Sultan M Hali
US government has placed sanctions against certain defence-related Pakistani entities. This move came about on December 15, 2016, when out of the blues, notification by the US Department of Commerce named the entities and added them to the Export Administration Regulations list, saying “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 facilities in question are thought to be associated with Pakistan’s missile development programme but the US government has not revealed details of violations these entities are alleged to have committed.
The United States Department of Commerce is the Cabinet department of the US government concerned with promoting economic growth and job creation and improved living standards for all Americans by creating an infrastructure that promotes economic growth, technological competitiveness, and sustainable development. Its tasks include gathering economic and demographic data for business and government decision-making, and helping to set industrial standards.
The question arises as to why the US government chose to slap these sanctions at this time when only 35 days of the current Obama administration remained. Secondly, despite some shades of souring Pak-US relations, both countries remain allied in combating terrorism. Normal diplomatic norms would dictate an initial warning, clearly outlining the areas where the concerned entities may have strayed, necessitating follow up action to clear the anomalies pointed out, failing which, sanctions could have been imposed. Here, without any prior warning, slam bang, cowboy style the sanctions were slapped, raising conspiracy theories regarding the timing and the motives behind the move.
This scribe’s two cents worth is that they are politically motivated and could have been at the behest of Indian lobby in the US. Obama administration bent backwards to get India admitted into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) but China thwarted the move. Now a new draft proposal circulated among NSG member states could pave the way for India to become a member of the elite club, but this is unlikely to happen before the end of the Barrack Obama presidency and the American push for India to become a full-fledged member of the NSG would now have to be pursued by the incoming Trump Administration as the outgoing Obama Administration is unlikely to fulfill its promise made to the Modi Government before its term expires on January 20, 2017.
The draft formula for NSG membership to countries like India and Pakistan that are not a signatory to the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) proposes “nine general commitments” that non-NPT countries like India and Pakistan “would need to make” in order to receive the “fullest” atomic trading privileges. India has crafted the commitments to be such that it fulfils all nine of them while Pakistan meets only four so it is likely to miss the boat again. Pakistan has rejected the draft proposal but is not likely to cut ice with the other NSG members and even its all weather friend China may be forced to go along with the tide and support India.
It may be remembered that President elect Donald Trump reached out to the Pakistani Prime Minister and assured him of his support, besides offering his good services as arbitrator to resolve the long standing Kashmir issue between Pakistan and India. The Pakistani Prime Minister’s Office made the critical blunder of releasing the transcript of the whole Trump-Nawaz conversation, which sent alarm bells in Washington as well as New Delhi. Thus the critical time factor and urgency in slapping the sanctions on Pakistan so that Donald Trump is compelled to penalize Pakistan and tacitly support India’s entry into the NSG, although nuclear experts in the US are critical of the draft note, stating that it sets an extremely low bar on NSG membership and its wording is vague and open to wide interpretation.
Matters did not rest here, in an apparently unrelated incident, only five days after the sanctions on the selected defence related Pakistani entities, in an article published by AWD News on December 20, 2016, former Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon was quoted as threatening to destroy Pakistan if it sent troops into Syria. The story was obviously fake since it quoted Moshe Yaalon as being the Israeli Defence Minister while he resigned from his post in May 2016 and the current incumbent is Avigdor Lieberman. Unfortunately for Pakistan, although its defence minister Khawaja M. Asif waited till December 23 to respond to the apparent threat through his official Twitter, yet he did not bother to confirm the veracity of the story and shot off a harshly worded counter threat.
Embarrassed and shamefaced, Khwaja Asif had nowhere to hide but the anti-Pakistan lobby had a heyday claiming that Pakistan was an irresponsible nuclear weapons equipped state since its Defence Minister is trigger happy and ready to launch nuclear weapons even at false reports. Pakistan’s nuclear assets have been under critical examination for long. US strategists like Bruce Riedel already claim that terrorists can find access to Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and make the world insecure.
Luckily Pakistan’s foreign ministry did not give a knee jerk response. The FO Spokesperson elaborated the impact of the sanctions. He stated that it meant that for any transfers of technology to the entities sanctioned, US exporters will need a license. He was sanguine that Pakistan was ready to work with the US at the level of experts to devise mutually agreed-upon procedures for end-use guarantees, which will help in assuring non-diversion of high-technology exports from the US without hampering Pakistan’s legitimate imports for socio-economic development activities. The sanctions should not affect Pakistan since its missile and nuclear programmes are completely indigenous. Yet it needs to be wary of moves to denigrate its efforts to acquire parity with other nuclear states.
—The writer is retired PAF Group Captain and a TV talk show host.