Pakistan scoffs at US apologies after NATO strike

US attempts to soothe tensions after a NATO strike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers have been mostly rebuffed. NATO claims the strike was 'unintended.'

Shakil Adil/AP
Pakistani lawyers rally to condemn NATO strikes on Pakistani troops, in Karachi, Pakistan, on Monday, Nov 28. The NATO airstrikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers went on for almost two hours and continued even after Pakistani commanders had pleaded with coalition forces to stop, the army claimed Monday in charges that could further inflame anger in Pakistan. Placard on right reads " Go ahead Pakistan army we are with you."

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As further details about the NATO strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers continue to trickle out, Pakistan has scoffed at US attempts to apologize and repair damage done to the US-Pakistan partnership and hinted that the Saturday attack could mark a point of no return. However, the two countries are still heavily dependent on one another, which could be enough to prevent a break.

In an interview with CNN Monday, Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said "Pakistan was re-evaluating its relationship with the United States," noting that Pakistan wanted to continue its relationship "as long as there was mutual respect and respect for Pakistan's sovereignty." The most recent attack was a violation of sovereignty, Mr. Gilani said.

The Washington Post reports that, according to Pakistan Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, the NATO attack at two border outposts lasted for almost two hours and Pakistani Army requests to NATO to bring an end to the fire were ignored. Mr. Abbas rejected Afghan claims that the Pakistani soldiers fired first and said that NATO and Afghanistan knew the exact border outpost locations, provided by Pakistan, and that the area had recently been cleared of militants.

NATO pledged to conduct a full investigation into the strike on the soldiers, which it said was "tragic and unintended," according to the Washington Post. Editor's note: This sentence was added to clarify the US explanation of the strike.

He also said that the US failed to follow procedure and inform the Pakistani Army that they were receiving fire from the Pakistani side of the border. The Washington Post reports that US troops have repeatedly come under attack from the Pakistani side of the border, often within sight of Pakistani border posts and military bases, and that the proximity of Pakistani military positions does not necessarily mean that there are not militants operating in the area.

In a joint statement late Saturday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta offered their "deepest condolences." However, Pakistani newspapers, including The Nation, reported today that Abbas said, "NATO regret over the killing of Pakistani soldier is not enough. … We think this is not enough and we do not accept it. Such raids have also been conducted in the past. Such attacks are unacceptable."

The New York Times notes that the cycle of American apologies and initial righteous anger from Pakistan is one that has played out before – but it becomes harder to return to normal relations each time.

The reaction inside Pakistan nonetheless followed a now-familiar pattern of anger and tit-for-tat retaliation. So did the American response of regret laced with frustration and suspicion. Each side’s actions reflected a deepening distrust that gets harder to repair with each clash.

The question now, as one senior American official put it on Sunday, is “what kind of resilience is left” in a relationship that has sunk to new lows time after time this year — with the arrest in January of a C.I.A. officer, Raymond Davis, the killing of Osama bin Laden in May and the deaths of so many Pakistani soldiers.

In each of those cases, Pakistan had reason to feel that the United States had violated its sovereignty. Even if circumstances on the ground justified the American actions, they have nonetheless made it difficult to sustain political support inside Pakistan for the strategic cooperation that both countries acknowledge is vital to winning the war in Afghanistan. “Imagine how we would feel if it had been 24 American soldiers killed by Pakistani forces at this moment,” Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat from Illinois, said on “Fox News Sunday.” The rift is one result of the United States’ two-pronged strategy in Afghanistan, which relies on both negotiating and fighting to end the war.

The Washington Post reports that upcoming meetings between American and Pakistani officials have been put on hold and that Pakistan's Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said that Pakistan is reconsidering sending a delegation to the critical Bonn conference on Afghanistan in December. The US considers Pakistan a critical ally as it prepares for its withdrawal from Afghanistan. “This is pretty serious,” a US official told the Washington Post. “We should not expect this to blow over soon.”

Among the Pakistani public, there was fury. Rallies across the country demanded an end to the US-Pakistan alliance and lawyers went on strike, demonstrating outside court buildings, Pakistani newspaper the Dawn reports.

An editorial from Pakistani newspaper The Nation says that an apology from the US isn't enough this time because in the year since the last apparently accidental attack on Pakistani soldiers, the Osama bin Laden raid and discovery of covert CIA contractor Raymond Davis have happened, compounding tensions.

For the USA, or NATO, to expect that an apology would serve, as before, to wash away its crime, and allow supplies to flow as usual, will be an error. To contemplate a restoration would be to invite an even bigger disaster. It would also show to NATO that the government does not care for the lives of its soldiers. It has already shown a supreme indifference to the fate of its civilian citizens, but such casualness towards its military forces would be unprecedented.

The stopping of NATO supplies should be a starting point, with a swift movement to disengagement from the USA’s so-called War on Terror, the logical next step. The government thinks that adherence to the USA would cause it to continue in office, but it should disabuse itself of that notion. It is up to Pakistan to show that it regards its own citizen’s lives with importance equal to, if not greater than, some other state’s.

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