In the end it was a meeting in a nondescript conference room in Chicago that finally set in motion the long-awaited US apology to Pakistan last week ending a seven-month impasse over Nato supply routes for the Afghan war.
The meeting in late May followed months of clamouring by Islamabad, images of flag-draped coffins on television, and widespread outcry from Pakistanis incensed by the US air attack that killed 24 soldiers on the Afghan border last November.
The breakthrough, in which Islamabad reopened supply routes into Afghanistan and Washington yielded to months of Pakistani demands to apologise for the border deaths, was praised as a prelude to improved ties between two nations whose security alliance had lapsed into mutual suspicion and hostility.
After US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s discussions with President Asif Ali Zardari in the cavernous Chicago conference centre where world leaders met for a Nato summit, Clinton instructed Thomas Nides, a top deputy back in Washington, to do what it took to find a solution ensuring Nato could once again supply the war in Afghanistan via Pakistan.
At the heart of last week’s denouement was a carefully worded statement that allowed the United States to accommodate Pakistani indignation without opening President Barack Obama up to criticism months before presidential polls.
Just as importantly, it aimed to avoid alienating those within Obama’s government who had resisted apologising to a country many in Washington see as acting to subvert US goals in the region, even while accepting US aid.
“The logic was that this was not a full-throated apology but that it was enough of a statement of regret, using terms associated with an apology, to get us across the Ground Lines of Communication (GLOC) finish line,” a US official said requesting anonymity.
Taking it to the top
Clinton’s talks in Chicago with Zardari proved pivotal because, for the first time, they elevated months of efforts to hammer out a solution on technical issues, including proposed fees on Nato supplies, to the senior political level.
In her statement, issued after a call last Tuesday to Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, Clinton did not use the word “apology.”
“Foreign Minister Khar and I acknowledged the mistakes that resulted in the loss of Pakistani military lives,” Clinton said.
“We are sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military,” she said.
According to sources familiar with the matter, the deal was aided by signals from the Pakistani side that parliamentary demands for an ‘unconditional’ apology would not necessitate stronger language than Clinton ultimately used. Pakistan also dropped demands for extra fees on Nato supplies.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 12th, 2012.