French and American diplomats warn of looming danger
of Islamist extremists seizing Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal

French envoy warns on Pakistan nukes

By Staff Writers

File image courtesy AFP.
File image courtesy AFP.

France's special envoy to Pakistan painted a grim picture Thursday of a country collapsing under pressure from Islamist rebels which could one day seize control of its nuclear arsenal.

"Today the Taliban are making progress not just in Afghanistan but in the Pakistani interior itself, and at the end of this road there's a stock of nuclear weapons," Pierre Lellouche told Europe 1 radio.

Lellouche is President Nicolas Sarkozy's representative dealing with the conflicts in Afghanistan, where French forces form part of a NATO force, and in Pakistan, where the government is struggling to deal with the Taliban.

"They are nibbling away and fear is settling into people's hearts," he said, describing the advance of Taliban guerrillas into districts just north of the Pakistani capital Islamabad, which Lellouche visited recently.

"We shouldn't think of columns of Taliban descending on the capital. It's more complicated than that. We are seeing the rampant Talibanisation of areas close to the capital, a mental Talibanisation," he warned.

"They are closing schools and sports halls in Islamabad itself, even those used by foreign diplomats," he said, adding that in Taliban areas "women are whipped in the streets. There has been violence and even deaths."

Nuclear-armed Pakistan insists there is no danger of its arsenal falling into the hands of the militants, but the French warning reflects concern in other Western capitals, including Washington.

Lellouche will discuss the crisis on Monday with his US equivalent Richard Holbrooke and the French and US foreign ministers Bernard Kouchner and Hillary Clinton in New York during a meeting of the UN Security Council.

7 May 2009 — Return to cover.