Just a 'sorry'? Pakistanis question NATO supply line deal.
NATO supply routes through Pakistan to Afghanistan have been reopened after a long-awaited US apology, but Pakistanis question whether their demands have been met.
| Islamabad, Pakistan
After a seven-month deadlock between the US and Pakistan, the first NATO supply trucks crossed the Afghan border earlier today.
The Pakistani government officially reopened supply routes on Wednesday, after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton apologized for a NATO-led cross-border attack that killed 24 soldiers and prompted Pakistan to close down supply routes in November. A parliamentary resolution immediately following the attack called on the government to demand an unconditional apology from the US, the end of drone attacks, and higher transit fees for NATO trucks.
The decision to reopen the supply routes after the apology is a major step forward for US-Pakistan relations, especially after several months of public disagreements and comments that seemed to indicate a deteriorating partnership. However, opposition parties in Pakistan's National Assembly are calling the move “submissive” and are complaining that Pakistan’s government has failed to uphold the country's national interests. America-friendly analysts are questioning the point of Pakistan's defiant approach to the US, arguing that not much has really changed.
“The parliament said that America needs to ask for our forgiveness after the NATO attack that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers and shut down drone attacks. The US has not ceased drone attacks,” says GEO News reporter Hamir Mir.
Pakistan demands for increases in transit fees have been put aside, indicating that Pakistan has gotten nothing in return for the opening of the border, says Mr. Mir. “Are $1.18 billion in Coalition Support Funds after seven months of keeping NATO supply routes closed an indication that we are keeping our heads high? I think not,” he says.
For some Pakistanis, the US apology didn’t go far enough to merit a reopening of supply routes. Clinton said that mistakes had been made on both sides, prompting “some [to] argue it wasn't formal or direct enough,” according to an editorial in Pakistan's Dawn newspaper.
“The US has not apologized formally,” said Nawaz Sharif, the leader of the main opposition party Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz. Imran Khan, another major opposition figure, went further, saying that “the decision isn't only against national interest but can also stir unrest within the ranks of the armed forces.” And on Twitter #SayNoToNato started trending in Pakistan on the day of the announcement – topped only by #Happy4thofJuly.
A coalition of right-wing Islamist parties have announced an anti-NATO protest for July 8. Syed Munawwar Hassan, the leader of the conservative Jamaat-e-Islami, said that Pakistan's leaders signed a “document of slavery,” by agreeing to reopen the routes with just an apology. Echoing popular sentiment he said “the nation should unite against this anti-Pakistan decision and close all supply routes.”
The Pakistan Taliban, meanwhile, has announced its intention to attack NATO supply trucks and kill its drivers.
Adding fuel to the firestorm of criticism, some newspapers are suggesting that Pakistan may have struck a secret deal with the US. Kamran Yousaf, a local Pakistan journalist for The Express Tribune said that according to his official sources “Pakistan has secretly allowed US-led NATO forces to use its airspace for transporting lethal supplies to Afghanistan.”
Pakistan's Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar has denied such allegations. She has also dismissed criticism that Clinton did not go far enough in her apology. “I can today tell the people of Pakistan that the US respects their aspirations as stated by the parliamentary recommendations,” said Khar.
Pakistan's liberal elite has lauded the government's decision, but doubt the many months of negotiations was worth it.
By keeping the border closed for so long many say that Pakistan acted irrationally put the country's larger and longer-term national interests at stake. An editorial in Pakistan's Express Tribune newspaper said that “Pakistanis forgot their more pressing crises and focused on America's apology, which they thought should be self-demeaning to the extreme.”
Raza Rumi a columnist for The Express Tribune argued that the problem was that the US was part and parcel of a dynamic where both sides had a “proclivity […] for grandstanding and posturing mainly to whip up public opinion as well as play a game of needless brinkmanship.”