Let’s cut right to the chase. The US government should apologise for last November’s tragic raid at Salala.
I say this for three reasons.
Firstly, Pakistani soldiers were killed by North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) firepower. Though the details remain unclear, and the incident may have been just a terrible accident, regardless of how it happened, the bottom line is that Pakistanis who should not have been killed were in fact killed.
When such incidents occur in Afghanistan, and Afghan troops are killed by US or Nato troops, Washington describes them as “friendly fire” accidents and promptly apologises. America’s refusal to do so in the case of Salala therefore reeks of hypocrisy, and suggests a lack of respect for Pakistani lives.
Secondly, apologising does not necessarily denote to acknowledging guilt. If Washington was to give an apology, that wouldn’t mean it’s owning up to its actions and taking responsibility- whether intentionally or accidentally- for Pakistani soldiers’ deaths.
It's like me saying “I’m sorry for your loss” to someone who loses a friend or a loved one. I wouldn't be saying that because I killed the person who has just passed away, or that I was somehow responsible for it. I’m simply stating that I’m sorry that such incident happened. This would appear to be common sense; in the fraught realm of international relations, however, such considerations are seemingly disregarded.
Finally, on a more practical note, apologising for Salala would go a long way towards getting those Nato supply routes reopened form our end.
It’s true that Washington has recently concluded new agreements with Central Asian states to allow Nato materiel to exit Afghanistan through those countries, yet that option is prohibitively expensive and such routes necessitate passing through much treacherous and unstable terrain in Afghanistan.
I am not the only American calling for an apology. From prominent Pakistan expert Christine Fair to Senator Dianne Feinstein and various less famous Americans in between; many of us have taken the same stance on the issue. Most telling is the response of Americans when asked the following:
"If Pakistan were fighting a war in Mexico, and Pakistani air strike inadvertently struck and killed US soldiers stationed in a Texas border town, would you want Pakistan to apologise?"
The answer, based on my own experiences, is often yes. This is an argument that Bilawal Bhutto articulated quite well while visiting the US several weeks ago.
This gets to the crux of why I chose to write this piece for the Pakistani press. I want Pakistanis to understand that many of us are as outraged as they are that no apology has been proffered. I often sense that Pakistanis assume common Americans always side with Washington’s hawkish and hardline policies regarding Pakistan- and this is simply not true.
To be fair though, the US government’s position is actually quite nuanced.
In recent months, the State Department has expressed a desire to offer an apology, and just several weeks ago media reports revealed that the two countries were working on the language for one. However, while these negotiations were in the proceeding, Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, decided to ramp up the rhetoric against Pakistan, emphasising that he was losing patience with the country. Soon thereafter, he suggested there would be no apology, and urged that Pakistan should "move on".
Still, the main reason why there has been no apology has little to do with US hostility towards Pakistan, and everything to do with US domestic politics. President Obama is concerned that an apology would prompt his political opponents, especially in a congressional and presidential election year, to accuse him of being weak.
Incidentally, it’s not only the US that politicises the Salala tragedy. The Associated Press has reported that Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, met with a Pakistani diplomat to explore the possibility of an apology- until the Pakistanis insisted the apology be timed for maximum political impact.
Let’s make one thing clear here, an apology from Washington would be no silver tie of friendship.
US-Pakistan ties would still be knee deep in trouble. From a certain Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA)- ensconced militant network to drone strikes and the Shakil Afridi conviction, there is plenty to keep both sides angry.
As the latest Pew survey reveals, nearly three-quarters of Pakistanis regard America as an enemy and recent polling finds that similar numbers of Americans view Pakistan as unfavourable.
Hence, given all this hostility brewing amongst the two nations, an apology would be a very welcomed gesture.
Read more by Michael here or follow him on Twitter @MichaelKugelman
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