US sanctions on Pak Missile Programme: But without the bite



The legacy of Pak nuclear scientist and known smuggler of nuclear materials A.Q. Khan continues to exist. And it is evidenced irrefutably by the recent American sanctioning of seven Pakistan entities associated with the nation’s missile programme. The US Department of Commerce recently added these entities to the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) List. Apparently, the activities of these seven companies/organisations are detrimental to the foreign policy interests of the US. However, a quick perusal of US sanctions on Pak-based entities linked to Islamabad’s nuclear and missile program demonstrates that these efforts are to say the least ineffective because Pakistan continues to thrive as a nuclear power thanks to its all-weather friend China!

The Pakistan newspaper DAWN has listed the seven firms under watch as Ahad International, Air Weapons Complex, Engineering Solutions Pvt. Ltd., Maritime Technology Complex National Engineering and Scientific Commission, New Auto Engineering and Universal Tooling Services. Pakistan has always denied that it was involved in any wrongdoing in relation to its nuclear or missile programme. But one has to only look the record of A.Q. Khan to see how Pakistan use clandestine means to achieve its nuclear weapons status. Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Nafees Zakaria claimed that the government was aware of the sanctions and added that “this means that for any transfers of technology to these entities, US exporters will need a license.”

All seven Pak entities have been placed on the entity list under the destination of Pakistan. According to the American establishment there was reasonable cause to believe, based on specific facts, that these “government, parastatal, and private entities in Pakistan are determined to be involved in activities that are contrary to the national security and/or foreign policy of the United States”. The conduct of these seven entities “raises sufficient concern that prior review of exports, re exports or transfers (in-country) of items subject to the EAR involving these persons, and the possible imposition of licence conditions or licence denials on shipments to the persons, will enhance (the department’s) ability to prevent violations of the EAR”.

The placement on the list imposes a licence requirement for all items subject to the EAR and a licence review policy of presumption of denial. The licence requirements apply to any transaction in which items are to be exported, re-exported, or transferred (in-country) to any of the entities or in which such entities act as purchaser, intermediate consignee, ultimate consignee, or end-user. Further, no licence exceptions are available for exports, re-exports, or transfers (in-country) to the persons being added to the entity list in this rule. The restrictions will also apply to acronym used by these entities to help exporters, re-exporters and transferors. The notification does not specify the violations these entities are supposed to have committed and does not give details of the items they are supposed to have exported, imported or re-exported.

Behind the current sanctions imposed by the US is a long history of effort made by the Obama administration to limit Pakistan’s nuclear and missile programme. In 2015, the New York Times reported that Peter Lavoy had spearheaded the efforts with Pakistan to curb the missile programme. But for too long, critics have stated that Pakistan would never reduce its nuclear or missile programme as it was the sword arm of the Pak army and the umbrella under which it continued to use non-state actors for asymmetric warfare. The central element of the American proposal, was a proposed relaxation of strict controls put on Pakistan by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), in return Pakistan would agree to restrict its nuclear program to weapons and delivery systems that are appropriate to its actual defense needs against India’s nuclear threat.

A 2015 August report titled a “New Normal Pakistan” published by the Carnegie Endowment aptly concludes that “the international community is unlikely to accommodate Pakistan’s desire to enter the nuclear mainstream without corresponding steps by Pakistan to align aspects of its nuclear policy and practices closer with international norms.” There lies the nub of the issue. If the US wants Pakistan to limit its nuclear and missile stockpile then it must be willing to give something in return, which it obviously cannot. Therefore, it seems only fair to assume that Pakistan will continue to build nuclear weapons and manufacture missiles to deliver those weapons.

The Chinese have assisted Pakistan for many decades and more recently warned India that they were ready to help Pakistan with more missiles if India continued to build and test the Agni-V.  It is therefore safe to assume that no amount of US sanctions are going to stop the Pakistani establishment from continued its clandestine acquisition of nuclear materials and missiles from China and other sources. In this sense, the current round of US sanctions are more the act of a out-going administration aimed at signaling to Pakistan that it means business, but without the bite!

Pakistan’s claims of its nuclear programme being India-centric ring hollow when it starts claiming to have missiles with ranges beyond 3,000 km. The new US President Donald Trump must take a realistic look at Pakistan and understand that it is a very dangerous place, especially with its nuclear weapons. It is incumbent on Trump to move beyond sanctions to make Pakistan realise that its posture of threatening others with nuclear weapons would actually be counter-productive.