How Will the ‘soft’ apology relieve Salala’s pain?

"Honourable leaders make honourable nations but then honourable people choose honourable leaders." Raja Mujtaba

By Brig (retd) Farooq Hameed Khan

The US Secretary of State  Hillary Clinton’s expression of ‘deepest regrets’ over Salala tragedy as well as her ‘sorry’ over  losses suffered by  the  Pakistani military, seemed more of  a 'soft' apology that provided  a face saving to both sides.

Hillary’s carefully worded statement that ‘Foreign Minister Khar and I acknowledge the mistakes that resulted in loss of Pakistani military lives’ reflects  acceptance of American position that Pakistan Army, too, was to blame for Salala’s fiasco.  Our Foreign Minister needs to clarify if there was a change in our principled stance that the attack was unprovoked and deliberate, against a well marked border outpost in full knowledge of US/ISAF  chain of command in Kabul.

Hillary Clinton appreciated Pakistan’s gesture of not charging any transit fee which would help US/ISAF conduct the planned drawdown at a much lower cost.  The re -opening of NATO’s ground lines of communication (GLOC) would facilitate quick and economical withdrawal of US/NATO heavy war material ( tanks, guns, vehicles) from Afghanistan, but it would be at Pakistan’s cost since the  damages  to our road network would be colossal.

The Pakistani side blundered by failing  to  levy reasonable transit charges as per  international practices.  If according to US Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta, the US /NATO  had incurred an extra 100 million USD per month while  paying many times more transit fees to  central asian countries of  Northern Distribution Network, then why take  Pakistan for granted?

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If Pakistan has shown magnanimity in not imposing transit fees, then who would bear cost of repair of our damaged road network since US/NATO’s logistic operations commenced through Pakistan in 2001? What happened to that one billion USD  financial package being negotiated with US for repair of our communication infrastructure?

The  parliamentary resolution clearly stated that Pakistani territory including its airspace shall not be used for transportation of arms/ ammunition to Afghanistan. The US Secretary of State acknowledged  that no lethal equipment will transit through GLOC except for equipping Afghan  security forces. Does this not imply that Pakistan’s airspace is free from such a restriction?

Over 7000  NATO  containers including hundreds loaded with military equipment  will roll out from Port Qasim and Karachi port towards Torkham/ Chaman in the coming days Has the government established the mechanism to scan and inspect containers at the ports so as to ensure that only non lethal supplies are allowed into Afghanistan? How do we ensure that lethal military equipment will not go through under cover of supplies destined for Afghan National Army or even through Afghan Transit trade?

While Hillary Clinton referred to enhanced Pak – US counter terrorism cooperation, yet there was no mention of  any agreement on the contentious issue of CIA launched unilateral drone attacks in FATA.  An agreement on  greater intelligence sharing  and joint control  over mutually agreed targets was expected. By repeating the customary diplomatic  hpw ritual of condemning drone attacks,  is our government playing a double game with its own people?

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In light of the parliament resolution, has any worthwhile progress been made towards review of US footprint in Pakistan? The post Raymond Davis,  Abbottabad and Salala stand offs  did result in reducing  US signature within the country including vacation of Shamsi airbase, expulsion of military trainers/ undercover operatives  and enforcing strict visa issuance rules by our diplomatic missions abroad.

While the US  termed the restrictions on free movement of US diplomats and disarming of their armed personnel  as ‘harassment’, their  travels within Pakistan  require  regulation in accordance with  standard diplomatic norms/protocol.  

Certain issues related to Pakistan’s national security interests may mar Pak- US relations in the coming months. Will the US facilitate or obstruct the extradition of our former Ambassador Husain Haqani if Supreme Court  orders his appearance in Memogate hearings or is required during his likely trial subsequently in Pakistan?  

Pakistan is unlikely to succumb to US pressure on Dr. Shakil Afridi’s treason trial and should reject any proposal  to hand him over to US even if Afridi were to be  honored with US citizen ship and Congressional medal.  What if the Supreme Court  initiates proceedings on petition filed against  the construction of new US embassy/ mini USA in Islamabad?

Do the cross border attacks by Maulvi Fazlullah led TTP militants from Afghanistan’s Kunar/ Nuristan provinces  have tacit support of US/NATO/ISAF? If US justified its drone attacks against alleged Haqani safe havens in North Waziristan, then does Pakistan not reserve the right to retaliate against Kunar/ Nuristan based TTP sanctuaries by employing its artillery and air power ?

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That the blockade of  GLOC  hurt US/nato badly was evident from coercive US tactics to unnerve  Pakistan. Recall Leon Panetta’s anti Pakistan outbursts in New Delhi and Kabul as well as threats of aid cutoff , military/economic sanctions and  support  for  Baloch secessionists and Dr. Shakil Afridi  by US lawmakers. There was a visible surge in drone strikes, too .

The Americans must have been taken aback with Pakistan’s strategic defiance and anger demonstrated since Salala, despite being their non NATO ally.  By accepting Hillary Clinton’s ‘soft’ apology,  Pakistan spared President Obama  the embarrassment of  completing a hat trick of formal apologies ( two made earlier to Afghanistan)  in 2012, that would have  invited sharp criticism from Obama’s political opponents  in his re election campaign.

Will the ‘soft’ apology put derailed Pak-US relations back on track ? Can mutual trust and respect  be ever restored in this  unstable relationship which has a history of  repeated  lows and highs? Will the Pentagon uphold their Secretary of State’s commitment to prevent Salala from ever happening again?

In the grand finale to Salala , the US/nato  got back their desperately needed GLOC free of cost. Pakistan settled for a ‘soft’ apology along with expected reimbursement of  badly required one billion USD from Coalition Support Fund.  While Hillary Clinton offered condolences to  families of Salala martyrs, it is now certain that perpetrators of  unprovoked and deliberate November 26 attack will never be brought to justice. Will Salala’s pain be ever relieved?