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Why engage with Pakistan?

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Making matters worse, public distrust has reached such levels that right now overt moves toward reconciliation aren't possible for either side.

"Neither the United States nor Pakistan can be seen to their public as giving space where it's not deserved," says Mosharraf Zaidi, a political analyst.

In Pakistan, anger has manifested in a cut to the NATO supply line, street protests, and the yanking of foreign news channels off the air.

Such fury has been compounded by President Obama's refusal to make a videotaped apology for the airstrike incident, having already expressed regret through the White House press secretary.

On Dec. 1, the US hit back with its own version of events, as officials told The Wall Street Journal that Pakistan had given the green light on the attack, unaware that their own troops were in the area.

US aid fatigue

On the US side, pressure is mounting – particularly on Capitol Hill – to make deeper cuts to the $1.5 billion in aid the "unreliable ally" receives each year. A Western diplomat in Islamabad said that the US embassy fears Pakistan may soon be willing to force the issue itself by refusing to accept American aid – a fresh diplomatic blow.

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