The conversation, recounted by U.S. officials, was one of the few high-level exchanges between the two governments in recent months, and it illustrated the depths to which U.S.-Pakistan relations have fallen after an inadvertent November border clash in which a U.S. air assault killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
Since then, Pakistan’s border crossings have remained closed to U.S. and NATO supplies in transit to the Afghan war. At Pakistan’s demand, U.S. personnel have evacuated a secret drone airstrip, and the number of American military trainers in the country has been cut to a fraction of previous levels.
Marc Grossman, the administration’s top diplomat in charge of Afghanistan and Pakistan, asked to visit Islamabad during a current trip to the region, but Pakistani officials responded that it was not convenient.
The “fundamentals” of mutual interest in destroying al-Qaeda and safely managing Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal haven’t changed, said a senior Obama administration official, who, like several sources in this article, discussed sensitive diplomatic matters on the condition of anonymity. But the two countries are groping their way toward what he called “a new normal” — somewhere between the strategic alliance that President Obama once proffered in exchange for Pakistan severing its ties with militants, and a more businesslike arrangement with few illusions.
“It’ll be much more realpolitik,” another U.S. official said. “It’s getting away from the grandiose vision of what could be to focusing on what is.”
A senior Pakistani military official said, “We’ve had some glorious times,” citing past interludes of intelligence and military cooperation in pursuit of Pakistan-based al-Qaeda and Taliban militants.
But the military official also spoke emotionally about the deaths of the 24 soldiers in November and said the incident would not soon be forgotten. The same was true of what he said were other insults in 2011, including the shooting deaths of two Pakistanis by a CIA contractor in Lahore, the U.S. Special Operations raid that killed Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani suburb and the assertion by Adm. Mike Mullen, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that the insurgent Haqqani network was a “veritable arm” of Pakistani intelligence.
Pakistan, the military official said, wants some “significant changes” in the way the two countries do business.
After the November border clash, the Obama administration suspended its regular drone attacks inside Pakistan to avoid further unsettling relations, U.S. officials said. And in a rare display of deference early this month, the CIA informed the Pakistani government that it planned a drone strike against a terrorist target in the North Waziristan tribal region and asked Islamabad’s permission. When Pakistan declined, the strike was canceled, officials said.