« Back to articlePrint this article

Pak discusses toning down US apology over NATO strike

May 03, 2012 14:45 IST

The Pakistan government is considering the possibility of making compromises in its efforts to obtain an apology from the US for a cross-border NATO air strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last year, according to a media report on Thursday.

The issue was discussed at a meeting of the top civilian and military leadership chaired yesterday by President Asif Ali Zardari.

The meeting was convened to explore ways to end a stalemate caused by Pakistan's demand for an apology for the NATO attack.

"We discussed various formulations for the demands to be made from the US, including the text of a possible apology statement that would not only be acceptable to us, but would also help the Americans overcome their reluctance in apologising," an unnamed participant of the meeting was quoted as saying by the Dawn newspaper.

Talks between Pakistan and the US during Special Envoy Marc Grossman's visit to Islamabad last week broke down over the issue of the apology.

Following the NATO air strike in November, Pakistan closed all routes used to transport supplies for foreign troops in Afghanistan and forced the US to vacate Shamsi airbase, considered a hub for CIA-operated drones.

The first round of formal talks between the US and Pakistan last week failed because of the US insistence on not discussing an end to drone attacks and its refusal to apologise for the NATO attack, the Dawn quoted its sources as saying.

A source said following the impasse over the apology, the Pakistani side began working on a statement that could be acceptable to both sides.

After developing consensus in Pakistan, the text of the proposed apology will be suggested to the Americans and they will be asked to announce it so that the two sides can move on with negotiations on other issues.

The draft text, though "mild in language than a direct apology", includes an implied acceptance by the US of responsibility for the air strike.

It has been endorsed by the civilian leadership while the army is said to be studying it, the report said.

Immediately after the air strike, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani ordered a parliamentary review of Pakistan-US ties.

A resolution recently adopted by a joint session of parliament asked the government to seek an unconditional apology from the US for the attack.

During Wednesday's meeting, the civilian and military leadership "made little progress beyond concurring that the ties (with the US) were too critical to be left in limbo", The Dawn reported.

The meeting was the third of a newly-formed informal group of decision-makers over the past seven days.

This forum includes President Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani, Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Sheikh, Interior Minister Rehman Malik, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani, Ambassador to the US Sherry Rehman, army chief Gen Ashfaq Kayani and ISI chief Lt Gen Zahir-ul-Islam.

The Defence Committee of the Cabinet was previously handling the relationship with the US.

Explaining Pakistan's position on the issue of the apology, a source told the daily that the "Americans were morally bound to apologise for killing 24 young soldiers of an ally which, according to their own assessment, had done more in the war on terror than any other partner".

The source said, "It (the apology) is important to keep the morale of our troops fighting terrorism and extremism high".

Other than the apology, yesterday's meeting discussed new terms for re-opening NATO supply routes, including the imposition of new taxes that are being termed "the opportunity cost".

A US team that arrived in Islamabad with US Special Envoy Grossman last week for talks on reopening NATO supply routes has stayed back for finalising the new terms.

Though the US team has had a few sessions with the finance ministry, a final deal will be reached only after a green signal from the civil-military leadership.

"Apparently it looks that the go-ahead would come only after progress on the apology issue," the report said. The meeting also took stock of the just signed US-Afghanistan strategic partnership agreement, terror attacks in Afghanistan and the Taliban's "spring offensive".

The leaders were concerned about the situation in Afghanistan "because of its implications for normalisation of relations with the US", the report said.

Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad