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Gina Haspel is sworn in as the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency alongside President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Langley, Virginia, on May 21, 2018. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

On Monday, Gina Haspel was sworn in as the director of the CIA. When asked about Pakistan during her confirmation hearing, she discussed the CIA’s concerns about the link between extremist groups and Pakistan’s nuclear scientists, and stated that the CIA has been monitoring these contacts closely.

Why it matters: In March, the U.S. Department of Commerce sanctioned seven Pakistani companies for engaging in nuclear trade in ways that undermine U.S. peace interests. Pakistan responded by defending its nonproliferation record and promising to work with the U.S. to investigate the accused companies. With her answer, Haspel may have offered Pakistan an opening to get its currently tumultuous relationship with the U.S. back on track.

For the past decade, Pakistan has accused the U.S. of looking at their bilateral relationship exclusively through the prism of the War in Afghanistan, where the U.S. has accused Pakistan of sponsoring militant groups that attack U.S. and allied troops. (Interestingly, Haspel did not mention Pakistan’s support for the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network as a threat during her hearing.)

But Pakistan is also desperate to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group, an international consortium dedicated to nonproliferation. Given that the safety of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is of paramount importance to both Pakistan and the U.S., nonproliferation could serve as a point of cooperation, shifting the balance of the bilateral relationship in a more positive direction.

The big picture: It is hard to predict whether nonproliferation could entice Pakistan to halt military sponsorship in Afghanistan. But in spite of that, if both countries' intelligence agencies can work together to ensure the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, Pakistan and the U.S. may be able to develop some goodwill.

Sahar Khan is a visiting research fellow in the Cato Institute's Defense and Foreign Policy Department.

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - Health

First North American Omicron cases identified in Canada

COVID-19 testing personnel at Toronto Pearson International Airport in September. Photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The first two cases of the new Omicron variant have been detected in North America, the Canadian government announced Sunday evening.

Driving the news: The World Health Organization has named Omicron a "variant of concern," but cautioned earlier on Sunday that it is not yet clear whether it's more transmissible than other strains of COVID-19.

Former Defense Secretary Esper sues Pentagon over book

Former President Trump and former Defense Secretary Mark Esper at the White House in 2020. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper filed a lawsuit Sunday against the Defense Department, accusing the Pentagon of "censoring" his First Amendment rights by redacting parts of his upcoming book on the Trump administration.

The big picture: Esper, who served as defense secretary from July 2019 until he was fired by then-President Trump in November last year, alleges in the suit that "significant text" is "being improperly withheld from publication" of the manuscript "under the guise of classification."

WHO warns against travel bans on southern African countries

Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization regional director for Africa. Photo: Sylvain Gaboury/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

The World Health Organization called on countries Sunday to not impose travel bans on southern African nations amid concerns over the new COVID-19 Omicron variant.

Why it matters: The U.S. and countries in Europe and the Asia-Pacific announced travel restrictions in response to Omicron, which was first detected in South Africa. It's since spread to several European countries, Canada, Israel, Australia and Hong Kong. The WHO noted in a statement that only two southern African nations have detected the new variant.

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