U.S. military worried about Pakistan nuclear weapons

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military is worried about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons after President Pervez Musharraf imposed emergency rule, prompting protests and arrests, a senior Pentagon general said on Wednesday.

Asked if the U.S. military was concerned about the security of those weapons, Lt. Gen. Carter Ham, director of operations for the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said: “Certainly.”

“Any time there is a nation that has nuclear weapons that has experienced a situation such as Pakistan is at present, that is a primary concern,” Ham told reporters

“However, we’ll watch that quite closely and I think that’s probably all I can say about that at this point,” he said.

Pakistan carried out its first nuclear test in 1998 and experts estimate it has material for as many as 90 nuclear weapons.

Hundreds of lawyers and political opponents have been detained during clashes with police in Pakistan after Musharraf declared a state of emergency and suspended the constitution on Saturday.

Washington considers Pakistan a key ally in the U.S.-declared war against terrorism. It is also an important partner for the U.S. military as it fights against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

More than half of the supplies sent to troops in Afghanistan pass through or over Pakistan, Ham said.

The United States is reviewing all U.S. aid to Pakistan, which has totaled $10 billion since the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Pakistan receives about $80 million a month from the United States for counter-terrorism efforts, which include manning posts along the Afghan border meant to help stem the flow of Taliban and al Qaeda fighters.

With that aid review ongoing, Ham said the military needs to ensure both the flow of supplies through Pakistan to U.S. troops and Pakistan’s continued cooperation along the border.

“From an operational standpoint, those are the two most significant concerns,” he said when asked about the U.S. review of aid.

Editing by David Storey