Pakistani Gov’t Under Fire Over Agreement to Reopen NATO Supply Lines

By Patrick Goodenough | July 5, 2012 | 4:30 AM EDT

Oil tankers used to transport NATO fuel supplies to Afghanistan are parked Karachi on Wednesday, July 4, 2012. (AP Photo/Fareed Khan)

( – Pakistan’s full cabinet on Wednesday endorsed an earlier decision by its defense committee to reopen NATO supply lines to Afghanistan, as opposition parties voiced anger and geared up to protest a step they see as capitulation to the United States.

Trucks were due to resume their routes Thursday, transporting supplies from Karachi port, via two border crossings – one in Balochistan, the other in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly the North-West Frontier Province) – into landlocked Afghanistan.

Since the accidental killing in a U.S. airstrike of 24 Pakistani soldiers last November, Islamabad had shut off the crucial supply routes, demanding a full U.S. apology, an end to drone strikes on its territory and direct transit fees of up to $5,000 per truck.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday she and Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar in a phone conversation had reached an agreement that included a reopening of the “ground supply lines” (GLOCs).

She said the U.S. “is sorry for the Pakistani military’s losses” and that she and Khar were “both sorry for the losses suffered” by the two countries in the fight against terrorists.

Clinton also said Pakistan would not charge transit fees, which in turn would enable the U.S. and NATO-led ISAF forces to carry out the planned troop drawdown from Afghanistan “at a much lower cost.”

There was no mention of drone strikes in the statement, but it did contain a reference to “the importance of taking coordinated action against terrorists who threaten Pakistan, the United States, and the region.”

Although the statement included the words “sorry,” “deepest regrets,” and “sincere condolences,” as well as a pledge to work “to prevent this from ever happening again,” Pakistani opposition groups and commentators said it fell short of the apology the government – prodded by lawmakers – has been insisting upon.

One can be “sorry” about many things but that does not imply taking responsibility for them, journalist Manzoor Ali wrote in Peshawar’s Frontier Post.

“Had the U.S. apologized, instead of saying ‘sorry,’ it would have been a clear manifestation that U.S. or NATO forces committed the murders of the twenty-four young soldiers who had to face a massive armed attack from a country which called itself a friend and strategic partner in the war against terrorism,” he said.

An editorial in the Dawn daily Thursday suggested the government had botched the affair.

“The outcome of the talks has shown Pakistan did not gain much else from miscalculating the leverage it really had and then sticking stubbornly to that calculation. We have managed to obtain an apology – though some argue it wasn’t formal or direct enough – but not much else is different seven months later.”

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Khar denied that there had been any “secret deal,” saying the government’s decision was in line with the parliamentary recommendations on resetting the rules of engagement with the U.S.

Pakistan had stuck to its principled position, and a “superpower had to back down,” Geo News quoted her as saying.

Samiul Haq, head of the Defense of Pakistan Council, a coalition of hardline Islamist leaders, presides over a press conference in Rawalpindi on Wednesday, July 4, 2012, called to announce a protest campaign against the reopening the NATO supply routes. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed)

Nisar Ali Khan, parliamentary leader of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), said there was a great difference between “sorry” and an apology, and accused the government of embarrassing the country by discarding the conditions contained in a parliamentary resolution on the affair, passed last April.

PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif, a former prime minister, said the U.S. “has not apologized formally.” He vowed to join protests against the GLOC reopening, as did Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leader Imran Khan, who said Clinton’s statement in no way amounted to an unconditional apology.

The Difa-e-Pakistan (Defense of Pakistan) Council, a coalition of several dozen radical groups set up late last year to oppose the reopening of the GLOCs, demanded the government’s immediate resignation. It also announced a “long march” protest against the decision, to begin on Sunday.

Munawar Hasan, leader of the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami, said the government had squandered the opportunity to force the U.S. to withdraw from the region, as it would have been compelled to do had Islamabad not backed down

He called the government’s decision a foolish one “which the nation would never forgive.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow