Commentary

The U.S. Apology: A Fig Leaf or a Victory for Pakistan?

Middle East In Focus

Middle East In Focus

Pakistan closed NATO supply routes to Afghanistan six months ago, following a NATO attack that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. This week, following a long-sought apology by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Islamabad has agreed to reopen the routes. In Pakistan, the decision was received with a mix of relief and caution; whereas elsewhere in the region the opening of the supply routes was seen as a concession and an admission by both sides of the need to move forward.

In Pakistan, the daily Dawn editorial congratulates the Pakistani civilian and military leadership for “finally demonstrate[ing] a willingness to compromise, despite hurt sensitivities and political pressure at home. In return, the U.S. needs to be extremely conscious of Pakistani sovereignty going forward....Aside from sorting out lingering issues with America, particularly counterterrorism cooperation, the task at home now is to rein in any violent right-wing reactions....But the risk with fostering intolerant forces is that they cannot always be managed. The Taliban, too, have said they will retaliate.”

Others are not so sure, however. Another Pakistani daily, The Daily Times, cautions in its editorial: “The cleared air over the resumption of NATO supplies has caused ripples in the opposition and right wing parties. Considering the reopening decision as a stab in the back, opposition political parties have termed it a gross violation of the parliamentary resolutions. To the Defence Council of Pakistan (DFC), the government has betrayed its people....If the resumption of NATO supplies is in the interests of the U.S. and Afghanistan, the decision to reopen the routes could imply a recognition by the Pakistani military of the by now undeniable nexus between the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ Taliban.”

The sentiment of the Nation’s editorial, another Pakistani daily, is decidedly not one of a hard-earned victory: “It is clear that while five months of negotiations gained Islamabad a cautiously worded statement, which qualifies as an apology by the narrowest margin, Kabul by contrast received an apology and visit from President Obama himself for the deaths of Afghan civilians. One wonders why, if this was the apology in the offing and the Pakistani magnanimity of no transit fee was also to be extended, why then did Pakistan not accept the offer of an apology five months ago....the reset of relations with the U.S. ought to have been seen in light of Parliament’s decision.”

Similarly, the Pakistan Observer criticizes the decision of the Pakistani government to not levy any transit fees on NATO supplies: “Intriguingly, Pakistan has decided not to levy any transit fee on NATO supplies and Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira, who read out decisions of the DCC meeting, had the audacity to defend it by saying it proved that Pakistan’s stance was principled and was about national honour and dignity....No doubt, the United States has agreed to release $1.18 billion under Coalition Support Fund (CSF) but this is no favor as the country has already incurred this expenditure from its meager resources.”

In Afghanistan, the Outlook Afghanistan editorial focuses on the reaction of the Taliban and the implication of the agreement for the country’s stability: “Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan…in a statement has said that the resumption of NATO supply line showed the slavish nature of the Pakistani government; the resumption was a disrespect to the blood of those soldiers…. So, it would not be an easy sail for Pakistani authorities to follow the route resumption; nevertheless, they have to show determined efforts. From Afghanistan's point of view, it is necessary that the war against terrorism should reach to a conclusive end, as it is the only way that can guarantee lasting peace in Afghanistan and the region.”

Others in the region see the apology and the opening of the supply routes as a positive step forward, especially when it comes to Pakistan’s national dignity. As the Gulf Today notes, “Relations between the U.S. and Pakistan have never been comfortable. Washington used Islamabad when it suited its purposes and undermined Pakistan’s interests at other times. Naturally, caught in the U.S. game was not only Pakistan’s politics but also the sentiments of the Pakistani people and this is working against U.S. interests in the region, with the government in Islamabad unable to do anything about it....Any improvement of the bilateral relationship requires U.S. respect for Pakistan as a sovereign country with genuine national interests.”

Similarly, The Peninsula welcomes “Pakistan’s decision to reopen the supply lines to NATO forces in Afghanistan…. The decision to close the routes had caused more damage than Islamabad and America had expected....Any delay in reopening the supply lines would have cost U.S. more, especially since it comes at a time when Washington is planning the withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan....The current climbdown by both sides is a result of the understanding that a continuation of the stalemate was not in their interests.”

For the Khaleej Times staff, the episode demonstrates a possible power shift: “Pakistan’s stance on the issue was quite principled. In fact, the country’s leaders have shown exemplary diplomatic skills....It’s very likely that right-wing religious parties — and possibly even Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf — will precipitate protests against the supposed loss of national honor after the opening of the route. However, the Pakistani government’s normative stance on the issue was honorable and has instilled a sense of responsibility in the U.S.....The entire episode has also probably made the U.S. realize that its relationship with Pakistan, though not equal, is surely one of interdependence.”

But others are not so sure that Pakistan really is the winner in this exchange, as shown in this Gulf Times editorial: “A little ‘sorry’ from Hillary Clinton has provided Pakistan the fig leaf of a diplomatic victory in its ties with the U.S. and a resultant temporary high that it has brought the world’s only superpower to its knees....It’s anybody’s guess where Pakistani-U.S. relations are headed at the moment. A spike in violence looks inevitable now, putting Pakistan’s security at further risk. Having nurtured the Taliban in the past, the Pakistani establishment is clueless about what to do them. At the same time, it cannot afford to antagonize America. After all, Pakistan is dependent on U.S. aid for survival. Is there a way out for Pakistan? Only time will tell.”

Finally, as the National editorial cautions, “Papering over the problems between the two reluctant allies should not obscure a more fundamental problem: as the United States winds down its war effort, Afghans and Pakistanis will be left to deal with the aftermath. The security situation in both countries is arguably more chaotic than before the U.S. invasion and will have spillover effects for Central Asia and beyond. A military solution was never going to work in the region. Development efforts could.”


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