of proliferation and terrorism, Pakistan must top the list of priorities for the next President and Congress,' it said.

The Commission recommended that 'the next President and Congress should implement a comprehensive policy toward Pakistan that works with Pakistan and other countries to (1)eliminate terrorist safe havens through military, economic and diplomatic means; (2) secure nuclear and biological materials in Pakistan;(3)counter and defeat extremist ideology; and (4) constrain a nascent nuclear arms race in Asia.'

In its executive summary, the Commission said, 'The intent of this report is neither to frighten nor to reassure the American people about the current state of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. It is to underscore that the US government has yet to fully adapt to these circumstances, and to convey the sobering reality that the risks are growing faster than out multilayered defences.'

'Our margin of safety is shrinking, not growing,' it warned.

The Commission said it believed 'that unless the world community acts decisively and with great urgency, it is more than likely than not that a weapon of mass destruction will be used in a terrorist attack somewhere in the world by the end of 2013.'

'The Commission further believes that terrorists are more likely to be able to obtain and use a biological weapon than a nuclear weapon,' the report said, and added, 'The Commission believes the US government needs to move more aggressively to limit the proliferation of biological weapons and reduce the prospect of a bio-terror attack.'

The report, which said the Commission traveled from the Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico to London to Vienna and Moscow were 'en route to Pakistan, a country of particular interest to this Commission and to the United States, only to hear that the bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad had occurred.'

A highly-placed source told that "the team was really shaken by the experience in Pakistan," because the Commission "were supposed to check into the Marriott and missed that by just a few hours."

"And, Pakistan, kind of became the central theme of the report in that here's a place with the greatest proliferation and terrorism problems on the planet -- and that's what the mandate of the Commission was all about."

According to the source, "The bombing at the Marriott (in Islamabad) and then the attack in Mumbai last week are kind of the book-ends and re-emphasises just the nature of Pakistan being the centre of many of the threats and the kind of immediate attention that is required to defuse this threat."

"And, so it will have to be very much the top priority for the incoming Obama administration in terms of foreign policy. Absolutely," the source said.

Today, the Commission will brief Vice President-elect Joe Biden on their findings at a meeting in Washington, DC. Biden will be joined by Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, who was nominated by President-elect Barack Obama to be his Secretary of Homeland Security.

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC