After months of negotiations, Secretary of State Clinton has issued a statement of regret that satisfies Pakistan regarding the killing by U.S. forces of two dozen Pakistani soldiers in a cross-border fire fight. As a result, Pakistan will re-open the NATO supply line to Afghanistan.
Here is the statement Clinton issued to Pakistan:
I once again reiterated our deepest regrets for the tragic incident in Salala last November. I offered our sincere condolences to the families of the Pakistani soldiers who lost their lives. Foreign Minister Khar and I acknowledged the mistakes that resulted in the loss of Pakistani military lives. We are sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military. We are committed to working closely with Pakistan and Afghanistan to prevent this from ever happening again.
This stops short of being a true apology. The incident is “regretted,” not apologized for. Mistakes are acknowledged, but not described specifically or uniquely as U.S. mistakes. The U.S. is sorry for the Pakistani losses, not for our actions.
Pakistan, however, promptly trumpeted Clinton’s statement as an apology, and the U.S. issued no statement contradicting the characterization.
In short, this is a classic diplomatic resolution. We got what we wanted — the reopening of the supply line. Pakistan got what it wanted — something it could pass off as an apology. And relations between the two countries presumably have been marginally improved.
Still, I wonder whether this was the best way for the U.S. to proceed. According to Max Boot, it costs the U.S. about an extra $100 million a month to bring goods to Afghanistan through central Asia instead of through Pakistan. That’s not a small amount, but I suspect the price might be worth taking a new direction in our dealings with Pakistan, particularly since it could be accompanied by a reduction of aid to the ever-unreliable Pakistanis.
The U.S. will need to strike terrorists and insurgents in Pakistan going forward. It might have been wise to signal to the Pakistanis that we will do so without “regret” and without the constraint that comes from desiring access to their supply lines. Hillary Clinton’s finely-crafted statement will likely send a different signal.