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David Ignatius: U.S., Pakistan take a breather

BY DAVID IGNATIUS Published: March 8, 2012
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The slowdown in the drone war has gone largely unnoticed, but U.S. officials say there have been several changes: First, so many al-Qaida leaders have been killed that there are fewer high-level targets; second, the CIA is conducting fewer so-called “signature attacks” on lower-level fighters, with correspondingly less risk of civilian casualties; and third, there is a broader process of interagency review in Washington before strikes are conducted.

Reopening border crossings: The Pakistanis must have thought they held a trump card when they closed the so-called “ground lines of communication,” or G-LOCs, last November. But military logisticians have managed to keep supplying U.S. forces in Afghanistan through a “northern distribution network,” through Russia and its southern neighbors. The biggest drawback of this alternative route, other than its higher cost, is that it can't handle the outflow of old equipment assembled during 10 years of war.

A measure of calm

The likely resolution is that the Pakistanis will open the land routes but charge the U.S. more to use them. Exacting this toll will salve national pride while providing a lucrative new source of cash.

Reconciliation talks: For more than a year, the State Department has conducted quiet outreach to the Taliban leadership and agreed on a Taliban office in Qatar. Pakistan's policy is hard to read, but Islamabad at least hasn't played the spoiler. The Pakistanis clearly don't want to be blamed for failure of negotiations, yet they don't seem to be pushing actively for a deal, either.

Recent months have offered something that is rare indeed in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, which is a measure of calm. Neither side is showing much love, but there's less anger, as well — which perhaps can keep this tempestuous couple together a good while longer.

WASHINGTON POST WRITERS GROUP