After months of squabbling that brought a slew of acrimonious exchanges, the United States finally said what Pakistan wanted to hear: sorry.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday apologised over last year’s deadly Nato air raid on Pakistan’s border posts in the Salala area of Mohmand Agency that killed over two dozen troops.
In reprisal for the unilateral raid on November 26, 2011, Pakistan had blocked the vital Nato transit routes and made US troops vacate the Shamsie airbase which was reportedly housing remotely-
Clinton said in a statement that she has offered her ‘deepest regrets’ over the Salala tragedy in a phone call to her Pakistani counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar. She said ‘sorry’ for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military.
“Foreign Minister Khar and I acknowledged the mistakes that resulted in the loss of Pakistani military lives,” she said. “We are sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military. We are committed to working closely with Pakistan and Afghanistan to prevent this from ever happening again.”
Clinton and Khar spoke about “the importance of taking coordinated action against terrorists who threaten Pakistan, the United States, and the region; of supporting Afghanistan’s security, stability, and efforts towards reconciliation; and of continuing to work together to advance the many other shared interests we have”.
She said that both countries should have a “relationship that is enduring, strategic, and carefully defined, and that enhances the security and prosperity of both our nations and the region”.
The foreign minister has “informed me that the ground supply lines [of communications] into Afghanistan are opening,” according to Clinton. However, “no lethal equipment will transit through the GLOC into Afghanistan except for equipping the ANSF (Afghan national security forces)”.
Initial hopes of a deal on re-opening the routes had fallen apart at a Nato summit in Chicago in May amid reports that Pakistan was demanding huge fees for each of the thousands of trucks that rumble across the border every year.
An angry Defence Secretary Leon Panetta had said that Washington ‘will not be price gouged’ by Islamabad.
But Clinton said that Khar has told her that “Pakistan will continue not to charge any transit fee in the larger interest of peace and security in Afghanistan and the region.
“This is a tangible demonstration of Pakistan’s support for a secure, peaceful, and prosperous Afghanistan and our shared objectives in the region.”
Reopening the routes would help the United States and Nato to complete its withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan ‘at a much lower cost’, she said.
“This is critically important to the men and women who are fighting terrorism and extremism in Afghanistan.”
Pakistan’s top diplomat in Washington welcomed Clinton’s statement which, she said, would help repair the ties damaged by the standoff over the Nato routes.
“We appreciate Secretary Clinton’s statement, and hope that bilateral ties can move to a better place from here. I’m confident that both countries can agree on many critical issues, especially on bringing peace to the region,” Ambassador Sherry Rehman said in a statement.
Clinton’s ‘sorry’ preceded a ‘personal apology’ by the US commander of Nato forces Gen John Allen to Pakistan Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani during a meeting in Islamabad earlier this week.
Gen Kayani appreciated the move but called it ‘insufficient’ for reopening the Nato routes, the BBC quoted a senior military official as saying.
Gen Kayani told the American commander that the matter was not between two militaries but between two states and that it should be resolved at the state level, according to the official.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 4th, 2012.
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