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U.S. Commission Warns Terrorists Could Obtain WMD, Points To Pakistan

A congressionally mandated bipartisan U.S. commission says that only decisive action by the international community can save the world from terrorists using weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the near future.

According to the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, a biological or nuclear attack somewhere in the world is possible within the next five years.

"It is more likely than not that a weapon of mass destruction will be used someplace in the world prior to the end of year 2013," the commission's chairman, former Senator Bob Graham, told journalists in Washington on December 3. "We also found that it was more likely that that weapon would be biological than nuclear."

The commission's report, titled "World At Risk," urges the incoming U.S. administration to prevent Iran -- which Washington suspects of seeking nuclear weapons -- from making further progress in its nuclear program.

It urges the same regarding North Korea, which is suspected of keeping several nuclear weapons even as Pyongyang negotiates with the United States, Russia, and regional powers to dismantle its nuclear program in exchange for aid and other incentives.

Pakistani WMD Threat

But the report also focuses on an established nuclear power that is an ally of the United States. That is Pakistan.

"Were one to map terrorism and the weapons of mass destruction today, all roads would intersect in Pakistan," the report says.

The commission briefed U.S. President George W. Bush and Vice President-elect Joe Biden, as well as senior congressional leaders, about the report.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told journalists that she sees no reason to disagree with the report's assessment. She added that preventing an attack on the United States will always be a top priority.

"Our highest priority is to prevent an attack on American citizens, to prevent weapons of mass destruction from being used here in our country and around the world," she said. "That's why we have the proliferation initiatives that we have -- the nonproliferation initiatives that we have been working on with many other countries."

Experts in Pakistan question the commission's assessment that terrorists might be able to get their hands on weapons of mass destruction there.

And Rasul Bakhsh Rais, the head of social sciences at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, describes some of the commission's conclusions as "far-fetched."

"There has been the talk of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of the terrorists for a very long time. It's not for the first time that we have heard anybody say this. And also its not the first time that anybody has pointed fingers at Pakistan's nuclear program," Rais says.

"I don't think it is a very realistic assessment. It is based on fear and apprehension," he adds. "And I don't think that they have any grounds because Pakistan's nuclear program is pretty much guarded."

The commission recommends that the next U.S. president work with Pakistan and other countries to "eliminate terrorist safe havens through military, economic, and diplomatic means."

The commission also advises the incoming Obama administration to help Pakistan in securing nuclear and biological materials and to contain a nascent nuclear arms race in South Asia.
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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, a journalist for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, specializes in the coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan.