The US Department of Commerce’s decision to impose sanctions on seven Pakistani entities reportedly related to our missile programme is a step in the wrong direction in the US-Pak relationship. Even if one ignores the strategic ally aspect in this equation, the fact remains that all seven institutions – from the National Engineering and Scientific Commission (NESCOM) to the Air Weapons Complex (AWC) at Wah Cantonment and the Maritime Technology Complex (MTC) of Karachi – are research and development bodies related to science and technology, that would greatly benefit from their dealings with the US.

Pakistan already lags greatly behind the developed world in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects, and this is an area it needs most help in. This is not only about defence priorities or missile programmes; throughout history, defence research has led to scientific advancements that benefit the average citizen as well. But Pakistan can only move forward with innovation if it is at least at par with the rest of the world to begin with. And that is not going to happen anytime soon. As far as missile programmes are concerned, Pakistan has always attempted to keep up pace with the defence advancements of India, but fails to do so because of the lack of scientific knowledge. Even those that are firmly fixated on the arms race should understand that more scientific knowledge is the only real way to compete on an equal footing.

While our neighbour and rival India is busy sending orbiting missions to Mars, Pakistan is still attempting to keep pace with the missile defence systems and other technological military advances of the eastern neighbour – sending a mission to space seems like a very distant dream.

The specific reason for the sanctions being imposed has not been given, but the government of Pakistan should investigate. The controls were placed because reportedly, all seven entities were ‘acting contrary’ to American national security and foreign policy interests, which should not be allowed to take place, considering the fact that Pakistan cannot afford losing out on learning from the countries that do have expertise in all STEM subjects. Breaking US or international law for both state-controlled or private research entities gives Pakistan the wrong sort of attention. The government needs to investigate and avoid such problems in the future.