So the U.S. has apologized for the Salala raid that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, or so say the headlines. A closer look reveals that the U.S. has not said anything it hadn’t said before, with one possible exception.
Here’s the most relevant paragraph from Secretary Clinton’s statement:
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.
There’s essentially three elements to that paragraph:
1. Regrets and condolences.
2. A commitment and promise to prevent this from happening again.
This element is a perfectly acceptable gesture but neither here nor there. I’m sure neither the Americans nor the Pakistanis want to see a repeat of Salala.
3. “Foreign Minister Khar and I acknowledged the mistakes that resulted in the loss of Pakistani military lives.”
The most interesting element of the paragraph, less than a full apology but an explicit acknowledgement of mistakes. Notice, however, the lawyerly language. “The mistakes” were acknowledged, not “our mistakes”. This has been the primary sticking point during the negotiations: whose fault was it? Pakistan claims the NATO forces fired at their soldiers unprovoked; the U.S. counters by saying they were fired at first and as such it was a joint or common mistake. The language of the statement tends closer to the U.S. interpretation than the Pakistani one.
Thus, this apology, such as it is, says nothing new. The closest it comes to saying something new falls considerably short of what Pakistan was demanding — an unconditional apology over the attacks. As a useful contrast, this is how the U.S. responded to the mistaken bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999.
I am now wondering what the point of this seven month charade was. If the Pakistan government was going to be satisfied with an apology that doesn’t apologize and climb down from its untenable position on transit fees all the way to $0, what exactly was accomplished?
I suspect those involved in the negotiations would answer that Pakistan demonstrated its resolve in this period. Fair enough. But I’d like to see our government and khakis sell the Difa-e-Pakistan Council and our assorted private TV channels on the fact that all we got out of this was — maybe — a tougher reputation for future bargaining during crises.