The cat-and-mouse game of US sanctions on nuclear Pakistan

Published May 29, 2022
Nuclear sanctions in Pakistan started in 1977 and still continue. —May1998, White Star
Nuclear sanctions in Pakistan started in 1977 and still continue. —May1998, White Star

WASHINGTON: As Pakistan matched India’s nuclear explosions with a series of its own tests on May 28, 1998, the then US president Bill Clinton swiftly slapped severe sanctions on the country.

The sanctions also jeopardised about $2 billion worth of International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank assistance to Pakistan.

Mr Clinton invoked the same 1994 US nuclear non-proliferation law that he wielded against New Delhi after India detonated five nuclear devices in two rounds of tests in early May 1998.

But nuclear-related sanctions were not new for Pakistan. They started in 1977 and still continue, although most sanctions were never fully implemented.

Pakistan has also received ‘national interest waivers’ from various US administrations, which allowed Islamabad also to buy sophisticated military hardware, such as the F-16 aircraft, from the US.

The United States first terminated military and economic aid to Pakistan over its nuclear programme in 1977, without officially invoking the 1961 Symington Amendment, which forbids such assistance. The then US administration said it was forced to do so because of “Pakistan’s relentless pursuit of a reprocessing plant from France.

In August 1978, France halted supply of nuclear equipment to Pakistan for the Chashma reprocessing facility. The US State Department released economic aid to Pakistan soon after.

In 1979, the US again suspended economic and military aid, invoking the Glenn and Symington amendments of 1977. The US also withheld $40 million worth of aid from Pakistan.

Despite the sanctions, President Jimmy Carter allowed the sale of F-16 jet fighter jets to Pakistan.

Most sanction are never fully implemented. Photo — White Star
Most sanction are never fully implemented. Photo — White Star

The US lifted all sanctions in December 1979, as the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, making Pakistan a key ally in the US-led efforts to defeat the Soviets.

In 1990, the US made the Pressler Amendment of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, which, contrary to the popular belief in Pakistan, opened a door for continuing US military and economic assistance to Islamabad despite its nuclear programme.

But in 1991, US economic and military aid worth $564m, for fiscal year 1991, was immediately stopped, as President George W. Bush could not offer the requisite certificate regarding Pakistan’s nuclear programme.

This happened soon after Soviet forces left Afghanistan, reducing Pakistan’s status as a key US ally in the war against Moscow.

Delivery of military equipment to Pakistan was put on hold, along with the sale of more than 38 F-16 Fighter Jets. Joint military exercises between the US and Pakistan were also halted.

On Oct 24, 1995, the House-Senate conference committee approved the Brown Amendment that sought a one-time waiver to the Pressler Amendment and authorised the release of $368m worth of equipment to Pakistan due for sale other than the F-16s.

In 1998, Glenn and Symington amendments to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 were invoked again. The sanctions hurt Pakistan severely as by then it had accumulated foreign debt of $30bn but had foreign exchange reserves of only $600m.

Former prime minister Mohammad Nawaz Sharif at the site of Pakistan's nuclear test. —White Star
Former prime minister Mohammad Nawaz Sharif at the site of Pakistan's nuclear test. —White Star

On Nov 7, 1998, President Clinton used the Brownback Amendment to waive Glenn, Symington, and Pressler sanctions on Pakistan for one year, except for those relating to “military assistance, dual use exports and military sales”.

President Clinton also authorised financial lending to Pakistan, from the IMF and the World Bank.

In 2017-18, sanctions based on the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 were once again imposed on Pakistan to prevent the proliferation of nuclear-related material and expertise.

Last year, the Foreign Office said Pakistan does not consider itself bound by any of the obligations of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and the agreement. —Reuters
Last year, the Foreign Office said Pakistan does not consider itself bound by any of the obligations of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and the agreement. —Reuters

APP adds: As the nation celebrated the 24th anniversary of Pakistan’s nuclear tests, spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Saturday said Pakistan was committed to promoting environment of peace and stability in South Asia while preserving its capability to ward off aggression or adventurism in any form.

Earlier, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif hailed all those who helped make the country’s defence invincible and expressed his resolve to transform the country into an economic power.

Published in Dawn, May 29th, 2022

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