Rocky Road to Re­newed Friend­ship

Southasia - - Comment -

US Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton tele­phoned her Pak­istani coun­ter­part, For­eign Min­is­ter Hina Rab­bani Khar and the much sought af­ter apol­ogy came through, though not in the form the Pak­ista­nis wished. Is­lam­abad had long de­manded that Wash­ing­ton ‘apol­o­gize’ for the deadly air raid by US forces killing 24 Pak­istani sol­diers at the Salala check­post on the Pak­istan-Afghanistan bor­der. This was Pak­istan’s pre­con­di­tion to the re­open­ing of the Nato/Isaf sup­ply lines that were closed in an­gry re­ac­tion to the at­tack. How­ever, the US Sec­re­tary of State did not use the word ‘apol­o­gize’ as such but sim­ply stated: “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.”

The Pak­istani na­tion did not seem in any mood to ac­cept Hil­lary Clin­ton’s words as a proper apol­ogy and there was an im­me­di­ate out­cry from pub­lic quar­ters as well as op­po­si­tion lead­ers to the ef­fect that merely say­ing sorry was not enough and that the apol­ogy should have been more cat­e­gor­i­cal. How­ever, it was heart­en­ing to see that bet­ter coun­sels pre­vailed both at the civil­ian and mil­i­tary level and, in­stead of tak­ing the stale­mate any fur­ther, the Pak­istani au­thor­i­ties acted pos­i­tively and re­stored the sup­ply routes. This al­lowed the Nato/Isaf con­tainer traf­fic, held up for some seven months, to re­sume move­ment on the roads lead­ing from the Karachi port to the bor­der cross­ing points at Chaman and Torkham and on to des­ti­na­tions in Afghanistan. Op­po­si­tion par­ties and reli­gious el­e­ments se­verely crit­i­cized the gov­ern­ment for its de­ci­sion to re­open the sup­ply routes and anti-Amer­i­can sen­ti­ment in Pak­istan con­tin­ued to run high. A sur­vey in June had al­ready showed that 74 per­cent of re­spon­dents in Pak­istan con­sid­ered the US an en­emy, while this was 69 per­cent in 2011 and 64 per­cent three years ago.

The Nato/Isaf sup­ply routes are now con­sid­ered even more vi­tal as the US is pre­par­ing to pull out its com­bat troops from Afghanistan by 2014. Dur­ing the seven months of route clo­sure fol­low­ing the Salala in­ci­dent, the US had to use ex­pen­sive and lengthy al­ter­nate routes through the for­mer Soviet Union with the cost run­ning into an ad­di­tional US $100 mil­lion per month. The Pak­istan gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion to re­open NATO sup­ply routes was wel­comed by var­i­ous nations such as China, which said it fully stood by Pak­istan on its stance on NATO sup­plies and the ques­tion of sovereignty and ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity, and that it would ex­tend all pos­si­ble diplo­matic sup­port on the is­sue of war on ter­ror­ism. United King­dom For­eign Sec­re­tary Wil­liam Hague said that re­open­ing of the Ground Lines of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion (GLOC) into Afghanistan was im­por­tant for Bri­tain and NATO’s op­er­a­tions in Afghanistan. A com­mu­niqué of the French Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs said the de­ci­sion would en­able the mem­bers of Isaf to move ahead with the process of tran­si­tion in Afghanistan.

The re­sump­tion of Nato sup­plies through Pak­istan has been termed as a good op­por­tu­nity for both the US and Pak­istan to re­build bi­lat­eral ties though it must be clearly un­der­stood that a long and rocky road lies ahead. There are sev­eral road­blocks on the way to im­proved re­la­tions, such as stop­ping of re­cur­ring Amer­i­can drone strikes in Pak­istan ter­ri­tory and re­mov­ing the im­pres­sion that Pak­istan is sup­port­ing cer­tain Tal­iban el­e­ments. The US could be­gin by adopt­ing a more re­al­is­tic ap­proach this time and place more con­fi­dence in Pak­istan in terms of se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion, proac­tively solv­ing var­i­ous nig­gling is­sues and giv­ing this key South Asian na­tion a more strate­gic sta­tus rather than con­tin­u­ing to ben­e­fit from it’s trans­ac­tional ad­van­tage.

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