America, apologise!

Published: June 30, 2012

The latest Pew survey reveals that nearly three-quarters of Pakistanis regard America as an enemy. PHOTO: REUTERS

Let’s cut right to the chase. The US government should apologise for last November’s tragic raid at Salala.

I say this for three reasons.

Firstly, Pakistani soldiers were killed by North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) firepower. Though the details remain unclear, and the incident may have been just a terrible accident, regardless of how it happened, the bottom line is that Pakistanis who should not have been killed were in fact killed.

When such incidents occur in Afghanistan, and Afghan troops are killed by US or Nato troops, Washington describes them as “friendly fire” accidents and promptly apologises. America’s refusal to do so in the case of Salala therefore reeks of hypocrisy, and suggests a lack of respect for Pakistani lives.

Secondly, apologising does not necessarily denote to acknowledging guilt. If Washington was to give an apology, that wouldn’t mean it’s owning up to its actions and taking responsibility- whether intentionally or accidentally-  for Pakistani soldiers’ deaths.

It’s like me saying “I’m sorry for your loss” to someone who loses a friend or a loved one. I wouldn’t be saying that because I killed the person who has just passed away, or that I was somehow responsible for it. I’m simply stating that I’m sorry that such incident happened. This would appear to be common sense; in the fraught realm of international relations, however, such considerations are seemingly disregarded.

Finally, on a more practical note, apologising for Salala would go a long way towards getting those Nato supply routes reopened form our end.

It’s true that Washington has recently concluded new agreements with Central Asian states to allow Nato materiel to exit Afghanistan through those countries, yet that option is prohibitively expensive and such routes necessitate passing through much treacherous and unstable terrain in Afghanistan.

I am not the only American calling for an apology. From prominent Pakistan expert Christine Fair to Senator Dianne Feinstein and various less famous Americans in between; many of us have taken the same stance on the issue. Most telling is the response of Americans when asked the following:

“If Pakistan were fighting a war in Mexico, and Pakistani air strike inadvertently struck and killed US soldiers stationed in a Texas border town, would you want Pakistan to apologise?”

The answer, based on my own experiences, is often yes. This is an argument that Bilawal Bhutto articulated quite well while visiting the US several weeks ago.

This gets to the crux of why I chose to write this piece for the Pakistani press. I want Pakistanis to understand that many of us are as outraged as they are that no apology has been proffered. I often sense that Pakistanis assume common Americans always side with Washington’s hawkish and hardline policies regarding Pakistan- and this is simply not true.

To be fair though, the US government’s position is actually quite nuanced.

In recent months, the State Department has expressed a desire to offer an apology, and just several weeks ago media reports revealed that the two countries were working on the language for one. However, while these negotiations were in the proceeding, Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, decided to ramp up the rhetoric against Pakistan, emphasising that he was losing patience with the country. Soon thereafter, he suggested there would be no apology, and urged that Pakistan should “move on”.

Still, the main reason why there has been no apology has little to do with US hostility towards Pakistan, and everything to do with US domestic politics. President Obama is concerned that an apology would prompt his political opponents, especially in a congressional and presidential election year, to accuse him of being weak.

Incidentally, it’s not only the US that politicises the Salala tragedy. The Associated Press has reported that Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, met with a Pakistani diplomat to explore the possibility of an apology- until the Pakistanis insisted the apology be timed for maximum political impact.

Let’s make one thing clear here, an apology from Washington would be no silver tie of friendship.

US-Pakistan ties would still be knee deep in trouble. From a certain Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA)- ensconced militant network to drone strikes and the Shakil Afridi conviction, there is plenty to keep both sides angry.

As the latest Pew survey reveals, nearly three-quarters of Pakistanis regard America as an enemy and recent polling finds that similar numbers of Americans view Pakistan as unfavourable.

Hence, given all this hostility brewing amongst the two nations, an apology would be a very welcomed gesture.

Read more by Michael here or follow him on Twitter @MichaelKugelman


Michael Kugelman

Michael Kugelman is the South Asia associate at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. He tweets @MichaelKugelman (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • zeeshan sheikh

    oh look at this paki liberals, a white man is saying a different thing than what you liberals were saying that we would die if we demand apology . liberals you have no ideology . Recommend

  • Pungi

    One thing Pakistani (so-called intellectuals) need to understand as well that we are not slaves…we wont die if we speak against America for the right!
    We are not as dependent on America as they are on Pakistan!
    Apology is Inevitable!Recommend

  • Pungi

    @Zeeshan Sheikh They are not liberals, because liberals can never favour any sort of war, b it drones or any other war…Liberals around the world support Peace!Recommend

  • Anon..

    Michael, after a very long time I finally agree with something your saying. This blog should have been published long ago, but then I guess the suply blockage is finally beginning to cut in.Recommend

  • maestro

    @zeeshan sheikh:
    What are you talking about Mr. Sheikh? We “liberal” Pakistanis ARE the ones calling for an apology. With love from the baigharat brigade. Get your facts straight before making off the mark ridiculous comments to try to prove you are holier than though. We love our country and demand an official presidential apology from the US! Recommend

  • Fahad Raza

    Micheal mate an excellent piece.
    Its about time Americans realize how badly stuck they are..! How they got screwed by a towel head smurf to get bogged down in the swamp called Afghanistan . It about time from them to go home and rebuild their homes ravaged by war torn economy. Make some friend in the world and forget about policing the world.
    In some month from now if american don’t decide correctly, a War mongering Mitt Romney might take the stand to wage another war on IRAN and then its another 10 year of waste. Choose someone sensible. Recommend

  • Ahsan Mughal

    I don’t think America will ask forgiveness/apology unless she is keep finding the reasons for the legitimacy of Afghan War, ironically she is deep into the quagmire and perhaps its her ego which restrains her to declare herself defeated, which, as famously told by Dr. Lodhi in her interview that “since last decade or so, it has been relentlessly told to the United States that War in Afghanistan is unwinable”. War in Afghanistan has directly affects not the realms of strategic stakeholders but also shook political stability of the country, The Salala incident is only a link of a long chain, which sometimes involves Raymond Davis, sometimes help events like the killing of OBL.
    What Pakistan has to do under such circumstances is to invoke strategic pragmatism on both Afghanistan and US frontiers to avoid further indulgence in the war which was not ours when it started, but right now, Pakistan as a state is a part of that bloody affair. Pakistan should by and large keep withdrawing her from it without being harsh as the strategic importance of US for Pakistan is very important and vice versa.Recommend

  • xvvvvcxv

    @zeeshan sheikh:
    what the hell you talking about??Recommend

  • ijaz

    Micheal mate
    At one step u say that amrican people r nt involved in this war and these policies, and on the other hand u say that as like pakisatani people, american people also dont favour pakistan. What is this.i think u r nt clear about ur poeple.
    As for as my people are concerned we dont like amrica for its policies for just policing the world.
    As my friend said that dont try policing the world but make friends,that is true.even ur big alies dont like u. if u take a fair decision from them.think about it and say ur lords to think, otherwise we r thinking about it.Recommend

  • Nadeem

    Michael, what do you say about the drone strikes… If NATO cum US have the right to attack on terrorists safe heavens in Pakistan, does Pakistan enjoy the same right over Afghanistan? Recommend

  • BlackJack

    Saying that I am sorry for your loss is not an apology – I find it surprising that the writer does not understand the difference. Expressing sorrow for the losses has already been done in an expression of regret shortly after the Salala episode. This article is yet another example of playing to the gallery with content that you feel people want to hear, regardless of how puerile the logic applied actually is. This is not to say that an apology was not justified immediately after the incident, but Pakistan tried to also squeeze the Americans for money using this tragic loss as an excuse, which reeked of opportunism and inability to identify priorities – so now you have neither apology nor money, and not much of a relationship either.Recommend

  • kaalchakra


    FYI, the US is finalizing a payment of $10,000 per truck.Recommend

  • andy fr dc

    Why apologize to an enemy ? Have the Paks apologized for hiding OBL or killing American troops through proxies ?Recommend

  • Shamy

    Michael ! hats off to you….you feel us ! thanksRecommend

  • faraz


    Because liberals in rest of the world don’t see their 40,000 fellow citizens and 1,000 schools blown up by religious fanatics. Recommend

  • Shyam

    It’s like me saying “I’m sorry for your loss” to someone who loses a friend or a loved one. I wouldn’t be saying that because I killed the person who has just passed away, or that I was somehow responsible for it.

    Then why doesn’t Saudi Arabia, China and Russia also say sorry since when someone loses their loved one then everyone says “I am sorry for your loss”

    If that ‘someone’ who lost a friend comes to you and demanded an apology and you do apologise then it is accepting guiltRecommend

  • EyesWideOpen

    Think @BlackJack got it about right though he did not mention the undue haste shown by certain Pakistani military and political leaders to brand the incident intentional. This well before any investigation was performed by either side. That would have made me hesitate in offering any apology and ask myself, “What’s going on here?”
    On another, but I believe somewhat related note, I’m still waiting to read the report from the Abbottabad Commission. Would not be surprised if the fate of Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times Online, might be weighing heavy on their investigations. It appears truth is a VERY dangerous thing in Pakistan. Recommend

  • abhi

    I agree with blackJack, the regret (saying i am sorry for your loss) is already expressed by US. Apology means owning up the mistake and saying it will not be repeated.

    I think there will be some carefully worded statement will be given by US and Pakistan will accept that as apology and routes will be open.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    Michael Kugelman,

    How come you of a jewish origin praise sen. feinstein, also of a jewish origin, but do not agree wih Leon Panetta also of jewish origin, harsh but frank expressions for the underdog Pakistan? The late apology is no more relevant, but please be candid and tell us how come why Pakistan highways are preferabe to the Russian route for retrieval of the lethal equipment and air/sea transport?

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • mr. righty rightist

    I think everyone is missing the point here.

    There is a lot of dirt yet ti be dug out of Salala incident.

    It was not a mistake. It was not a friendly fire also. NATO killed Pakistanis for a reason and the reason, as treacherous as it may sound has got something to do with an insidious plan of Pak army to hurt NATO.

    This is not exposed and not likely to be exposed until Obama writes his biography titled “my helms at multiple wars”. :)

    When it will be done, u will be shocked.Recommend

  • Imran Con
  • Parvez

    Roughly speaking it costs $5000 via Pakistan as opposed to $20,000. via the Northern route for a container. We are talking about a lot of money here, so it may be worth finding out who really controls the logistics and the lobby involved, because corrupt practices are not confined to only Pakistan and possibly a ‘ no apology ‘ stance favours them. I admit politics plays the major role as far as the apology is concerned but money always is a close second. Recommend

  • Fahad Raza

    Interesting questions..Indeed.
    What say you Micheal…???Recommend

  • Pollack

    Appeasement never works. Appeasement will just trigger more outrageous demands.Recommend

  • Shyam

    It’s like me saying “I’m sorry for your loss” to someone who loses a friend or a loved one. I wouldn’t be saying that because I killed the person who has just passed away, or that I was somehow responsible for it.

    By this logic China, Saudi Arabia Russia etc should apologize as wellRecommend

  • PakArmySoldier

    I also think we need to draw a distinction between the liberals of John Lockean tradition and ‘Pakistani liberals’. Both are two different species. Recommend

  • Critical Thinker

    I’m sorry, but I see this article as simply feeding the fire of discontent by pandering to the preconceived notions of many Pakistanis while providing an incomplete analysis of the view of many Americans. I does further disservice to both the countries involved and to their respective citizens by completely ignoring the so-called elephant in the room.

    While it is true that both countries are bound to spin the story in a way seen to be most advantageous to each country respectively when taking the domestic audience into account, it is almost criminal to suggest that Pakistani’s should hold out hope for any kind of forthcoming apology from the US regarding the incident, certainly anytime in the foreseeable future.

    There are two reasons for such apologies to take place, neither one of which is applicable in this situation.

    In order for the one party to get something it sees of greater value it decides to apologize for the sake of the larger objective. I am an avid reader of ET, as well as the comments posted from all sides, and it seems that Pakistani’s continue to have a rather exalted opinion of their importance to the United States. There is nothing that the United States wants from Pakistan other than peace, a commitment to peace, and a commitment to not stir up trouble in areas outside the agreed upon borders of Pakistan. Although there was at one time some good will directed towards the country and its people, evidenced by various programs whether private or public, that goodwill has long since been used up, and at this point the general feeling is that nothing of value can be obtained by tendering an apology for an incident for which the blame is increasingly being placed at the feet of those who are presently claiming to be the victims. That game is over.

    Personally, I find this unfortunate as I continue to have a certain attachment to Pakistan, and its people, but one cannot ignore the increasingly rapid downward spiral of the people and the country.
    2. Such an apology may be tendered when the one tendering the apology wishes to make amends for an incident in a case where the evidence clearly shows that they were in the wrong. As I mentioned above, this is a determination which has not only not been made, but there is evidence that it is not the Americans who should be tendering the apology in the first place.

    It seems that Pakistan continues to believe that it can be likened to the estranged spouse whose partner still loves her, and will do anything to get her back. The truth is that the partner (US) no longer loves her, is no longer blinded by the love once held for her, and is beginning to understand the full extent of her betrayal. The real question is what will now happen to Pakistan in the absence of such an understanding spouse, not to ignore such related questions as to when will Pakistan realize that any hope for reconciliation lies on “her” shoulders?…..and will her citizens realize the catastrophe looming ahead before it is too late?

    There is a time for tough love, and the author of this article did not provide it.Recommend

  • Faraz Talat

    Anon, that was an outrageously ignorant comment.

    Just because a person doesn’t see things from the same perspective as you, doesn’t mean it’s solely due to him/her being supplied by a foreign entity. It’s those incapable of intelligently parrying an original idea or argument, who then resort to slander and baseless insinuations to console themselves.Recommend

  • Parvez

    My original comment has been shot down. So I’ll dilute it and make it short and try again.
    Politics is the main consideration for an apology. As very large sums of money are involved in the logestics, could it be possible that vested interests in the US may also be at play ? Recommend

  • observer


    Liberals around the world support Peace!

    Is that so? Ever heard of the Spanish civil war, American Civil war, French Revolution? Apparently not.
    Liberals do support just wars. They will not fight on the side of the Taliban, but on the opposite side. Recommend

  • Michael Kugelman

    @Nadeem If I understand your question, then, yes, Pakistan should be going after terrorists in Afghanistan. Though let’s face it, do you really see that happening? (TTP perhaps, but not likely with Afghan Taliban etc.) @BlackJack If I was really playing to the gallery, I would have published this in the non-English Pakistani press. Thanks for the comments as always!Recommend

  • Loneliberal PK


    Do you have any idea what you’re talking about?

    The American Civil War was chiefly an act of rebellion by the Confederate states against the Northern liberals who were attempting to abolish slavery. Yes, the liberals were fighting to liberate the slaves, while the Southern plantation owners conspired to conserve the lucrative slave-trade.

    The Spanish civil war was a result of a coup that was being supported by the conservatives, primarily the Spanish Confederation of Autonomous Right, as well as many religious groups, against the democratically elected government.

    The French Revolution was sparked by the liberal masses (the definition of a “liberal” being “adherent of the political philosophy of progress and reform and the protection of civil liberties”) against the oppressive monarchy. It was a struggle for freedom, and a darn important one.

    Almost always, It’s the conservatives who support wars. The liberals support revolutions.Recommend

  • awellwisher

    This article omits to mention one very important fact. It is that, Pakistan soldiers were providing cover fire to the Taliban inviting the Americans to start counter firing which resulted in the killing of the Pak soldiers. Pak army has practiced this tactic extensively on Pak-India Kashmir border to facilitate infiltration of terrorists into India.

    Too bad for the Pak army, in the Salala incident, they were not dealing with the cowardly Indians. Americans are not going to tolerate cover fire provided by the Pak army to the terrorists.

    So, Pakistan has to share a big part of the blame for the death of 24 soldiers. The U.S. has expressed regrets. I don’t see any need for this apology drama.Recommend

  • 3rdRockfromtheSun

    @ Author,
    You should be asking your govt. why it hasn’t asked for an explanation from the Pak govt about why OBL and many of the AQ leadership is found on their land or why almost every plot terror uncovered globally has a link to Pak? This despite the fact that the Pak govt. has received billions of dollars to “combat terrorism”! And to add insult to injury, the OBL inquiry conducted by the Pak govt. focuses not on why OBL was in Pak, but who leaked his presence to the US!
    And by the way, I don’t recall any apology from the Pak govt. to the US or the world at large about OBL being found on their soil. The Pak govt refused to pariticpate in a joint inquiry over the Salala issue. The US govt. has expressed its regrets over the incident – it doesn’t need to apologise. The US should expand the drone strikes to include urban areas in Pak where much of the terror support systems exist in plain sight – it is time Pakistan learns the consequences of playing a double game.Recommend

  • gp65

    @kaalchakra: “Blackjack’
    FYI, the US is finalizing a payment of $10,000 per truck.”

    Right. Pakistan asked for $5000 per truck. USA refused saying this is extortion and then inexplicably decided to double the compensation beyond even what Pakistan had asked for.
    Where do you come up with this stuff?Recommend

  • gp65

    @Author:”It’s like me saying “I’m sorry for your loss” to someone who loses a friend or a loved one. I wouldn’t be saying that because I killed the person who has just passed away, or that I was somehow responsible for it.”

    I am sorry for your loss is an expression of regret and US has done that many times. Unconditional apology that PAkistan is demanding means that US should accept that it was a deliberate and unprovoked attack by US. Since that is not what the US investigation revealed, why would they apologize?Recommend

  • Cautious

    I suggest the author sign up with the military and see how he responds when he comes under fire from Pakistani troops in the middle of the night. Recommend

  • Parvez

    Today is the 4th of July ( American Independence Day) and the NATO route has been opened and Pakistan has received an apology of sorts and not much else. Your article was certainly well timed. Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    The moderator deeted my previous post, let us see if they allow this milder version?

    Needless to state now that the author is the member of the USA Cyber Force! The clintonian diplomacy has now ensured that the USA can now use the Pakistan highway to withdraw their forces and avoid the total vietnam repeat. Pakistan military has agreed to provide the security for the Great Marines?.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Chrissy

    I have one question:
    What will US, it’s president, it’s people will do/feel – if some US soldiers were killed in US by IOTO (Indian Ocean Treaty Organization) that is led by Pakistan in US? Do you think they will even allow you to enter?

    Also, the author writes – “When such incidents occur in Afghanistan, and Afghan troops are killed by US or Nato troops, Washington describes them as “friendly fire” accidents and promptly apologises. America’s refusal to do so in the case of Salala therefore reeks of hypocrisy, and suggests a lack of respect for Pakistani lives.” Ridiculous.

    Oh yeah! I will kill people (intentional or unintentional) and in a mark of respect for lives, I will apologise. What nonsense! When you have a system where you say – many criminals can escape, but not one innocent should be jailed – it should be applied to others as well.

    And I really don’t understand this: “Secondly, apologising does not necessarily denote to acknowledging guilt.” Mr. Michael, you mean to say that some antisocial element, some psychopath, or some alien came and killed the people? Or was it the Israeli army working Pakistan? The NATO is here at the behest of US. (Or let me ask the other way, is NATO killing people in Hong Kong? i.e., this wouldn’t have happened, but for US pursuing a goal of eliminating bad elements – and that too because it hurt them.)

    This is clearly disgusting. The attitude, hegemomy, and double standards of the sole power. Thank god, the economic centre is shifting a bit. Else, even god cannot save other nations from US.Recommend

  • Chrissy

    and I notice some saying: US and NATO ensuring this will not be repeated. Hahaha – you think they will have this at the top of the mind? Right at the top of their list of to do things: 1. 100% ensure innoncent civilians and soldiers are not killed.
    2. And if it happens this will be the punishment for the person/people responsible.
    3. Pursue terroristsRecommend