By Sajjad Shaukat
With the formal apology from the United States, saying “sorry” as expressed by the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in relation to Salala incident which killed 24 soldiers on November 26, last year at Army outpost in Pakistan, Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DCC) on July 3, allowed reopening of the NATO supply route across Pakistan to Afghanistan.
In this regard, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said on June 4 that the decision to reopen Ground Lines of Communication (GLOCs) into Afghan was unanimously taken by civil and military leadership in line with the parliamentary recommendations. She explained, “The NATO supply route was reopened but a super power had to “back down.”
Since May 2, 2011, Pak-US ties deteriorated when by violating Pakistan’s sovereignty, US commandos killed Osama Bin Laden in a covert military operation. Afterwards, American high officials and media started a baseless blame game against Pakistan, while using various pressure tactics. After the Salala event, without bothering for American duress, Pakistan’s civil and military leadership took stern measures such as blockage of NATO supply route, closure of Shamsi Airbase, boycott of second Bonn Conference.
Notably, when DCC met on May 15, 2012, most of Pakistan’s political leaders and TV anchors made clear-cut speculations that Islamabad would restore the NATO supply line before the Chicago summit, held in May 20-21 due to growing pressure of the US-led NATO countries, but DCC fixed no deadline in this respect. Some of them presumed that President Asif Ali Zardari would announce the decision of reopening these transport routes during the NATO meeting at Chicago.
On May 21, US President Barack Obama also met Pakistan’s President Zardari on the sidelines of NATO summit, amid widespread reports that the US deliberately pressurised Pakistani president to meet US-NATO demands for reopening the supply route. But President Zardari repeated Pakistan’s demand for US apology over the unprovoked Salala check post incident. All the speculations regarding the resumption of NATO transport routes proved untrue.
The major obstacle in reaching an agreement with US was that the latter was pressurising Islamabad for earlier restoration of NATO route unilaterally, while Pakistan wanted to discuss all the inter-related subjects like border’s coordination mechanism, apology by US over Salala incident etc. So, it was owing to US illogical approach that the negotiating teams of both the countries did not agree to each other’s demands.
Besides, as part of American duress, by reviving old blame game, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton allegedly stated that it was difficult to achieve peace in Afghanistan as long as there are safe havens for terrorists in Pakistan. Leon Panetta and some US officials also blamed Pakistan for the high profile terror-attacks in Afghanistan, occurred on April 15, this year. America also accelerated drone attacks on North Waziristan, which were also defended by Panetta. It is mentionable that a US Senate panel voted cuts in aid to Pakistan and threatened to withhold even more cash, if Islamabad did not reopen its supply routes for NATO soldiers in Afghanistan. Despite these coercive tactics, Islamabad did not deviate from its stance that the US must apologies for the killing of 24 soldiers in the Mohmand Agency.
Meanwhile, a number of US civil and top military officials including NATO commanders, visited Islamabad and met the former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, asking them for reopening the NATO routes. For example, on May 13, ISAF Commander Gen. John Allen and Afghan Gen. Muhammad Karimi attended a Tripartite Commission’s meeting in Rawalpindi. Gen. Kayani reiterated that parliament furnished its recommendations and civil government would decide on the issue of NATO supply. Even during recent talks, Gen. Kayani rejected an apology by ISAF commander Gen. John Allen, saying that the matter is not between two armed forces but between two states.
Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar reiterated that seeking apology from the US on Salala event was essential for reopening the NATO supplies. But top US officials time and again said that “apology is not possible.” The negotiating team from the US fails to fulfill Pakistani demand. Its result was a deadlock, and suspension of NATO supply line which continued for eight months.
Now, US has accepted Islamabad’s stand of apology and relations have improved between both the countries. No doubt, it is a great diplomatic victory for Pakistan over the sole superpower. But it is regrettable that like the previous presumptions, again leaders of the political parties like Imran Khan, Leader of opposition in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and Syed Munawar Hasan, head of Jamaat-i-Islami including other religious parties are criticising the Pak-US agreement for the sake of criticism. Thus, by misguiding the general masses through protests and rallies, their main aim is to increase their vote bank in the coming elections. While some of our media anchors and commentators are also opposing the positive deal of Pakistan with America.
Perhaps these internal elements are not acquainted with the principles of “realpolitik.” In these terms, bargaining leverage plays a key role when controversy arises over some issues between two countries. Unlike the major states, small countries are more vulnerable to the demands of big powers as our world system reflects unequal order, giving good leverage of bargaining to the US-led most developed countries. In this context, powerful states impose their decisions on the weak countries by using UN Security Council which has become a tool in their hands, sometimes to invade a hostile country or sometimes to impose sanctions. While, global financial institutes like IMF and World Bank are also in their control. So, economic aid is as another tool of major countries to bring small states to their favourable demands.
In this regard, Pakistan which has already been facing multiple crises of grave nature like subversive acts, political instability, economic uncertainty and acute financial problem was not in a position to annoy US-led NATO countries by showing unnecessary inflexibility. Otherwise, it could result in ‘isolation’ or economic sanctions, making Pakistan another Somalia.
However, NATO countries seek to adopt Pakistani routes for withdrawal of their troops and vehicles from Afghanistan as part of their exit strategy. So, it was not an issue between Pakistan and America alone as it also includes most developed countries of the NATO. Despite all of this, Pakistan’s civil and military leaders allowed the resumption of NATO supply lines after the US apology.
Nevertheless, this new relationship with US is likely to pave way for the reimbursement of Coalition Support Funds (CSF) and other foreign assistance including the Kerry-Lugar aid, providing some respite to country’s fragile external account and currency outlook. It would also increase the value of Rupee which was facing downward trends.
Unlike the opposition’s unrealistic approach, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar has also remarked that Pakistan had not engaged in any ‘secret deal’ with the US for reopening the key supply routes. She openly said that Pakistan would continue talks with the US over drone attacks.
While US and other western members of NATO seek stability in Afghanistan in the post-2014 scenario, realising the fact that they need Pakistan’s help in this respect. So Islamabad would also convince America to stop predators’ strikes on its tribal areas.
Positive change in American policy could be judged from the fact that US Defence Secretary Panetta and various congressional leaders have welcomed Pakistan’s decision to re-open NATO supplies.
Instead of entangling the general masses in the term, “sorry” or “apology,” our political leaders and media anchors must show realistic approach at this juncture, while Pakistan needs selfless unity in wake of multi-faceted crises.
Nonetheless Pakistan has its principled stance accepted which shows its diplomatic victory over the US.
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations