ISLAMABAD: There was reason for cheer in Pakistan, as Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California), chairperson of the US Senate Intelligence Committee, called upon the US administration to extend an apology to Pakistan for Salala firing incident on November 26 last year, which resulted in the death of 24 soldiers. Western media reports called it a 'rare gesture'.
“The US administration would do well to apologise for its mistakes in the firing incident,” she said adding that this would also help in the reopening of the Ground Lines of Communication (GLOCs).
“National security of the United States will be better served with a positive relationship with Pakistan,” she added. Pakistan was not relenting, as on Thursday, foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar, speaking in Kabul asserted, “Pakistan still wants an unconditional apology and the reassurance that the Salala type of incident does not happen again.”
If Feinstein’s call for an US apology was not enough, US secretary of defence, Leon Panetta, also showed a conciliatory streak. This is the same man who had lost ‘patience’ with Pakistan and accused it of harbouring terrorists. On Wednesday, he advised making US aid to Pakistan conditional, but not to cut it off completely.
“What I would do is look at conditions for what we expect them to do,” Panetta said, without elaborating. He agreed to help write a letter to Congress with his recommendations for how to proceed with aid for the Pakistani military and government.
“They’re asking not only for that, but there are other elements to the negotiations that are also involved that have to be resolved,” Panetta said. “Senator Feinstein has shown real leadership. I appreciate Senator Feinstein for showing the way forward in normalising ties in a relationship that is important to both sides, critical for stabilising the region,” ambassador Sherry Rehman told The News.
Sheer stubbornness on the part of Pentagon had taken bilateral relations to a new low never witnessed before but the question remains: are both countries on the path to reconciliation or, as one diplomat told The News, “this is not a change in the wind, just an aberration based on efforts that cannot possibly hold back a tide against us. It’s only the facts on the ground that can turn the tide.”
Senator Feinstein was speaking during a hearing of the Senate appropriations subcommittee on defence Wednesday, in which Leon Panetta and chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey were testifying.
“I understand that mistakes were made on both sides in November 26 incident. ISAF commander, Gen. John Allen has identified 6-7 steps to rectify the problem,” she recalled while referring to a meeting of US Senators with Gen. Allen, in which the latter took the legislators into confidence with regard to the events that led to the Salala incident.
“GLOCs problem could be solved with some civilian acceptance of mistakes by the US,” she said while referring to the ground supply routes for Nato forces from northwest Pakistan that were suspended as a mark of protest by the host government after the November 26 incident.
In Washington, ambassador Sherry Rehman and US ambassador Marc Grossman have been meeting to discuss the ‘package deal’, which consists of irritants between the two sides.The pricing of Nato containers for the time being sees Pakistan not insisting on a high fee as long as there is a US apology.
“The package can only come through if Pakistan opens the GLOCs. For many in the US administration they tell Pakistan that the train has left the station and if Pakistan was truly interested in seeking an apology then it should have accepted it earlier this year. The mood is very dangerous, and time is our enemy,” asserts the diplomat monitoring the situation. At stake also are consultations between CIA and ISI where they need to put their act together to fight terrorism.
Feinstein and Panetta’s remarks aside, time appears to be running out for Pakistan as the mood in Washington shows. After July 4, when US electioneering start in earnest, several Congressmen and women will be seen making tough speeches on Pakistan, since no one wants to take a chance with voters by supporting Pakistan.
By July, everyone will be in campaign mode and forced to make tough speeches on Pakistan.All eyes are now on the political leadership in Islamabad, who for known reasons will not budge unless they get a clear signal from Rawalpindi.