U.S. Mollifies Pakistan Over Airstrike
The Obama Administration was alert to give some unusual apologies to the Pakistani government after last week’s helicopter strike on a border post that killed three Pakistani soldiers. On September 30th, NATO helicopter crews shot at Pakistani border forces in a mountanious border post at Khurram, which adjoins Pakistan and Afghanistan. NATO stated that a joint assessment with the Pakistani government showed that the helicopter crews responded to the warning shots from the border forces, and the engagement went too far.
For the first time in the two country’s relationship, explicit apologies were given by top U.S. officials. David H. Petraeus, the top commander of American forces in Afghanistan, said, “We deeply regret this tragic loss of life and will continue to work with the Pakistan military and government to ensure this doesn’t happen again.” Anne W. Patterson, U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, said, “We extend our deepest apology to Pakistan and the families of the Frontier scouts who were killed and injured . . . Pakistan’s brave security forces are our allies in a war that threatens both Pakistan and the U.S.”
These apologies certainly have not helped to ease the grievances of the Pakistani public. Since the Khurram border was closed due to the attacks, there were several attacks against U.S. convoys carrying vital military supplies to Afghanistan through the Pakistani borders. Most notably, on Wednesday, dozens of tanker trucks carrying fuel to NATO troops in Afghanistan were torched near a border crossing, the only one that remained open after the helicopter strike.
The development of drone attacks by U.S. forces is another factor that stirrs public anger. It is reported that on Wednesday, six Pakistani militants had been killed after two missiles allegedly fired from a drone struck a house located in the northwest region of Pakistan. While creating fear over the Pakistanis in the region, it is believed that the drone attacks, part of the C.I.A.’s covert war in the region, will drastically increase until December, when the Obama administration is set for a comprehensive review its Afghanistan strategy.
The U.S. is under great pressure to gather support from the Pakistani goverment in order to show progress in Afghanistan, but a number of issues, including the helicopter strike, is increasing such pressure. The apologies were intended to clear away any stumbling blocks in maintaining Pakistani cooperation, but it also serves to show some troubled relationship between the two governments.
For example, recently there were some criticisms within the U.S. aimed towards the Pakistani government. It is reported that the Pakistani military continuously avoid military engagements in the northwest region that would put it in direct conflict with Afghan Taliban or Al Qaeda forces. In addition, Pakistan has their own internal issues with the president, Asif Ali Zardari, who is criticized because he decided to travel Europe despite the country suffering from catastrophic floods. Many U.S. officials feel frustrated to seek cooperation with the Pakistani government under these circumstances.
Both American and Pakistani officials believe that the explicit apologies will be effective, at least in the short term, and that the Pakistani would soon reopen several border crossings. However, the intensity of anti-American feeling, the antipathy of militants, and several other issues make the U.S. – Pakistan relationship more complicated than before.