Diplomatic Strain: Analyzing Implications of Recent US Sanctions on Pakistan

The recent decision by the United States to impose sanctions on four entities for their alleged role in supplying "missile-applicable items" to Pakistan's ballistic missile program has stirred significant controversy and debate.

In the ever-evolving landscape of international relations, the imposition of sanctions by one nation on another is not merely a punitive measure but a complex diplomatic tool used to influence policy and behavior. The recent decision by the United States to impose sanctions on four entities for their alleged role in supplying “missile-applicable items” to Pakistan’s ballistic missile program has stirred significant controversy and debate. The announcement made by the US State Department cited three Chinese companies and one Belarusian company as instrumental in aiding Pakistan’s long-range missile endeavors. This move by the US is not just a standalone action but a reflection of deeper geopolitical undercurrents.

The reaction from Pakistan’s Foreign Office was swift and sharp. The spokesperson of Pakistan’s foreign Office appropriately articulated Pakistan’s rejection of what it perceives as the “political use of export controls.” Pakistan believes that such coercive measures are not being applied uniformly. At places the US has waived off licensing requirements for certain countries, while imposing strict sanctions on others. Such a double facetted treatment, Pakistan asserts, undermines the credibility of non-proliferation regimes besides exacerbates military imbalances in the region.

The core of Pakistan’s frustration lies in what it considers the discriminatory application of these sanctions. The Foreign Office highlighted past instances, where entities were sanctioned based on mere suspicion or the involvement of items not listed on any control list but only assumed sensitive under catch-all provisions. Such actions, according to Pakistan, not only question the legitimacy of sanctions but also hinder socio-economic development, given the technology being targeted is often dual-use, meaning it has both civilian and military applications.

The US Perspective: Sanctions as a Behavioral Tool

From the US standpoint, the sanctions are a strategic tool designed to coerce compliance with international norms, particularly non-proliferation. The US State Department emphasizes that the objective of these sanctions is not to punish but to foster a change in behavior, a stance that suggests a preference for diplomacy over conflict. The integrity of these sanctions, as per the US, lies in their ability to be both imposed and lifted, provided the entities in question align with legal and regulatory expectations.

However, this approach is seen by some as a double-edged sword. Shuja Nawaz, a fellow at the South Asia Center of the Atlantic Council in Washington, points out that the sanctions serve as a “reminder that for all the carrots, there are sticks that the US can deploy.” This duality is evident in the US’s recent efforts to aid Pakistan’s economic recovery through various international financial institutions, juxtaposed against the punitive measures which publically penalize Pakistan.

The situation presents a complex challenge for Pakistan. The need for an “objective mechanism” to avoid erroneous sanctions, as stated by Baloch, remains crucial. Pakistan is advocating for discussions that could lead to end-use and end-user verification mechanisms to ensure that legitimate commercial users are not adversely affected by these controls. This approach suggests a readiness on Pakistan’s part to engage in constructive dialogue to resolve misunderstandings and to ensure that sanctions do not hamper legitimate socio-economic development.

For the US, the challenge lies in balancing its strategic interests with its diplomatic relations, especially in a region as volatile as South Asia. The use of sanctions as both carrot and stick must be carefully managed to avoid alienating key regional players like Pakistan, which have often been pivotal in addressing regional security issues.

The imposition of sanctions on Pakistan by the US underscores a complex web of diplomatic, strategic, and economic considerations that influence international relations today. As both nations navigate this turbulent phase, the focus should ideally be on fostering dialogue and understanding, rather than escalating tensions. The goal should be to ensure peace and stability in the region, which is in the best interest of not just Pakistan and the US, but the international community at large.

Sehr Rushmeen
Sehr Rushmeen
Sehr Rushmeen, an Islamabad based freelance researcher, did her MPhil from National Defence University (NDU) in Strategic Studies and her BSc from University of London (UOL) in International Relations. Her area of research interest is Strategic Nuclear Studies, Artificial Intelligence in Warfare, South China Sea and South Asian Politics. She tweets by the handle @rushmeentweets and can be reached on sehrrushmeenwrites[at]gmail.com