- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 4, 2012

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan — In what could be the biggest change in a decade in a relationship that has been a mainstay of U.S. military and counterterrorism policy since the 9/11 terror attacks, the United States and Pakistan are lowering expectations for what the two nations will do together and planning for a period of more limited contact.

The change described by both Pakistani and U.S. officials follows a series of diplomatic crises over the past year that strained an already difficult partnership based around the U.S. goal of stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan and a reduction in Islamic-inspired terrorism.

For Pakistan, cooperation on that agenda was rewarded with billions in financial aid. The change means less cooperation with Washington and a willingness to swear off some aid that often made Pakistan feel too dependent, and too pushed around.

For the United States, scaling down an expensive military and economic program that has not met expectations could come at the cost of less Pakistani help in ending the war in next-door Afghanistan.

Both U.S. and Pakistani officials said the November killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers in a NATO airstrike and Washington’s refusal to outright apologize for the deaths has been a game changer in a relationship characterized by mistrust and mutual acrimony.

In the United States, civilian and military officials have called the friendly fire incident a tragedy caused by mistakes on both sides, but insist that Pakistan fired first. Pakistan denies that, and has called the incident an unprovoked attack.

Pakistan’s loudly angry reaction has, if anything, hardened attitudes in Congress and elsewhere that Islamabad is untrustworthy or ungrateful.

A senior Obama administration official conceded that the deaths made every aspect of U.S. cooperation with Pakistan more difficult, and that the distance Pakistan has imposed may continue indefinitely. The official, like most others interviewed for this story, spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of ongoing discussions.

Pakistan has already stopped billing the United States for its anti-terror war expenses under the 10-year-old Coalition Support Fund, set up by Washington after the 9/11 attacks to reimburse its many allies for their military expenses fighting terrorists worldwide and touted by the U.S. as a success story.

“From here on in we want a very formal, business- like relationship. The lines will be drawn. There will be no more of the free run of the past, no more interpretation of rules. We want it very formal with agreed upon limits,” military spokesman Gen. Athar Abbas told The Associated Press in an interview in the garrison town of Rawalpindi.

Pakistan will further reduce the number of U.S. military people in Pakistan, limit military exchanges with the United States and rekindle its relationship with neighbors, such as China, which has been a more reliable ally according to Islamabad. Earlier this year Pakistan signed a deal with China for 50 JF-17 aircraft with sophisticated avionics, compared by some, who are familiar with military equipment, to the U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets.

Pakistan retaliated for the friendly fire deaths by shutting down NATO’s supply routes to Afghanistan and kicked the U.S. out of an air base it used to facilitate drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal belt. Both U.S. and Pakistani officials expect more fallout, most likely in the form of additional tolls or taxes on NATO supplies into Afghanistan through Pakistan. There could also be charges for use of Pakistani airspace, said some officials in Pakistan.

Pakistan also asked the U.S. not to send any high-level visitors to Pakistan for some time, the U.S. official said. After past crises, including the flare-up of anti-U.S. fervor following the killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. forces in May, Pakistan had accepted top-level U.S. officials for a public peace-making session rather quickly. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the then- top U.S. military official visited Pakistan less than a month after the bin Laden raid, and pledged continued cooperation on several fronts.

U.S. officials said they would like to mend fences quickly, but the senior administration official and others said they assume there will be less contact, fewer high-profile joint projects and fewer American government employees living and working in Pakistan.

Since 2001, the U.S. has pumped aid to the country under both Republican and Democratic administrations with the expectation that Pakistan will be a bulwark against the spread of Islamic terrorism. Anti-American sentiment has only grown, and spiked in 2011. In Pakistan, both a military dictatorship and the elected civilian government that followed it have accepted the aid and pledged cooperation against terrorism and on other fronts.

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