Pakistan’s ‘Illicit’ Connections With Chinese & Iranian Entities Irks The US; Washington Threatens Sanctions

Pakistani Chinese flags, Pakistan China

As Pakistan hosted Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on April 23-24, the US issued a caution that anyone doing business with Iran risks being sanctioned by America. It appears that Pakistan is eager to exchange know-how in industry, science, and technology with Iran despite Washington’s disapproval, which ‘forbids’ commercial ties with Tehran.

Meanwhile, Raisi concluded his three-day maiden trip to Pakistan on April 24 and had “productive” talks with the country’s top leadership to combat terrorism and strengthen trade ties.

When asked about Pakistan’s efforts to expand trade ties with Iran, US State Department’s Deputy Spokes­person Vedant Patel said, “Let me say broadly we advise anyone considering business deals with Iran to be aware of the potential risk of sanctions.”

In fact, this is the second incident of Pakistan dealing with sanctioned ‘entities’ within days. Just a few days ago, the US Department of State imposed sanctions on Chinese-based companies and individuals exporting nuclear and missile-related items to Pakistan.

On April 19, pursuant to Section 1(a)(ii) of Executive Order 13382, which targets proliferators of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, the US imposed sanctions on four entities for their alleged involvement in supplying “missile-applicable items” to Pakistan’s ballistic missile program, including its long-range missile program.

According to the US Department of State, the four entities include the Belarus-based Minsk Wheel Tractor Plant and three China-based companies: Xi’an Longde Technology Development Company Limited, Tianjin Creative Source International Trade Co Ltd., and Granpect Company Limited.

Minsk Wheel Tractor Plant supplied special vehicle chassis to Pakistan’s long-range ballistic missile program. Such chassis are used as launch support equipment for ballistic missiles by Pakistan’s National Development Complex (NDC), which is responsible for the development of Missile Technology Control Regime Category (MTCR) I ballistic missiles.

People’s Republic of China (PRC)-based Xi’an Longde Technology Development Company Limited supplied, among other missile-related equipment, a filament winding machine to Pakistan’s long-range ballistic missile program that we assess was destined for NDC.

Filament winding machines can be used to produce rocket motor cases. Tianjin Creative Source International Trade Co. Ltd. stir welding equipment, which the US assesses can be used to manufacture propellant tanks used in space launch vehicles, and a linear accelerator system, which the US assesses can be used in the inspection of solid rocket motors.

The US State Department assessed that Tianjin Creative’s procurements were likely destined for Pakistan’s Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO), which develops and produces Pakistan’s MTCR Category I ballistic missiles. Granpect Company Limited, also China-based, has worked with Pakistan’s SUPARCO to supply equipment for the testing of large-diameter rocket motors. Granpect Co. also supplied equipment for testing large-diameter rocket motors to Pakistan’s NDC.

These sanctions come in the aftermath of concerns raised by the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi, who visited Pakistan last month. Following his visit, doubts regarding Pakistan’s nuclear and missile program were expressed.

The Shehbaz Sharif government, which is also in the middle of talks with the IMF to resume a stalled loan program, concurrently asserted that there would be “no compromise” on the country’s nuclear and missile program and they are “jealously guarded by the state.”

There has been a significant delay in the agreement with the IMF, which would offer a critical economic lifeline to Pakistan. Responding to questions raised by PPP Senator Raza Rabbani over the conditions set by the IMF, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar told the Senate there would be “no compromise” on the country’s nuclear and missile program.

“Let me assure you that […] nobody is going to compromise anything on the nuclear or the missile programme of Pakistan — no way.”

The fact sheet issued by the US Department of State specified that “the ultimate goal of sanctions is not to punish, but to bring about a positive change in behavior.” Nevertheless, Pakistan has rejected the imposed sanctions, calling it out as the “political use of export controls.”

Reacting to the sanctions, Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch said, “We reject political use of export controls. It is well known that the same jurisdictions, which claim strict adherence to non-proliferation controls, have waived licensing requirements for advanced military technologies for some countries.” She added that “such discriminatory approaches and double standards” undermine the credibility of non-proliferation regimes and also the objectives of regional and global peace and security by “accentuating military asymmetries.”

Speaking to Dawn, analyst Shuja Nawaz of Washington’s Atlantic Council said that the sanctions directly punished Pakistan for pursuing missile development. He believes that even as US officials went out of their way to assist Pakistan in its economic recovery efforts via the IMF, World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank, these sanctions were “a reminder that for all the carrots, there are sticks that the US can deploy.”

In the past, the US government has expressed concerns about China’s record concerning the proliferation of nuclear and missile-related technologies in other countries. The US is also cognizant of the threat that Chinese acquisition of US-origin nuclear technology poses.

While indications are that while the Chinese government has ended its direct involvement in the transfer of nuclear and missile-related items, Chinese-based companies and individuals continue to export MTCR-controlled items to missile programs of proliferation concern, including that of Pakistan.

According to the US, China’s construction of civil nuclear reactors in Pakistan violates Beijing’s Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG, a multilateral control regime for nuclear-related exports) commitments. China is a participant in the NSG but not of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).

However, it has agreed to adhere to the regime’s export guidelines. China has constructed four power reactors in Pakistan and is constructing two additional such reactors. NSG guidelines prohibit such projects in states such as Pakistan, which lack IAEA safeguards on all of the country’s nuclear facilities. Islamabad’s nuclear weapons facilities are not safeguarded.

In their article ‘How Many Nuclear Weapons Does Pakistan Have in 2021?’ In the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Hans Kristensen and Matt Korda categorically state that “Pakistan continues to expand its nuclear arsenal with more warheads, more delivery systems, and a growing fissile materials production industry.”

Pakistan possesses an estimated 160-165 warheads, along with delivery systems capable of reaching at least 2,000 kilometers, enough to target all of India’s territory.

According to a 202 Royal United Services Institute (RUSI, London) report, “AQ Khan Is Dead—Long Live the Proliferation Network,” despite the disruption of the nuclear proliferation network overseen by A.Q. Khan, parts of the proliferation network remain intact. Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, materials, and technologies are a major concern for the US, as Islamabad has neither acceded to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty nor accepted comprehensive International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.

Pakistan’s foreign office spokesperson has responded that there is a need for an “objective mechanism to avoid erroneous sanctions on the technology needed purely for socio-economic development pursuits” and that the country is ready to discuss end-use and end-user verification mechanisms.

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