RAWALPINDI, Pakistan (CNN) -- Pakistani security officials insisted Saturday there was no danger of the country's nuclear arsenal falling into the hands of Islamic extremists.
Soldiers carry their weapons as they patrol a street in Swat, where Pakistani forces have battled militants.
Lt. Gen. Khalid Kidwai, head of the army's strategic plans division, told a news conference Saturday that the weapons were protected by a "fool-proof" security system.
Kidwai said there are 10,000 troops assigned to guard the country's nuclear facilities. Among their ranks are special agents who report directly to the country's intelligence services, he said.
Pakistan is believed to have between 30 and 40 nuclear warheads, according to the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency. Commentators and politicians in the West have long harbored concerns that these could be stolen by Islamic militants.
Recent political turmoil in the country, including the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in late December, and President Pervez Musharraf's declaration of a state of emergency in November, has stoked those fears.
IAEA chief Mohamed el Baradei told the Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat earlier this month that Pakistan's "many internal problems" put the country's nuclear arms at much greater risk.
In spite of international concerns, the U.S. government has said it believes Pakistan's assurances that its nuclear material will not get into the wrong hands.
Kidwai told a special briefing of Western journalists held in Rawalpindi -- the garrison town where Bhutto was killed last month -- he wanted to "separate fact from fiction" on the matter of Pakistan's nuclear security.
He said multiple mechanisms existed to prevent the theft or loss of nuclear material.
He said that Pakistani military sites were equipped with security cameras; biometrics and access control; bullet-proof vehicles, high security walls; and quick reaction forces.
Around 2,000 scientists working with sensitive materials and information at the sites had to undergo extensive background checks before being given security clearances, he added.
"In Pakistan we have been extremely conscious of our responsibilities and obligations in this regard and we have instituted command and control structures and security measures in a manner so as to make these fool proof," Kidwai said.
He said material from the country's civilian nuclear facilities was protected by tight export controls, adding that none of the 800 cases of illicit trafficking of nuclear materials reported to the IAEA last year had been traced to Pakistan.
During the briefing, Kidwai outlined three possible scenarios that could bring Islamic extremists to power, but said that all were highly unlikely:
• Through democratic elections, Kidwai said the presence of moderate political parties in mainstream politics made this unlikely.
• By violent takeover following a breakdown in law and order; the general said none of the recent insurgent activity had been directed at the military or nuclear installations.
• A military coup; he said that since most of the military leadership was moderate, middle class and professionally trained, this was not likely. E-mail to a friend
CNN's Zein Basravi, Jennifer Eccleston and Thomas Evans in Rawalpindi contributed to this report.
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