Islamabad, Nov.20 : The ISI has moved the founder of the powerful Tehrik-i-Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Mohammedi (Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Laws), Maualana Sufi Muhammed, from jail to a hospital.
Sufi Muhammed, the father-in-law of Mullah Fazlullah, has opposed the latter's attempts to impose sharia law across Pakistan and is seen as the best hope of cooling things down in the Swat Valley.
Washington, however, wants Mullah Fazlullah's network, a precious Taliban asset in Pakistan, eliminated altogether as it feeds the Taliban struggle in Afghanistan with money, men and resources.
The flashpoint has moved from the North Waziristan and South Waziristan tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan to the Swat Valley in North-West Frontier Province, where the army has mobilized tanks, artillery and an additional division (up to 20,000 soldiers).
The director general of military operations of the armed forces announced at the weekend that a massive operation could be begin any time.
The Pakistani Taliban in adjacent tribal areas has made it clear they will not stay silent.
The army has so far failed in a month-long operation to wrest the Swat Valley from militants loyal to Mullah Fazlullah, who now controls the majority of districts after driving out the Pakistani administration and police.
Meanwhile, the West continues to express fears about the security of Pakistan's nuclear assets.
With Islamabad having a history of selling nuclear secrets, the security of its nuclear arsenal is a concern for politicians from New Delhi to Tel Aviv, to Washington.
These world capitals may well be dusting off "contingency plans" to deal with the unthinkable: the disintegration of Pakistan and weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of extremists.
"US special forces would go in and secure them," said Kamran Bokhari, head of the Middle East analysis at Strategic Forecasting, a United States-based consultancy.
With extensive US assistance, Pakistan has developed a sophisticated system for protecting the stockpile of some 200 nuclear weapons. There are layers of technical, physical and personnel security. But no system is absolutely secure.
"Make no mistake. This is a very dangerous situation," John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the United Nations, said in a recent television interview.
"If the [Pakistan] military comes unstuck, if it divides, then the technical fixes won't protect those weapons."
The Pentagon has been trying desperately to sound reassuring since Pakistan was placed under a state of emergency on November 3.
Yesterday Geoff Morrell, a spokesman for the US defence department said: "At this point, we have no concerns. We believe that they [the bombs] are under the appropriate control."
When Pakistan developed its nuclear arsenal, it put the weapons in the northwest of the country, away from traditional enemy, India. Those sites now lie on the doorstep of al-Qaeda and Taleban militants who are threatening to overrun the country's northwest.
"We should be concerned, but not alarmist," said Professor Shaun Gregory, the director of the Pakistan Security Research Unit at Bradford University.
If Washington decided that Pakistan was imploding or it needed to act immediately, its most extreme option would be precision air strikes to take out the country's nuclear capability.
Israel and India are likely to have contingencies to destroy the half-dozen key sites in the same way. (ANI)
© 2007 ANI