Obama ‘gravely concerned’ over Pakistan situation (Lead)

Washington, April 30 (Inditop) President Barack Obama says he is gravely concerned about the situation in Pakistan, but is confident the US can make sure that Islamabad’s nuclear arsenal is secure in the face of an advancing Taliban.

“I’m confident that we can make sure that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is secure, primarily, initially, because the Pakistani army, I think, recognises the hazards of those weapons falling into the wrong hands,” he said Wednesday during a prime time news conference on his 100th day in office.

“We’ve got strong military-to-military consultation and cooperation,” he said when asked if he could reassure the American people that, if necessary, US could secure Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and keep it from getting into the Taliban’s hands, or worst-case scenario, even Al Qaeda’s hands.

But the president said he was “gravely concerned about the situation in Pakistan, not because I think that they’re immediately going to be overrun and the Taliban would take over in Pakistan.”

He was “more concerned that the civilian government there right now is very fragile and don’t seem to have the capacity to deliver basic services…And so as a consequence, it is very difficult for them to gain the support and the loyalty of their people.”

“So we need to help Pakistan help Pakistanis,” said Obama whose administration is planning to give Islamabad an annual non- military aid package of $1.5 billion for the next five years.

Earlier, during a town hall meeting in Arnold, Montana Wednesday, Obama said Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan and Pakistan pose “the single most direct threat” to US national security interests.

However, his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sang a slightly different tune about Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

Washington, she told a TV channel last week, was “pushing so hard for the Pakistanis to come together around a strategy to take their country back” for fear that Islamabad’s nuclear arsenal may fall into the hands of Taliban and Al Qaeda if the government there is toppled in a worst case scenario.

“That’s an issue that we have very adamant assurances about from the Pakistani military and government,” she said in an in interview with Fox News when asked how confident she was in the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

The transcript of the interview in Baghdad last week was released by the State Department here Wednesday.

The US, Clinton said has done a lot of work over the years, evaluating that, “and I think the current thinking of our government is that it is safe, but that’s given the current configuration of power in Pakistan.”

One of US concerns which it had raised with the Pakistani government and military, she said, “is that if the worst, the unthinkable, were to happen, and this advancing Taliban, encouraged and supported by Al Qaeda and other extremists, were to essentially topple the government for failure to beat them back, then they would have the keys to the nuclear arsenal of Pakistan.”

“And we can’t even contemplate that. We cannot let this go on any further, which is why we’re pushing so hard for the Pakistanis to come together around a strategy to take their country back,” Clinton said.