New Delhi: It took eight months, but the U.S. finally said sorry to Pakistan for killing 24 Pakistani soldiers in a firefight on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Pentagon mulled over the challenge given by Pakistan and so far maintained there was no need for U.S. to apologies for this incident.
In fact the U.S. showed little sympathy for Pakistan, who had been double-dealing U.S. for a long time by supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan and taking no action against the Haqqani Network that was responsible of a large number of attacks on US-NATO troops.
The U.S. authorities maintained that the clash killing 24 Pakistani soldiers in a NATO helicopter attack in Northwest frontier area of Pakistan in November last year was accidental because of miscommunication on both sides.
Pakistan however stood firm on its demand for a U.S. apology for the raid and closed U.S. military supply routes to Afghanistan, the U.S. in turn, froze $700 million in military assistance to Pakistan and stopped further engagement on economic assistance. In the meanwhile the Pakistani Parliament voted to ban all US drone attacks on and from Pakistani territory.
As relations between the countries reached a new low Hillary Clinton showed keenness to revive normal ties with Pakistan to protect a critical relationship, contrary to the hard line policy advocated by Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency.
Hillary Clinton, however, insisted that Pakistan must fight the Taliban and other extremists operating from Pakistan, and she had been emphasising this point in each of her meeting with Pakistani leaders.
The Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency have been lobbying for a strategic shift in dealing with Pakistan, expose its double dealings in international media, and start special military and intelligence operations in Pakistan if it continued to drag its feet in countering terror groups operating from its soil. They recommended a tough policy of direct confrontation with Pakistan.
They obviously misread the situation, far from bending or diluting its demands, Pakistan distanced itself from the U.S. and began applying pressure by threatening to put an end to the U.S. drone program, the only means the U.S. has to directly attack the aL-Qaeda – Haqqani group.
All the behind-the-scenes lobbying failed to resolve the issues plaguing relations between the two countries and relations deteriorated. A high-level US visit to Islamabad on the eve of the NATO Summit in Chicago also failed to resolve the apology issue. As there were indications that Pakistan even after an apology, would demand a higher fee to allow NATO supplies into Afghanistan.
President Barack Obama did not meet Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari on the sidelines of the summit indicating unless the supply routes reopened the deadlock will continue; but that did not break the resolve of Pakistan to continue the hard line.
The non-availability of suitable land and air routes was to cost an additional $100 million a month to the US another serious problem that loomed large in U.S. calculations was that without Pakistani land route, the US military would not be able to get its heavy equipment out of Afghanistan on completion of the mission. It was realised by the US that without Pakistani routes being available withdrawal would be messy and the US would have to pay a very heavy cost for it.
However, a few words of apology enabled the US to get over all the problems related to supply of its forces in Afghanistan without paying an unacceptable price. More over the threat that Pakistan will block US drone strikes also receded.
The US rightly opted for substantial gains by a long-term strategy that would meet US security requirements. by maintaining a careful balance between its military requirements and false prestige.
In practical terms it is the best strategy for dealing with a tricky ally till withdrawal of troops is completed. US may reverse its policy once the main aim of withdrawing smoothly from Afghanistan is accomplished, in all probability it is a temporary truce to get over the compulsions imposed by the war in Afghanistan.
Pakistan would like to keep the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban and extremist elements alive and well to use them as a strategic asset against India and Karzai regime. However, US will put all possible pressure on Pakistan to stop military assistance to Taliban and would want India to assist in efforts to preserve the Karzai regime, India in such circumstances should not hesitate to expand its role of strengthening the security forces of Afghanistan.
As the US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan prepare to pullout India must assert its right to expand its role in the post war stabilization of Afghanistan despite all Pakistani efforts to block such a move. However, the aversion to the idea of an Indian military presence in Afghanistan is still very strong in Pakistan and it will make every effort to keep India out of Afghanistan.