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ISLAMABAD, April 26 (Reuters) - Pakistan called on Taliban fighters to lay down their arms after security forces launched an offensive on Sunday to stop their advance in a troubled northwestern region.
"These extremists have no other option but to lay down arms because the government is serious in flushing them out," interior ministry chief Rehman Malik told Reuters.
The military operation in the North West Frontier Province came amid growing worries in the United States about the stability of its nuclear-armed ally after militants began extending their influence.
"We can't even contemplate that," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in an interview with Fox News in Baghdad.
"We cannot ... let this go on any further. Which is why we're pushing so hard for the Pakistanis to come together around a strategy to take their country back."
A Brief History of Pakistan's Nuclear Program
Pakistan's nuclear weapons program was established in 1972 by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who founded the program while he was Minister for Fuel, Power and Natural Resources, and later became President and Prime Minister. Shortly after the loss of East Pakistan in the 1971 war with India, Bhutto initiated the program with a meeting of physicists and engineers at Multan in January 1972.
India's 1974 testing of a nuclear "device" gave Pakistan's nuclear program new momentum. Through the late 1970s, Pakistan's program acquired sensitive uranium enrichment technology and expertise. The 1975 arrival of Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan considerably advanced these efforts. Dr. Khan is a German-trained metallurgist who brought with him knowledge of gas centrifuge technologies that he had acquired through his position at the classified URENCO uranium enrichment plant in the Netherlands. Dr. Khan also reportedly brought with him stolen uranium enrichment technologies from Europe. He was put in charge of building, equipping and operating Pakistan's Kahuta facility, which was established in 1976. Under Khan's direction, Pakistan employed an extensive clandestine network in order to obtain the necessary materials and technology for its developing uranium enrichment capabilities.
In 1985, Pakistan crossed the threshold of weapons-grade uranium production, and by 1986 it is thought to have produced enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon. Pakistan continued advancing its uranium enrichment program, and according to Pakistani sources, the nation acquired the ability to carry out a nuclear explosion in 1987.