What great timing. On Aug. 16, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta spoke to reporters at the Pentagon about a new report from the Congressional Research Service entitled "Pakistan's Nuclear Weapons: Proliferation and Security Issues" (online as a PDF at the Federation of American Scientists). Panetta said: "The great danger we've always feared is that if terrorism is not controlled in their country then those nuclear weapons could fall into the wrong hands." That same day, militants from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan attacked Minhas Air Force Base near Kamra, outside Islamabad—a site where aviation research takes place, and is believed to be closely linked to Pakistan's nuclear program. Nine attackers and one guard were killed, a senior officer injured, and a surveillance plane damaged. It was the fourth and most audacious attack on the base. Pakistan Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan claimed responsibility, saying it was revenge for the death of leader Baitullah Mehsud in a US drone strike in 2009, and the commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden last year.
Regional security has been seen as the biggest challenge for the planned trans-Afghan gas pipeline—officially the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) project, which would pass the war-torn Afghan provinces of Herat and Kandahar as well as Pakistan's restive Baluchistan province. But recent reports of a rival pipeline project being negotiated between China, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan may pose a more fundamental threat to the TAPI. On June 6-8, on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperations Organization summit in Beijing, Afghan President Hamid Karzai met with Chinese President Hu Jintao and China National Petroleum Corporation's (CNPC) head Jiang Jiemin to discuss the proposal. CNPC offered to conduct a technical and economic feasibility study for the proposed project on Afghan and Tajik territories. That the route would avoid the conflicted Pashtun-dominated areas of southern Afghanistan, making the project more attractive for investors. India's Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses says the Chinese pipeline could undermine the TAPI "akin to the manner in which TAPI played spoiler to the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline project." (IDSA, July 31)