The irony is, in February 2012, it was widely reported that the USA was willing to offer a far more sincere apology but the Pakistani government asked the USA to wait for its parliamentary committee on the subject to complete its deliberations
The deadlock on the closure of Ground Lines of Communication (GLOC) through Pakistan for ISAF and NATO forces in Afghanistan has finally been broken after the USA proffered an apology of sorts. However, this has not come from their president but from a tier below, the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. Pakistan has accepted the apology at its face value and opened the supply route after a long and acrimonious debate that had lasted over seven months.
The apology has been worded in a manner that can be interpreted in more than one way. The three operative sentences of Hillary’s statement are as follows. “Our regrets for the tragic incident.” Both she and her counterpart in Pakistan “acknowledged the mistakes that resulted in the loss of Pakistani military lives.” “We are sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military.” The government of Pakistan has accepted the expression of regret for the incident as an apology. The opposition parties and majority of Pakistanis are surprised by the disclosure that the Pakistani foreign minister had also acknowledged that mistakes from both sides had resulted in the loss of Pakistani military lives. Both the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Ministry of Pakistan had so far never accepted this premise publicly, laying the entire blame on the ISAF and ANA troops. Finally, in their opinion, saying sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military is a mere offer of condolence, far short of an apology. On the other hand, in the USA, the ruling Democrats would claim a diplomatic victory based on the interpretation of the Pakistani opposition while the Republicans would take the Democrats to task for bowing down to the unreasonable demands (from their viewpoint) of an unreliable ally, on the basis of the Pakistani government’s version.
The closure of the GLOC had widespread public support but the saner elements within society realised that sooner or later Pakistan would have to give in to the enormous pressure the USA would apply to reopen them. They just hoped that Pakistan would be able to extract better terms and conditions for providing a crucial service. Although Pakistan stood on solid moral grounds on the Salala tragedy, overall it held a weak hand. For one, with its financial status in the doldrums due to poor governance and rampant corruption, especially among the political elite, without the life support from the World Bank and IMF, its economy was likely to go into a free fall. The USA has a very powerful influence on these two global institutions and without its blessings no bailout package can be approved. This Sword of Damocles was hung over Pakistan, which could be lowered if it persisted in disallowing transit of supply through its territory.
Second, due to its past follies of supporting and using as proxies militant non-state actors to further its foreign policy goals, Pakistan has become increasingly isolated on the world stage. Despite its declaration that the old policy has been abandoned, the fact that some of the banned organisations and their leaders continue to operate under different names is enough to arouse suspicion among both friends and foes. Pakistan, in their judgment, is either unwilling or unable to control the subversive activities by these religiously motivated non-state actors. Even very close and reliable allies of Pakistan like China, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are not very comfortable with Pakistan’s alleged support to al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban, perhaps not at the official level but among a section of its population. Turkey, as a matter of fact, is part of ISAF and the route blockage was affecting their troops deployed in Afghanistan.
Third, and finally, all the three services of Pakistan’s armed forces — Army, Navy and Air Force — depend heavily on the USA and the west for much of their sophisticated combat hardware. Although since the past two decades, China has to an extent reduced the dependency on the west for hi-tech weapons, the co-dependency in the economic field between China and the USA despite their political differences has made the former caution Pakistan to avoid direct confrontation with the USA.
The Salala tragedy had for once put the mighty USA on the back foot and Pakistani citizens hoped that despite its weaknesses, their government was in a position to renegotiate better terms and conditions for the reopening of the supply route. Seven months of acrimonious debate and wrangling later, when Pakistan consented to allow passage of material through its territory, no apparent additional economic benefit appeared to have resulted; only the status quo has been restored and even the apology extended is a much watered down version of what was being demanded. The irony is that way back in February 2012, it was widely reported that the USA was willing to offer a far more sincere apology but the Pakistani government asked the USA to wait for its parliamentary committee on the subject to complete its deliberations. The committee after a lengthy debate finally came up with a long list of demands that in reality had little chance of finding acceptance with the US administration. The USA upped the ante and increased pressure on a beleaguered Pakistani government. Four months later, it had to swallow the bitter pill and accept lesser terms for lifting the blockade. The public has a right to know what happened and why and would expect its government to ensure weaknesses in our system of governance are identified and addressed to avoid recurrence.
The writer is a defence analyst and Director of Centre of Airpower Studies and can be reached at email@example.com
The Daily Times, 12 July 2012