A suicide attack Thursday on a bus in Rawalpindi was the first that
singled out workers of Pakistan’s prized nuclear labs, military
analysts and prominent national newspapers said, raising new questions
about the government’s ability to withstand increasingly bold assaults
by the Taliban against the country’s military complex.
attack comes as Pakistan’s army is fighting the Taliban on several
fronts and is about to begin an even more ambitious campaign in the
insurgents’ heartland in Waziristan.
Government officials have
said that the attack hit a bus carrying workers from a nonnuclear
military plant, but military analysts said they believed that was an
effort to avoid the embarrassment of admitting that a vehicle connected
with the nuclear program had been hit.
The Taliban and Al Qaeda
have announced that their goal is to topple the government and gain
control of its nuclear arsenal. Singling out nuclear workers, even
though they were miles outside the weapons lab, military analysts say,
carries heavy symbolism in a nation that believes its ultimate strength
lies in its nuclear capability. It also suggested a worrisome level of
“It showed that their intelligence is current,”
said Talat Masood, a retired general and a military analyst. “It was a
deliberate strike. They are trying to give a hint that they can strike
the personnel who are working for the nuclear facilities.”
attack killed the suicide bomber, who rammed the bus with his
motorcycle, and wounded 30 workers, the Rawalpindi police said.
Military analysts said the workers were from the Kahuta Research
Laboratories, where weapons-grade uranium is produced. No high-level
official or scientist was on board.
The lab was once run by Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear program and one of the most successful nuclear proliferators in history.
United States has spent almost $100 million in training Pakistani
security personnel how to make the country’s nuclear warheads safe and
how to store them separately from the missiles and trigger devices. But
in the last year, officials in Washington have expressed growing alarm
about the nation’s nuclear laboratories.
Immediately after the
attack, the police said the bus, which was idling at a busy
intersection when it was struck, was carrying workers returning home
from the nuclear lab. But since then, government officials have said
that the bus belonged to a military engineering lab in Taxila.
official at the complex, who spoke on the condition of anonymity,
denied that. And, in another indication that the wounded were employees
of the nuclear program, officials at the scene had said some of them
would be treated at a hospital run by the nuclear labs.
On Saturday, The Nation
— a conservative English-language daily newspaper — expressed fears
about the government’s ability to handle its increasing security
“The militants have now started attacking the very
basis of the country’s conventional as well as nuclear defense,” the
newspaper’s editorial stated. “The fact that the employees of one of
the major nuclear facilities are not provided proper security is a
serious comment on the working of our law enforcement apparatus.”Police
officials speaking soon after the attack said it did not necessarily
suggest a serious security breach because a bus moving through
congested city streets made an easy target.
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