The United States has for the second time in six months granted a waiver from its arms control regime to Pakistan for the purchase of major defence equipment, likely to be worth over $2 billion, citing national security interests.
The waiver was issued quietly by the then deputy secretary of state Thomas Nides on 15 February, and posted on the state department website a week later on 22 February. It would pave the way for some major defence equipment sales to Pakistan.
''The department issued the waiver because we have determined that security assistance is important to the national security interests of the United States and is a critical component of US efforts to continue to build a strong, mutually beneficial relationship with Pakistan grounded in concrete action on areas of shared interest,'' a state department spokesperson told PTI.
The waiver, issued within a fortnight of Secretary of State John Kerry taking over from Hilary Clinton on 1 February, allows for the execution of America's foreign military financing (FMF) programme, and for the sale or export of some major defence equipment.
'Major defence equipment'' implies any US-manufactured defence article whose export is controlled by the US Munitions List which has a non-recurring research and development cost of more than $50,000,000 or a total production cost of more than $200,000,000. These items require Congressional notification, the spokesman said.
''As a matter of policy we do not discuss proposed defence sales or transfers until they have been formally notified to Congress,'' he said, refraining to give any figure to the expected sale of major defence items to Pakistan after this waiver.
The agency report quotes a known South Asia expert as saying that the two waivers issued by the then Hilary Clinton in September were sweeping and so allowed the release of all forms of assistance for the fiscal 2012, including non-military aid.
It seems the main purpose of the 15 February waiver was to create a positive atmosphere for meetings in Washington DC with visiting senior military officials from Pakistan.
''These waivers don't represent an improvement in US-Pakistan relations so much as they represent attempts to improve such relations,'' a foreign affairs expert said, adding that from the US perspective, some level of working relation with Pakistan is necessary for the US drawdown from Afghanistan to go smoothly.
Observing that security assistance builds Pakistan's capabilities in countering terrorism, the State Department official said that such assistance will continue to be implemented consistent with its policy goals of supporting Pakistan's shared interest in regional stability and countering terrorism.
''Despite the past challenges in our bilateral relationship with Pakistan, we are encouraged by recent engagements which indicate the positive trajectory of the relationship, including productive working group meetings addressing the full range of the relationship and Pakistan's participation in core group meetings with Afghanistan,'' the spokesperson said.
''As we have said, our number one shared priority remains pursuing our counterterrorism objectives to secure the safety of American and Pakistani citizens. We face a common threat from a common enemy, and we must confront terrorism and extremism together.''
In a two-paragraph notice to US exporters posted on its website 22 February, the Directorate of Defence Trade Controls of the State Department said Section 203 of the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009 (Public Law 111-73), which is generally known as Kerry-Lugar-Berman Bill, "prohibits for fiscal years 2012-2014 the issuance of export licenses for major defence equipment to be exported to Pakistan absent an appropriate certification or waiver under Section 203 in the fiscal year."