DOHA, Qatar – Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar wants an apology.
Khar, Pakistan's youngest foreign minister and the first woman to hold the post, has contended with a series of crises that would overwhelm even the most veteran diplomat. There was the Raymond Davis affair, where a CIA contractor shot and killed two men in the city of Lahore, and the revelation that Osama bin Laden was hiding in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad -- but the crisis Khar is trying to quell today relates to an attack that has been dubbed the "Salala incident."
On Nov. 26, two U.S. Apache helicopters, an AC-130 gunship, and two F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jets opened fire on two Pakistani military check posts along the Afghan-Pakistani border, killing 24 Pakistani soldiers. Pakistan reacted by shuttering the vital NATO ground supply routes into Afghanistan -- they remain closed to this day. Pakistan's parliament also responded in April by passing a 14-point set of guidelines meant to govern the U.S.-Pakistani relationship, which called on the government to seek an apology for the "condemnable and unprovoked" attack.
Khar challenged the United States to live up to its democratic ideals by respecting the will of Pakistan's elected legislature. "A representative Parliament of 180 million people has spoken on one subject," she told Foreign Policy in an interview at the Brookings Institution's U.S.-Islamic World Forum. "[This is] something which should have been forthcoming the day this incident happened, and what a partnership not only demands, but requires."
The United States, however, isn't in the mood to say sorry. The relationship with Pakistan has hit its nadir in the past year -- and to make matters worse, it's now hostage to the election season. With Mitt Romney attacking Barack Obama as a president who "go[es] around the world and apologize[s] for America," the odds that the White House will give Khar what she wants, providing Republicans with political fodder in the process, appear slim.
Khar is well aware of the political obstacles, but focuses her appeal on America's higher principles -- to do "what we consider to be right rather than what is more popular." And after all, she argues, the dangers of operating based on purely political considerations goes both ways.
"For us in Pakistan ... the most popular thing to do right now is to not move on NATO supply routes at all. It is to close them forever," she says. "If I were a political advisor to the prime minister, this is what I would advise him to do. But I'm not advising him to do that. One, I'm not his political advisor. And two, because what is at stake is much more important for Pakistan than just winning an election."