The US has decided to impose Category 2 sanctions against China and Pakistan for alleged transfer of missile technology and parts, considered violations of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).
These sanctions constitute a first for the Bush administration, some of whose officials are on record as questioning the efficacy of sanctions per se.
The sanctions are reported to be basically aimed at China, after the breakdown of recent talks between Washington and Beijing regarding alleged violations by China of an agreement arrived at with the Clinton administration in November 2000 to respect MTCR guidelines.
Pakistan, it is being said, merely finds itself in the line of fire.
China of course, while signing that agreement, has consistently denied any violations of MTCR.
At the same time, Beijing has been pointing to US hypocrisy on the issue when it feels no qualms about transferring missile technology and other conventional arms to Taiwan, in a tired replay of its 'two-China' policy.
In a display of big power arrogance, the US refuses to concede any similarity or linkage between its own actions vis-a-vis Taiwan, and its objections to so-called Sino-Pak missile technology cooperation.The new sanctions are sought to be justified, despite Chinese and Pakistani denials and Islamabad's denunciation of the move, by allegations based on American intelligence reports that a transfer of missile parts and/or technology was detected on May 1, 2001.
The US has failed so far, despite such repeated allegations over the years, to provide any proof to back up its claims.
Despite that, this is the fourth time that Washington has imposed MTCR-related sanctions on Pakistan, which have a shelf life, unless renewed, of two years.
The last time these were imposed on Pakistan, China was exempted under Clinton's 'engage China' policy, which was in sharp contrast to Bush's more confrontational approach to the People's Republic.
The new sanctions now constitute the fifth layer of sanctions on Pakistan, the other four being under the Pressler, Symington and Glenn Amendments, and democracy-related legislation.
The new MTCR sanctions have implications for US-Pakistan and US-China relations.
Since the sanctions have kicked in on the eve of the session of the US Congress, the lobby that is against lifting sanctions on Pakistan because of the military government being in power and its ties to the Taliban, is likely to succeed in persuading Congress and already 'dissatisfied' US officials that any notion of 'even-handedness' in lifting the nuclear-related sanctions against India and Pakistan simultaneously should be abandoned.
India may still be favoured, while Pakistan may find itself left out in the cold.
The hoped for meeting between President General Musharraf and President George Bush in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session may or may not now take place.
Even if it does, the sanctions will cast a dark shadow over the exchanges.
For those eternal optimists who still think Pakistan's relationship with Washington is benign, perhaps it is time they reminded themselves of the innumerable times Pakistan has been let down and pilloried unfairly and one-sidedly by the US.
President Bush's planned visit to China in October also may now prove not as productive as was thought possible after the two sides had put the American plane incident behind them.
The biggest setback perhaps will be for the American satellite industry.
This sector was hoping to take advantage of China's cheapest rates for satellite launches on its rockets.
This is now no longer possible because of the sanctions.
The US firms are likely to lose out to the Europeans, especially the French.
President Bush has failed to pay heed to the voices of wisdom within his own administration that have argued against sanctions as a foreign policy tool.
Nowhere, from Cuba to Iraq, have these proved their worth.
Time, perhaps, to think again in Foggy Bottom.
This article was published in FrontierPost of Pakistan.