Trump Slams Pakistan Companies With Sanctions Over Nuclear Technology Trading

The U.S. has decided to sanction seven Pakistani companies suspected of having links to the nuclear trade, another indication that the Trump administration views Pakistan as a rogue actor that cannot be trusted to protect international security.

A rule published by the Department of Commerce's Bureau of Industry and Security on March 22 determined that the seven entities from Pakistan were "acting contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States." One entity from Singapore and 15 entities located in South Sudan were also added to the list.

The inclusion of the companies on the department's "Entities List" means that U.S. and foreign companies doing business with the singled-out businesses must obtain a special license. Some experts say this will allow the U.S. to supervise the companies' behavior more closely.

"These sanctions are not a total embargo on economic activity by these companies but require them to obtain a special license from the Department of Commerce in order to engage in this kind of economic trade on a case-by-case basis," Harrison Akins, a researcher at the Howard Baker Center who focuses on Pakistan, told Newsweek. "This would ensure more oversight of their activities related to nuclear energy by the U.S. government.

"In the context of recent events in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, this is further evidence of the growing mistrust of Pakistan, not only in counterterrorism efforts but also in proliferation issues, a longtime point of contention between the two nations," Akins elaborated.

The relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan has been especially fraught since President Donald Trump brought in the New Year with a string of tweets attacking Pakistan. Shortly thereafter, the U.S. announced that it would cut nearly all security aid to Pakistan until Islamabad began doing more to crack down on the Taliban networks operating within its borders.

The inclusion of seven Pakistani entities on the Department of Commerce's list could also negatively impact Pakistan's ability to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group, an international alliance of countries that aim to promote the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons. Diverse countries like Australia, China, France, Russia and the United Kingdom are all part of the group, as is the United States. Pakistan has long aimed to join the group in order to gain further legitimacy on the international stage, but some experts said that goal iwas a long way off for Islamabad.

"Pakistan says it demonstrates responsible nuclear behavior, but these sanctions demonstrate that things have not changed enough. There is a lot of duplicity. And I think the Nuclear Suppliers Group was always out of reach for them. That was a far-fetched goal," Bharath Gopalaswamy, director of the Atlantic Council's South Asia Center, told Newsweek.

Pakistan's reputation on the international stage will likely suffer from the inclusion of the companies—none of which are well known—on the list, experts said. But that's unlikely to force the country to change its behavior dramatically.

"Though these measures will have some problematic reputational consequences for Pakistan, we shouldn't overstate their impact," Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia program at the Wilson Center, told Newsweek.

"Let's face it, these sanctions won't magically prompt Pakistan to change its behavior in ways that address U.S. demands and expectations," Kugelman added.