US sorry, but no apology for Pakistan
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 that ended a seven-month impasse over NATO supply routes.
The meeting followed months of clamouring by Islamabad, images of flag-draped coffins on TV, and widespread outcry from Pakistanis incensed by the US air attack that killed 24 of their 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 has lapsed into suspicion and hostility.
After US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s discussions with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari in the cavernous Chicago conference centre where world leaders met for a NATO summit in May, 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 massive aid.
“A lot of people were holding their nose at the White House and the Pentagon at the notion of an apology,” an official said on condition of anonymity. “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 finish line.”
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.
Nides and his Pakistani counterpart, Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, then spent weeks crafting language that would be acceptable to both sides. In her statement, Clinton did not use the word “apology”, saying instead: “Foreign Minister Khar and I acknowledged the mistakes that resulted in the loss of Pakistani military lives. We are sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military.”
So, as the anonymous official said, “everyone at the end of the day can say they got what they wanted - the White House, the Pakistan, the State Department, the Pentagon”.