WASHINGTON: After months of deadlock and $2.1 billion in extra costs to the Pentagon, Pakistan agreed to reopen NATO supply lines to Afghanistan after getting the high-level civilian apology it had long sought from the US. The price besides American pride? Zero.
Top Afghanistan commander Gen. John Allen and other military officers had expressed regret for the friendly-fire incident in November when US helicopters opened fire on Pakistani border troops, killing at least 24 of them by mistake, but the proud Pakistanis were holding out for an apology from higher up. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton provided that apology today in a phone call to the Pakistani Foreign Minister: “I once again reiterated our deepest regrets for the tragic incident in Salala last November,” she said in a statement. “Foreign Minister Khar and I acknowledged the mistakes that resulted in the loss of Pakistani military lives.”
This almost-apology seems to have fallen short of the US taking sole responsibility for the incident, which it has always blamed on mistakes by both sides amidst the fog of guerrilla war. What was different this time was who expressed regret, not how.
In return for this modest concession, the US got back its main supply line into Afghanistan – without any of the exorbitant transit fees Pakistan had been demanding earlier in the negotiations. “Pakistan will continue not to charge any transit fee in the larger interest of peace and security in Afghanistan and the region,” Clinton’s statement continued.
If this deal holds, it will not only save major dollars for the Pentagon but also strike a blow against those who argued it was time to write Pakistan off as a partner.