Pakistan apology deal incidental to real problem of its support for terrorists

July 4, 2012

(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)

As Washington closed down for the Independence Day holiday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly apologised to Pakistan for the deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers inadvertently killed by a NATO military strike along the Afghan border last November.

In return for the formal American apology, Pakistan will re-open Afghan supply routes it shut down in retaliation.

The seven month closure of the routes forced the U.S. to rely on more expensive routes running north of Afghanistan — the so-called Northern Distribution Network.

Although it is unclear exactly how much more expensive the northern routes proved to be — some estimates said around $100 million more per month — or only about half of what we spent on security and economic aid to Pakistan in FY 2011. (Total U.S. economic and security aid to Pakistan amounted to around $2.4 billion in FY2011, which, if averaged over a 12-month period, equals about $240 million per month).

Secretary Clinton’s apology deal is really incidental to the real issue at stake in U.S.-Pakistan relations.  The reality is that the U.S. and Pakistan are striving for different outcomes in Afghanistan. In her statement of apology, Clinton said that the restoration of the supply routes was a “tangible demonstration of Pakistan’s support for a secure, peaceful, and prosperous Afghanistan and our shared objectives in the region.”

Yet this is simply not true. Merely re-opening the supply routes will not help the U.S. achieve its objectives in Afghanistan because it does not address the fundamental problem of continuing Pakistani support for the Taliban and Haqqani network that are killing U.S. and coalition forces on a daily basis in Afghanistan. Pakistan has never explained — let alone apologised — for its lack of action against the enemies of the U.S. that find sanctuary on its soil.

The U.S. cannot afford to allow the Taliban to re-gain influence in Afghanistan, lest the country revert to becoming a safe haven for terrorists once again. For its part, Pakistan is focused on ensuring that a regime friendly to Pakistan emerges in the country, and that regime would most likely include elements aligned with al Qaeda.

Until Pakistan aligns its goals more closely with those of the U.S. and NATO in Afghanistan and confronts the Taliban and Haqqani networks inside Pakistan, tensions between the U.S. and Pakistan will persist.

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