As Washington closed down for Independence Day, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly apologized to Pakistan for the deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers inadvertently killed by a NATO military strike along the Afghan border last November. In return, Pakistan will re-open Afghan supply routes it shut down in retaliation.
The seven-month closure of the routes forced the U.S. to rely on more expensive routes running north of Afghanistan—the so-called Northern Distribution Network. It is unclear exactly how much more expensive the northern routes proved to be. Some estimated it to be around $100 million more per month—or about half of what we spent on security and economic aid to Pakistan in fiscal year (FY) 2011. (Total U.S. economic and security aid to Pakistan amounted to around $2.4 billion in FY 2011, which, if averaged over a 12-month period, equals about $200 million per month.)
Clinton’s apology deal is really incidental to the real issue at stake in U.S.–Pakistan relations. The reality is that the U.S. and Pakistan are striving for different outcomes in Afghanistan. In her statement of apology, Clinton said that the restoration of the supply routes was a “tangible demonstration of Pakistan’s support for a secure, peaceful, and prosperous Afghanistan and our shared objectives in the region.” Yet this is simply not true.
Merely re-opening the supply routes will not help the U.S. achieve its objectives in Afghanistan, because it does not address the fundamental problem of continuing Pakistani support for the Taliban and Haqqani network, which are killing U.S. and coalition forces on a daily basis in Afghanistan. Pakistan has never explained—let alone apologized—for its lack of action against the enemies of the U.S. that find sanctuary on its soil.
The U.S. cannot afford to allow the Taliban to regain influence in Afghanistan lest the country revert to becoming a safe haven for terrorists. For its part, Pakistan is focused on ensuring that a regime friendly to Pakistan emerges in the country, and that regime would most likely include elements aligned with al-Qaeda.
Until Pakistan aligns its goals more closely with those of the U.S. and NATO in Afghanistan and confronts the Taliban and Haqqani networks inside Pakistan, tensions between the U.S. and Pakistan will persist.