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Why Pakistan wants to keep that $800 million in aid, after all

A day after Pakistani military officials shrugged off news that the US was cutting $800 million of aid for materiel and expelled military trainers, Pakistan’s prime minister expresses ‘concerns’ and its spy chief visits Washington.

By Staff writer / July 13, 2011

Afghan President Hamid Karzai (r.) gestures as he walks with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani (l.), during a meeting in Islamabad, Pakistan on June 11, 2011.

Anjum Naveed / AP / File

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Washington

In a timely coincidence, a US-sponsored production of Neil Simon’s “Odd Couple” opened Tuesday in Islamabad, Pakistan. After the opening performance, US Ambassador Cameron Munter told the Pakistani press that, like the iconic Oscar and Felix, the US and Pakistan “can find a way to live together, to support each other, and to prosper.”

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He spoke amid signs that, despite perhaps the worst deterioration in a long-troubled relationship, the two countries may be taking a breath and pulling back from a bilateral split.

On Wednesday, the head of Pakistan’s powerful spy agency, the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) made a surprise visit to Washington.

And after Pakistan’s earlier “who-needs-it” response to proposed steep cuts in US military aid, the country’s prime minister, Yusuf Raza Gilani, changed the tune on Wednesday.

Expressing “concerns” about how the cuts would affect the country’s fight with extremism, Mr. Gilani said, “It is our own war, but we are fighting this war for the entire world” – sounding a markedly different tone from military officials a day earlier.

On Tuesday, the country’s defense minister, Ahmed Mukhtar, threatened to pull Pakistani forces out of the sensitive border region with Afghanistan if the US follows through on some $800 million in cuts to an annual $2 billion in military assistance.

So why did the ISI chief, Lieutenant-General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, make a one-day visit to Washington?

Probably because of the precipitous worsening in recent days of relations that were already souring after the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden on Pakistani territory, South Asia analysts say. But it would be a mistake to assume that the visit means both sides are ready to patch things up, they add.

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