Reopening the supply lines “does not address the fundamental problem of continuing Pakistani support for the Taliban and Haqqani network”

Notwithstanding Tuesday’s dramatic apology by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to her Pakistani counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar, some South Asia specialists in Washington have cautioned that mistrust of Pakistan over its intelligence apparatus’ links to various terror groups is likely to persist.

In a readout of her telephone conversation with Ms. Khar, Ms. Clinton said, “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... We are sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military.”

However, Ms. Clinton referred to mistakes on both sides that led to the deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers, an account that her Pakistani interlocutors have rejected in the past. Earlier this year a U.S. military investigation found that the soldiers’ deaths were “inadvertent and resulted from a skirmish in which the Pakistanis fired first at U.S. ground forces”. Pakistani officials have said their forces were not the first to fire.

Regardless of this difference of opinion on the incident, Ms. Clinton went on to emphasise details of the no-charge transit for NATO trucks via the GLOC, a move that would “help the U.S. and ISAF conduct the planned drawdown at a much lower cost.” She also alluded to Ms. Khar’s assurance that “no lethal equipment will transit the GLOC into Afghanistan except for equipping the ANSF.”

Despite these arrangements being greeted with a measure of triumph in Islamabad some experts in Washington appeared to be more sceptical about what it meant for the future of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship.

In comments to The Hindu, Bruce Riedel, Senior Fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, said the problems that divided the two nations remained. “We are on opposite sides of the Afghan war: America backs Karzai and the internationally recognised Kabul government, Pakistan backs the Taliban,” he explained. When acute tensions surrounding the continuing drone war in Pakistan were added to the mix “the relationship is sure to go from crisis to crisis”, said Mr. Riedel.

Shamila Chaudhary, a South Asia analyst at the Eurasia Group, was quoted saying that while the apology would lower the temperature on U.S.-Pakistan relations, these relations “are not on the mend. They remain very much broken and will remain so unless the two countries resolve broader policy differences on Afghanistan”.

Similarly, Juan Zarate, Deputy National Security Advisor under President George W. Bush, said to a television news channel that the U.S. apology to Pakistan “will help relationship but won’t heal distrust”.

Lisa Curtis, Senior Research Fellow for South Asia at the Heritage Foundation, noted that the seven-month closure of the GLOC led to the U.S. incurring an additional cost of approximately $100 million per month in the Northern Distribution Network. This was, however, only about “half of what we spent on security and economic aid to Pakistan in FY 2011,” she pointed out.

She also argued that the core issue of the links between Pakistani intelligence apparatus and some terror groups had not been resolved through this exchange.

Pakistan reopening the supply lines “does not address the fundamental problem of continuing Pakistani support for the Taliban and Haqqani network that are killing U.S. and coalition forces on a daily basis in Afghanistan”, she said, adding that Pakistan “never explained, let alone apologised, for its lack of action against the enemies of the U.S. that find sanctuary on its soil”.

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