Apologizing to Pakistan in exchange for the opening of an Afghan supply route may be a cost-saving measure, but experts have worried the move will make the U.S. look less formidable as a side effect.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that Pakistan had confirmed it would reopen a route into Afghanistan used to supply NATO forces, following a Friday apology by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the accidental deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers during a NATO airstrike back in November.
The route has been closed since, forcing U.S. troops to use an alternative northern route that has increased costs around $100 million a month, according to a statement by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee last month.
While the cost of the seven-month closure is not insignificant, some argue that knuckling to Pakistan‚??s demands could come with a higher, if less tangible, price tag.
‚??I think we‚??ve apologized enough for the things we‚??ve done,‚?Ě former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Steven Bucci, now a Heritage Foundation senior fellow, told Human Events in a June phone interview.
At the time, the Pentagon had expressed regret for the accidental deaths, but officials had declined to make a more exhaustive and formal apology.
‚??I get the whole diplomacy thing, but in that target culture, if you apologize too much, even if they‚??re demanding that‚??s what you do, it‚??s still perceived that it‚??s a sign of weakness,‚?Ě Bucci said. ‚??We‚??re trying our darndest not to do anything offensive, but at a certain point we‚??re fighting a war, and things happen.‚?Ě
Retired four-star Army general Jack Keane told the House Armed Services Committee‚??s subcommittee on oversight and investigations Friday that, with effective alternative supply routes in place, he believed the U.S. should forget negotiations for the re-opening of the Pakistan-controlled route.
‚??I think it‚??s overstated, our dependence on that main supply route. It‚??s certainly desirable because it‚??s a lot easier to use, it‚??s less costly, although the Pakistanis certainly want us to pay through the nose for the challenges that we have between them,‚?Ě he said. ‚??So I think we could actually take the issue off the table in my judgment in terms of our relationship with Pakistan on this issue, because we do have alternatives and most dramatically our force size is coming down rather significantly with regards to this requirement.‚?Ě
Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Michael O‚??Hanlon, also a panelist at the hearing, added that being independent of the volatile Pakistani government for supply needs was actually a boon.
‚??I certainly agree that logistically speaking we are in a much better place vis a vis Pakistan‚?Ě with the route closed, he said.
According to reports, Pakistan is not demanding a transit fee for renewed use of the supply route.
Clinton‚??s apology, which apparently used the word ‚??sorry,‚?Ě which the Pentagon has strenuously avoided and which Pakistan has seemed to insist on, was followed by a conciliatory phone call with Hina Rabbani Khar, foreign minister of Pakistan.
‚??We are sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military,‚?Ě she said in a statement released Tuesday. ‚??We are committed to working closely with Pakistan and Afghanistan to prevent this from ever happening again.‚?Ě