WASHINGTON – Ending a bitter seven-month standoff, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has apologized to Pakistan for the killing of 24 Pakistani troops last fall and won in return the reopening of critical NATO supply lines into Afghanistan. The agreement could save the U.S. hundreds of millions of dollars in war costs.
Resolution of the dispute also bandages a relationship with Pakistan that will be crucial in stabilizing the region. The ties have been torn in the past year and a half by incidents including a CIA contractors killing of two Pakistanis to the unilateral U.S. raid on Osama bin Ladens Pakistan compound.
But the accord carries risks for both governments – threatening to make Pakistans already fragile civilian leadership look weak and subservient to the United States while offering fodder to Republicans including presidential candidate Mitt Romney who contend that President Obama says sorry too easily.
The first trucks carrying NATO goods should move across the border today, U.S. officials said. It could take days to ramp up supplies to pre-attack levels, but around two dozen impatient truck drivers celebrated the news in a parking lot in the southern city of Karachi by singing, dancing and drumming on empty fuel cans.
It marked the first time any U.S. official formally apologized for the deaths, a step hotly debated within the Obama administration and one demanded by Pakistan before it would reopen the supply routes.
Pakistani lawmakers also wanted Washington to halt all air strikes in the country and stop shipping weapons and ammunition to Afghanistan through Pakistani airspace, demands the U.S. has ignored. Negotiations stumbled at one point over transit fees Pakistan sought to charge.
The November incident was the deadliest among the allies in the decade-long fight against al-Qaida and other extremist groups along the Afghan-Pakistani frontier.
An American investigation found that Pakistani forces fired first and U.S. soldiers responded in self-defense. It blamed bad maps, poor coordination and Islamabads failure to provide the locations of its borders for the failure to determine whether Pakistani forces were in the area.