The USA’s Commission on the Salalah killings has emerged. Apart from the fact that the Pakistani version of events is missing from it, it incorporates instead the version of the Afghan border police. The report suffers from the defect of trying to paper over the culpability of American forces in the incident, which left 24 Pakistani soldiers dead, and which has caused widespread outrage in Pakistan and brought Pakistan-US relations to an all-time low. While Pakistan reviews its relations with the USA, the report, by Brig Gen Stephen Clark, a USAF Special Operations officer, assigned to investigate, was made public by the Pentagon on Thursday, and apportioned blame to both sides. In the last few weeks, this is the nearest the USA has come to admitting it was at fault, while trying to affix blame on the Pakistani side. There is no clear admission that the American forces involved made a very costly error. The report lays the blame on improper coordination by the two militaries. The report also claims that there was no deliberate attempt to target Pakistani troops, of which the USA stood accused by Pakistan.
The report dismisses one of its major defects, the absence of a Pakistani version, by expressing regret at this. However, because the report does not include the Pakistani version of attempts, it will be seen as an attempt to soften the blame on the American side. The promise made by the report of payment to the families is a virtually explicit admission. Though named ‘solatia’ payments, they represent the forlorn hope that the problem will go away if money is thrown at it.
The government must hold out for the full and frank apology it needs, but it must not accept this report as ground for restoring NATO supplies. It must not be forgotten that the hope of quick restoration of NATO supplies is one of the reasons the investigation has been carried out in such haste. However, there has been no guarantee offered that such incidents will definitely not be repeated. Pakistan must make it clear that it will not accept such cavalier treatment from a supposed ally, which not only does not acknowledge the sacrifices it has made in the USA’s war, but adds to those losses, and then asks Pakistan to share the blame.