ISLAMABAD – In the wee hours of Nov. 27, U.S.-NATO and Afghan forces based in Afghanistan's Kunar province engaged a Pakistani military outpost in Pakistan's tribal agency of Momand. Little information is publically available -- or likely to be -- about what happened or how. What is clear is that after several NATO airstrikes, 24 Pakistani soldiers were dead and many more injured. The episode, and the U.S. response, battered the ever-strained U.S.-Pakistan relationship. Pakistan immediately cut off ground routes for logistical support of the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, and insisted that the United States vacate Shamsi, one of the airfields from which the U.S. launched drone attacks.
In quick succession, Pakistan convened a parliamentary commission to determine whether and how Pakistan will remain engaged with the United States. Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs recalled all of its ambassadors to hold a high-level strategic discussion about how Pakistan should refashion its relations with the United States. Their recommendations will be considered by the same parliamentary commission. Pakistanis, whether civilian or military, whether in the government or on the street, want out of this relationship and deeply believe that Americans do not value Pakistani lives. They may not be wrong.
Pakistani military officials quickly denounced the attack as deliberate, unprovoked U.S. aggression and demanded both an immediate apology and a renegotiation of military and intelligence cooperation. That Pakistani officials made such pronouncements in the complete absence of information about the attack cast aspersions on their motives. The move appeared to be another effort to wriggle free fromWashington's poisonous embrace, abandon military operations against anti-Pakistan militants, and pursue an independent Afghan policy.
While rejecting the Pakistani military's account, NATO and U.S. officials declined to officially speculate about the details of the event -- much less offer an apology -- until a full investigation was complete. The investigation is now complete. The report has been issued, and the Pentagon released a statement on Thursday saying only that "U.S. forces, given what information they had available to them at the time, acted in self defense and with appropriate force after being fired upon." There was, the statement said, "no intentional effort to target persons or places known to be part of the Pakistani military, or to deliberately provide inaccurate location information to Pakistani officials." Instead, "inadequate coordination by U.S. and Pakistani military officers... resulted in a misunderstanding about the true location of Pakistani military units." The statement expressed regret, but neither President Barack Obama nor Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has issued a forthright apology. Unfortunately, neither is likely to do so given the toxic atmosphere in Washington and the looming presidential campaign.
The U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, urged Obama to apologize, but he was quickly cut down. Munter has sought to mitigate Pakistanis' anger by saying in Urdu "humay bahut afsos hai" ("We are very sorry"). On Monday, he joined several interfaith leaders in offering a prayer at Islamabad's Faisal Mosque for the Pakistani soldiers killed on Nov. 27, offering, "We share in this grief, and we share in this sorrow." The author's contacts here in Islamabad and in Washington lament that instead of heeding the sagacious advice of the ambassador, who understands the raw sentiments of Pakistanis, some within the U.S. government dismiss Munter as "having gone native."