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US appreciates decision not to press fee issue

July 03, 2012

WASHINGTON, July 3: A statement issued by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton here on Tuesday shows that the US-Pakistan agreement envisaged that “consistent with current practice, no lethal equipment will transit the GLOC (Ground Lines of Communication) into Afghanistan except for equipping the ANSF”.

It indicates that Pakistan will also allow the US to use this route for arming the Afghan National Security Force. The agreement contains three main points, the US apology, Pakistan’s decision to forgo transit fee and an acknowledgment that both sides made mistakes that led to the death of 24 Pakistani soldiers in Salala on Nov 26.

The agreement ended seven months of intense tensions which at times threatened to undo a half-century old relationship between the two allies who played a key role in defeating the Soviets in Afghanistan.

Although a US team recently spent six weeks in Islamabad trying to get the routes reopened, it returned to Washington in early June without achieving that objective.

The two sides discussed at least three drafts of a proposed resolution but failed to finalise a statement which could satisfy both. However, a magical word that does wonder in mending individual relations — sorry — also helped the US and Pakistan in concluding an agreement.

As Dawn reported on June 18, the Pakistanis informed the Americans that they would forgo their demand for increasing the transit fee if the US apologised over the Salala incident.

But Secretary Clinton’s statement showed that Pakistan went a step ahead, reminded the Americans that it was not charging any transit fee and would not charge any in future as well.

This was Islamabad’s response to US Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta’s claim that Pakistan had raised the entire issue to “price gouge” the Americans.

Pakistan’s position on the transit fee made the Americans realise that the Pakistanis were serious over the apology and that Washington would have to come up with a statement that satisfied Islamabad without hurting the Obama administration in the November elections.

And that’s why Secretary Clinton’s statement includes an apology but also mentions “the mistakes” both sides made in Salala, leading to a US air raid on a Pakistani military post.

“I once again reiterated our deepest regrets for the tragic incident in Salala last November,” said Secretary Clinton. “I offered our sincere condolences to the families of the Pakistani soldiers who lost their lives.”

While saying ‘sorry’, Secretary Clinton also tried to convince the Pakistanis that the US interest in Pakistan was not tactical and that they wanted a long-term relationship with Islamabad.

The US, she said, was “committed to working together” with Pakistan “in pursuit of shared objectives on the basis of mutual interests and mutual respect”.

Secretary Clinton also addressed another issue that has been constantly discussed in Pakistan since the May 2 US raid on an Abbottabad compound that killed Osama bin Laden: Pakistan’s sovereignty.

This issue is also raised every time a US drone strikes a target inside Fata.

“As I told the former prime minister of Pakistan days after the Salala incident, America respects Pakistan’s sovereignty,” Secretary Clinton said, adding that Washington wanted to work with Islamabad, and not alone, in defeating the terrorists.

“In today’s phone call, Foreign Minister Khar and I talked about the importance of taking coordinated action against terrorists who threaten Pakistan, the United States, and the region,” she said.

Secretary Clinton and Ms Khar also agreed to take coordinated steps in supporting Afghanistan’s security, stability, and to back efforts towards reconciliation.

The two countries will also continue to work together to advance the many other shared interests they had, from increasing trade and investment to strengthening people-to-people ties, the statement said.

“Our countries should have a relationship that is enduring, strategic, and carefully defined, and that enhances the security and prosperity of both our nations and the region,” Secretary Clinton said.

Dispelling a common perception in Pakistan that the US wanted to take unilateral action against militants hiding in the country, she said: “The foreign minister and I were reminded that our troops – Pakistani and American – are in a fight against a common enemy. We are both sorry for losses suffered by both our countries in this fight against terrorists.”

This part of the statement will also allay concerns in the US that Pakistan is helping the militants in launching attacks on American soldiers in Afghanistan.

“We have enhanced our counter-terrorism cooperation against terrorists that threaten Pakistan and the United States, with the goal of defeating Al Qaeda in the region,” Secretary Clinton added.

She noted that Pakistan’s decision to forgo transit fee was “in the larger interest of peace and security” in Afghanistan and the region and was a “tangible demonstration of Pakistan’s support for a secure, peaceful, and prosperous Afghanistan and our shared objectives in the region”.

“This will also help the United States and Isaf conduct the planned drawdown (of their forces in Afghanistan by 2014) at a much lower cost.”

Pakistan’s decision was “critically important” to the men and women fighting terrorism and extremism in Afghanistan, she added.

“In concluding the call, I reiterated our deep appreciation to the government and the people of Pakistan for their many sacrifices and their critical contribution to the ongoing fight against terrorism and extremism,” said the top US diplomat.