Originally Published 2012-07-04 00:00:00 Published on Jul 04, 2012
Reports say US and Pakistan have found the formulation that will satisfy Pakistan's political establishment without embarrassing the White House. The language is likely to be flexible enough for Pakistan and the US to interpret it in their own way.
US apology?
After months of bickering, Washington and Islamabad appear close to a deal on reopening the overland supply routes, or Ground Lines of Communication, to Afghanistan through Pakistan.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reportedly discussed the outlines of an understanding with the new prime minister of Pakistan, Raja Pervez Ashraf, over the weekend. Senior American civilian and military officials have been in Islamabad and Rawalpindi to hammer out the terms under which Pakistan would reopen the GLOCs.

Islamabad had shut down these roads following an attack on a Pakistani military post by NATO forces in Afghanistan last November. Twenty four Pakistani soldiers died in the attack. Washington’s military inquiry into the incident said the attack was the result of a mix-up and both sides were responsible.

Pakistan insisted that a formal and public apology by the Obama administration must precede the reopening of the routes. Washington has been hesitant about tendering an "apology". President Barack Obama does not want to seem to be bending under Pakistani pressure in an election year.

The two sides appeared on the verge of finding a compromise in May on the eve of a NATO summit in Chicago. Washington invited Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari at the very last minute, hoping that he would announce the lifting of the blockade against NATO.

When the US found Zardari was not ready for closure, Obama refused to see him on the margins of the NATO summit.

Reports from Washington and Islamabad now say the two sides have found the formulation that will satisfy Pakistan’s political establishment without embarrassing the White House.

The language is likely to be flexible enough for Pakistan to claim it is an "apology", while Washington might say it is only a different form of expressing "regret".

It is also unlikely that President Obama himself will tender an apology. He might ask Vice President Joe Biden or Clinton to express contrition.

Transit Price

Besides an apology, Islamabad has also insisted on the US paying more for the use of its road network to supply the American and international forces in Afghanistan.

Until the blockade was put in place, Pakistan was charging $250 per container. Recent reports suggested Pakistan was now demanding as much as $5,000 per container.

Washington refused to accept this "price-gouging". All indications are that Pakistan might settle for a modest increase.

Despite all the recent mutual recrimination, there is no denying that Pakistan and the United States need each other. For the US, the supply routes through Pakistan are the simplest and least expensive.

In the last few months, the US demonstrated to Islamabad that it can live without access to Pakistan’s GLOCs. The so-called northern distribution network developed through Central Asia and Russia is now a credible but costly alternative. Clearly, the reopening of the GLOCs would make it much easier for the US to plan the withdrawal of its armed forces and equipment from Afghanistan in the next two years.

With its bluff having been called, Pakistan too recognises the importance of US support for managing the current crisis in its economy and the huge political value of the American connection.

While a deal on the GLOCs might help put the relationship back on track, there is little love lost between Washington and Islamabad. The "transactional" nature of the relationship is now ever more evident to the elites in both countries.


Finding the right words for an apology and the appropriate price for transit do not, in themselves, resolve the fundamental contradiction between the US and Pakistani interests in Afghanistan.

Washington wants to leave a reasonably strong state in Kabul that can defend Afghanistan’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. Rawalpindi, in contrast, wants to weaken Kabul and install its own clients, the Taliban and the Haqqani network, in Afghanistan’s future power structures.

Washington cannot stabilise Afghanistan, without going after the sanctuaries enjoyed by the Taliban and the Haqqani network in Pakistan. That is the reason why the US has been raining drones on Pakistan’s western borderlands.

The US has once again called for greater trilateral cooperation between its own troops, the Afghan security forces, and the Pakistan army to wipe out the sanctuaries. Rawalpindi is not ready to bite.

Despite the new deal, then, the US and the Pakistan army are likely to remain "frenemies" - friends and enemies at the same time - in Afghanistan.

(The writer is a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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