The United States has added eight Pakistani companies – seven domestic and an eighth one based in Singapore to a list of foreign entities that it presumes pose a significant risk to the American national security and policy interests by engaging in illegal nuclear trade.
A direct fallout of the move is that this could undermine Pakistan’s ambition of joining the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), an elite club of countries that can trade fissile materials and nuclear technologies.
It is also a counter to and a blow to China that has blocked India’s entry into the NSG, citing procedural objections and pushing Pakistan’s candidacy on a non-discriminatory basis.
The move forms a series of decisions by the Donald Trump administration aimed at putting a squeeze on Pakistan. It has blocked several million dollars worth of aid, both military and civil, besides what Pakistan claims are its dues in terms of the fees it charges for allowing the American military personnel sand equipment to pass through Pakistani territory into Afghanistan.
This is not the first time that Pakistan has faced sanctions. Through the 1990s several million dollars were blocked and arms sales, including the F-16 combat aircraft much-sought by Pakistan in the last quarter of last century were blocked. The aircraft never got sold to Pakistan.
While no official reaction has come from the Pakistani Foreign Office so far, the unofficial one is on the expected lines – America-bashing, feeling ‘betrayed’, turning to China hoping for support and succor and some extreme ones demanding that Pakistan ‘sanction’ American firms trading with Islamabad and blocking of American military movement into Afghanistan.
Pakistan has a record – which it vehemently denies without being believed by the world community – of nuclear proliferation, illegally and surreptitiously supplying designs and equipment got from China and North Korea to Iran, Libya of former dictator Gaddaffi and to the Taliban when they ruled in Afghanistan.
Pakistan remains one of the most likely sources of nuclear risk globally—through theft of Pakistani nuclear material, unauthorized use of weapons during conflict, or intentional use in war.
This stems from the large number of dangerous groups based in Pakistan, regional instability in its neighborhood, and the country’s increasing reliance on nuclear weapons rather than conventional military force for deterrence. The future of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program is the development of a larger arsenal with more types of delivery vehicles and an expanding role for nuclear arms in war fighting.
While not yet committed to a battlefield role for nuclear weapons, Pakistan is developing the constituent components necessary for such missions, giving it a battlefield capability that the country’s adversaries must account for in the event of crisis or conflict. In other words, even without fully developing a battlefield nuclear force, Pakistan has taken the steps necessary to create a battlefield “force in being” that can affect the decisions of other states, even at this nascent stage.
The list, prepared by the US Bureau of Industry and Security, made public March 26, declares that all eight companies are “reasonably believed to be invol¬ved, or to pose a significant risk of being or becoming involved, in activities contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States”.
In all, a total of 23 entities added to the list that was published in the US Federal Register. Besides Pakistani companies, the list includes 15 entities from South Sudan and one from Singapore.
All 23 entities now face stringent export control measures, which could prevent them from conducting international trade.
Among the seven Pakistani companies three are listed for “their involvement in the proliferation of unsafeguarded nuclear activities that are contrary to the national security and/or foreign policy interests of the United States”.
Two are accused of procuring supplies for nuclear-related entities already on the list and the remaining two are accused of acting as fronts for listed entities. An eighth Pakistani entity is based in Singapore.
The End-user Review Committee (ERC) of the US Department of Commerce determined that Mushko Logistics Pvt. Ltd., Singapore, and Mushko Electronics Pvt. Ltd., Pakistan, be added to the list on the grounds that these entities procured items for several Pakistani entities on the entity list.
The ERC determined that Solutions Engineering, Pakistan be added to the list based on its involvement in activities contrary to US national security and foreign policy interests. Specifically, the ERC determined that this entity has been involved in the procurement of US-origin items on behalf of nuclear-related entities in Pakistan that are already on the ERC list.
For the remaining five Pakistani entities, the ERC determined that three of the entities, Akhtar & Munir, Proficient Engineers and Pervaiz Commercial Trading Co. (PCTC), be added based on their involvement in the proliferation of unsafeguarded nuclear activities that are contrary to the national security and/or foreign policy interests of the United States. The ERC also determined that Marine Systems Pvt. Ltd. be added to the list for assisting Pakistani entities in circumventing US restrictions. The ERC also determined that Engineering and Commercial Services (ECS) be added to the list based on its involvement in supplying a Pakistani nuclear-related entity.
The impact of the American action against Pakistan – that China cannot really undo even it wishes to – is that companies dealing with the eight entities added to the ERC list could face strict licence conditions or licence denials. The licence requirements apply to any transaction in which items are to be exported, re-exported, or transferred to any of the persons or in which such persons act as purchaser, intermediate consignee, ultimate consignee, or end user.
In addition, no licence exceptions are available for exports, re-exports, or transfers to the entities being added to the list in this rule.
The list also includes several addresses of each of the seven Pakistani companies in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, indicating that a lot of work and consideration have gone into the decision.
Dawn newspaper said the move would also have “a negative impact on Pakistan’s efforts to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which was formed in response to the Indian nuclear test in May 1974. The group’s main objective was to prevent other nations from conducting nuclear tests.”
While the Indian application has been pending for long, Pakistan applied for the NSG membership only on May 19, 2016, after the United States and certain other Western nations actively supported India’s bid to join the group.
This China-sponsored “me-too” move has blocked India’s entry and to Pakistan’s glee, is one of the more recent irritants in India and China relationship.
China does not want India into NSG and on Pakistan’s behalf argues that NSG should adopt a non-discriminatory, criteria-based approach for inducting new members.
Pakistan claims that several countries, among them Saudi Arabia and Turkey, support the Pakistani ‘position’. But their role is mainly to obstruct India’s entry citing procedural issues in adding new members, which has delayed India’s inclusion. NSG requires a consensus among the member states for adding new countries to the club.
The fact remains that not just India, the Western world remains wary of Pakistan’s nuclear programme and the Chinese support to it. This is because despite claims, Pakistan’s use of nuclear for civil and military purposes gets blurred.
It also boasts of having a large nuclear weapons arsenal and boasts that it is larger and better than India’s.
The National Interests journal of January 31 2018 carries a study by Kyle Mizokami, a defense and national-security writer based in San Francisco says that Pakistan “could have over 100 nuclear weapons (And Could Kill Millions in a War).”
“One of the nine known states known to have nuclear weapons, Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and doctrine are continually evolving to match perceived threats. A nuclear power for decades, Pakistan is now attempting to construct a nuclear triad of its own, making its nuclear arsenal resilient and capable of devastating retaliatory strikes.
“Pakistan’s nuclear program goes back to the 1950s, during the early days of its rivalry with India. President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto famously said in 1965, “If India builds the bomb, we will eat grass or leaves, even go hungry, but we will get one of our own.”
“The program became a higher priority after the country’s 1971 defeat at the hands of India, which caused East Pakistan to break away and become Bangladesh. Experts believe the humiliating loss of territory, much more than reports that India was pursuing nuclear weapons, accelerated the Pakistani nuclear program. India tested its first bomb, codenamed “Smiling Buddha,” in May 1974, putting the subcontinent on the road to nuclearization.
“Pakistan began the process of accumulating the necessary fuel for nuclear weapons, enriched uranium and plutonium. The country was particularly helped by one A. Q. Khan, a metallurgist working in the West who returned to his home country in 1975 with centrifuge designs and business contacts necessary to begin the enrichment process. Pakistan’s program was assisted by European countries and a clandestine equipment-acquisition program designed to do an end run on nonproliferation efforts. Outside countries eventually dropped out as the true purpose of the program became clear, but the clandestine effort continued.
“Exactly when Pakistan had completed its first nuclear device is murky. Former president Benazir Bhutto, Zulfikar Bhutto’s daughter, claimed that her father told her the first device was ready by 1977. A member of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission said design of the bomb was completed in 1978 and the bomb was “cold tested”—stopping short of an actual explosion—in 1983.
“Benazir Bhutto later claimed that Pakistan’s bombs were stored disassembled until 1998, when India tested six bombs in a span of three days. Nearly three weeks later, Pakistan conducted a similar rapid-fire testing schedule, setting off five bombs in a single day and a sixth bomb three days later. The first device, estimated at twenty-five to thirty kilotons, may have been a boosted uranium device. The second was estimated at twelve kilotons, and the next three as sub-kiloton devices.
“The sixth and final device appears to have also been a twelve-kiloton bomb that was detonated at a different testing range; a U.S. Air Force “Constant Phoenix” nuclear-detection aircraft reportedly detected plutonium afterward. Since Pakistan had been working on a uranium bomb and North Korea—which shared or purchased research with Pakistan through the A. Q. Khan network—had been working on a uranium bomb, some outside observers concluded the sixth test was actually a North Korean test, detonated elsewhere to conceal North Korea’s involvement although. There is no consensus on this conclusion.
“Experts believe Pakistan’s nuclear stockpile is steadily growing. In 1998, the stockpile was estimated at five to twenty-five devices, depending on how much enriched uranium each bomb required. Today Pakistan is estimated to have an arsenal of 110 to 130 nuclear bombs. In 2015 the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Stimson Center estimated Pakistan’s bomb-making capability at twenty devices annually, which on top of the existing stockpile meant Pakistan could quickly become the third-largest nuclear power in the world. Other observers, however, believe Pakistan can only develop another forty to fifty warheads in the near future.
“Pakistani nuclear weapons are under control of the military’s Strategic Plans Division, and are primarily stored in Punjab Province, far from the northwest frontier and the Taliban. Ten thousand Pakistani troops and intelligence personnel from the SPD guard the weapons. Pakistan claims that the weapons are only armed by the appropriate code at the last moment, preventing a “rogue nuke” scenario.
THE INDIA FACTOR
“Pakistani nuclear doctrine appears to be to deter what it considers an economically, politically and militarily stronger India. The nuclear standoff is exacerbated by the traditional animosity between the two countries, the several wars the two countries have fought, and events such as the 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai, which were directed by Pakistan. Unlike neighboring India and China, Pakistan does not have a “no first use” doctrine, and reserves the right to use nuclear weapons, particularly low-yield tactical nuclear weapons, to offset India’s advantage in conventional forces.
“Pakistan currently has a nuclear “triad” of nuclear delivery systems based on land, in the air and at sea. Islamabad is believed to have modified American-built F-16A fighters and possibly French-made Mirage fighters to deliver nuclear bombs by 1995. Since the fighters would have to penetrate India’s air defense network to deliver their payloads against cities and other targets, Pakistani aircraft would likely be deliver tactical nuclear weapons against battlefield targets.
“Land-based delivery systems are in the form of missiles, with many designs based on or influenced by Chinese and North Korean designs. The Hatf series of mobile missiles includes the solid-fueled Hatf-III (180 miles), solid-fueled Hatf-IV (466 miles) and liquid-fueled Hatf V, (766 miles). The CSIS Missile Threat Initiative believes that as of 2014, Hatf VI (1242 miles) is likely in service. Pakistan is also developing a Shaheen III intermediate-range missile capable of striking targets out to 1708 miles, in order to strike the Nicobar and Andaman Islands.
“The sea component of Pakistan’s nuclear force consists of the Babur class of cruise missiles. The latest version, Babur-2, looks like most modern cruise missiles, with a bullet-like shape, a cluster of four tiny tail wings and two stubby main wings, all powered by a turbofan or turbojet engine. The cruise missile has a range of 434 miles. Instead of GPS guidance, which could be disabled regionally by the U.S. government, Babur-2 uses older Terrain Contour Matching (TERCOM) and Digital Scene Matching and Area Co-relation (DSMAC) navigation technology. Babur-2 is deployed on both land and at sea on ships, where they would be more difficult to neutralize. A submarine-launched version, Babur-3, was tested in January and would be the most survivable of all Pakistani nuclear delivery systems.
“Pakistan is clearly developing a robust nuclear capability that can not only deter but fight a nuclear war. It is also dealing with internal security issues that could threaten the integrity of its nuclear arsenal. Pakistan and India are clearly in the midst of a nuclear arms race that could, in relative terms, lead to absurdly high nuclear stockpiles reminiscent of the Cold War. It is clear that an arms-control agreement for the subcontinent is desperately needed, Mizokami says.