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US drone strikes again. Is Pakistan's military angling for a favor?

Outwardly, US-Pakistan relations still look tense. But with Tuesday's US drone strike into Pakistan, ending a hiatus of nearly two months, some experts see some resumed cooperation – and say Pakistan's military may have good reason.

By Staff writer / January 11, 2012

In this file photo an unmanned US Predator drone flies over Kandahar Air Field, southern Afghanistan, on a moon-lit night.

Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP/File

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Washington

Does the resumption of US drone strikes inside Pakistan this week, after a hiatus of nearly two months, mean the two wary and fractious allies have mended fences?

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Outwardly, US-Pakistan relations show no obvious improvement. Pakistan has stuck by two steps it took to retaliate against the United States after a deadly NATO attack on a Pakistani border outpost in November. Its border crossings into Afghanistan remain closed to NATO supply convoys, and US drones remain banned from Pakistan's Shamsi air base in the Baluchistan region.

But the US drone strike Tuesday in Pakistan's North Waziristan, which killed four suspected terrorists, does indicate an easing of tensions and a measure of resumed cooperation, at least between the militaries of the two “strategic partners,” some South Asia experts say.

Some even wonder if there's a connection between Tuesday's strike and Pakistan’s civilian-military political crisis, which may be reaching its denouement.

"My sense is that the two militaries were working behind the scenes to try to repair relations that remain crucial to both sides,” says Lisa Curtis, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center in Washington. “The resumption of drone strikes at this time does seem to suggest they were able to reach some kind of understanding.”

The common point in any understanding may well be that the US drone strikes, despite the Pakistani public's extreme dislike of them, serve the interests of both governments.

“We know how important the drone strikes have been for the US in the fight against Al Qaeda” and against Pakistan-based militants who cross the border to fight NATO and Afghan troops in Afghanistan, says Ms. Curtis. “And, in fact, they’ve been important for Pakistan in its fight with the antigovernment militant groups it faces.” 

The US suspended the drone strikes, a deep source of ire inside Pakistan, in mid-November, after a NATO attack on a Pakistani border outpost killed 24 Pakistani soldiers and brought bilateral relations to the breaking point. US officials confirmed this month that the attacks had been suspended to allow time for frayed relations to mend.

Al Qaeda and other extremist groups appeared to take advantage of the lull in drone attacks, regrouping after having been splintered by a steady barrage of surprise missile fire, US officials say.

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