By Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal
Pakistan is lobbying for obtaining full membership of the Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG). It is persuading the international community that it qualifies for the Group membership. However, a few members of the NSG, including the United States, are frustrating Islamabad’s struggle to secure the membership of the nuclear technological cartel.
The Americans not only oppose Pakistan’s entry into the NSG but also question its nonproliferation credentials. On March 22, 2018, the End-user Review Committee (ERC) of the US Department of Commerce added seven Pakistani private companies to the list of foreign entities (Entity List) for suspected nuclear trafficking. The Entity List companies are subject to sanctions in the form of stringent export control measures.
It was reported that among the seven, three Pakistani private companies were added to the sanctions list because of “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 companies were found to be procuring supplies for nuclear-related entities already on the sanctions list. And the remaining two companies are believed to be fronts for already-sanctioned entities. The ERC did not completely freeze the assets of the enlisted companies; it only made it difficult for them to do business in the US. The enlisted companies require that the American and foreign companies doing business with those on the list first obtain a fresh license. The ERC entity list isn’t detrimental to Pakistan’s nuclear program. The Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) is not importing nuclear material from the US. However, it maligns Pakistan’s image as a responsible nuclear-weapon state and also thwarts its lobbying for the NSG membership.
The Pakistanis are perturbed over the enlisting of seven private companies. Many analysts, without critically examining the enlisted companies’ profiles and the ERC sanctions, opined that these companies were involved in the illicit transfer of nuclear material. They concluded that Islamabad lacks the credentials to be a party to the NSG. The NSG is a 48-nation cartel that governs trade in nuclear-related imports and exports and also aims to ensure that civilian trade in nuclear materials is not manipulated for manufacturing fissile material for the nuclear weapons. Since its entry into force in 1978, the members of the Group have been transferring nuclear material and technology to the parties of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), who are observing comprehensive International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. Pakistan is neither a member of the NPT nor the NSG. Nevertheless, it is abiding by both Treaty and Group rules and regulations in letter and spirit. Its Export Control on Goods, Technologies, Material and Equipment Related to Nuclear and Biological Weapons and their Delivery System Act of 2004 manifests Islamabad’s seriousness for the implementation of the UNSC Resolution 1540, which refrains states “from providing any form of support to non-state actors that attempt to develop, acquire, manufacture, possess, transport, transfer or use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons and their means of delivery.” The Government of Pakistan immediately initiated damage-control measures. It instantly distanced itself from the Entity List’s companies. It stated that the seven companies in question are private-sector firms. Therefore, their conviction does not question the nuclear safety and nonproliferation credentials of the Government of Pakistan.
A Foreign Office spokesman requested that critics refrain from disrupting Pakistan. He said: “We caution against unnecessarily politicizing the issue. We reject attempts by Pakistan’s detractors to exploit these listings to cast aspersions on Pakistan’s non-proliferation credentials.” Notwithstanding Islamabad’s clarification, the ERC sanctioning of seven private companies blemished Pakistan’s image as a responsible nuclear-weapon state. The concocted stories regarding the safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear infrastructure and allegations about the illicit nuclear technology and material proliferation are detrimental for Islamabad’s application for the NSG full membership.
Pakistan has already been encountering colossal criticism because of the Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan underworld nuclear trafficking network, which was unearthed in 2004. Ironically, more than 30 states’ citizens were active members of the network. But the US and its like-minded states penalized only Pakistan. Since than Islamabad has been trying to restore the confidence of the international community in its nuclear safety and security arrangements.
The Government of Pakistan needs to take the ERC Entity List seriously. It will be used against Pakistan in the forthcoming plenary of the Nuclear Supplier Group.
(The author Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal is an Islamabad-based analyst and professor at the School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University.)
By Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal