ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Now to Pakistan where many say relations with the U.S. have never been worse. But NPR's Corey Flintoff reports from Islamabad that there may be signs of a thaw.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Foreign language spoken)

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Pakistan erupted in fury over the NATO airstrike that killed two dozen soldiers on November 26th. Thousands of protesters in Karachi and other major cities chanted: Anyone who is America's friend is a traitor. There were indications that the airstrike was a friendly fire incident that began when NATO troops and Pakistani soldiers each thought they were being fired upon by the Taliban. But Pakistani political leaders swiftly denounced the attack, calling it deliberate. They're demanding an apology and punishment for those responsible.

Political commentator Talat Masood says Pakistanis felt deeply aggrieved over a series of incidents this past year.

TALAT MASOOD: You have to see it in the light of the successive events which have taken place, which are very unfortunate in their nature.

FLINTOFF: Those events, Masood said, included the case of CIA contractor Raymond Davis, who sought diplomatic immunity after shooting and killing two Pakistanis in January. Then there was the killing of Osama bin Laden in May in which Pakistani officials were not informed of a major U.S. raid on their territory.

Masood, a retired lieutenant general, also says the Pakistanis have felt publicly rebuked by U.S. officials over the past few months. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Pakistan's foreign minister in October that you can't expect to keep snakes in your backyard and expect it only to bite neighbors. Clinton was referring to U.S. suspicions that Pakistan's military and its intelligence service, the ISI, tolerate and even support militant groups that operate in Afghanistan from bases on Pakistani soil.

The deadly border incident, Masood says, was the last straw, leading Pakistani officials to make what he thinks was a rash choice: to boycott the Bonn conference on Afghanistan.

MASOOD: Because they had, you know, hyped the anti-American sentiment in such a way that it had become difficult for them to participate in the conference. But I think Pakistan should have participated. This is my own view. It would have been very helpful to project Pakistan's viewpoint.

FLINTOFF: In addition to the boycott, Pakistan lashed back in other ways, stopping the flow of supplies to NATO troops in Afghanistan and telling the U.S. to vacate a base in southwest Pakistan. The Shamsi base is used to launch drone flights along the Afghan border, so it's important.

But Cameron Munter, the American ambassador to Pakistan, confirmed today that the U.S. has begun to pack up its equipment and will try to be out of the base by the deadline of December 11th.

Hasan Askari Rizvi, a national security analyst in Lahore, says there's a danger that Pakistan's powerful military may overdo the retaliation, to a point where it would be difficult to ratchet back.

DR. HASAN ASKARI RIZVI: It happens from time to time that the state and government would promote anti-Americanism for immediate reason. Then when they backtrack, then those Islamists who have been strengthened by this kind of policy would then pounce on you, and accuse you of following Americans because you need money from them.

FLINTOFF: For its part, the U.S. has been trying to assuage Pakistani sensibilities. Both President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have called top Pakistani officials to offer condolences to the families of the dead soldiers. Both the president and the secretary stopped short of offering the apology that Pakistan wants, saying that will depend on the results of an investigation.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said last week that it was important to remain aligned with the U.S. in order to achieve peace in Afghanistan. Analyst Talat Masood agrees.

MASOOD: The two countries need each other however bad their relationship may be. So I would say that necessity demands that they, again, try to sort of engage and try to restore the relationship to normality.

FLINTOFF: The Pakistani government may take its time in mending relations, because it feels the need to take a strong stand in the eyes of its angry public. Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Islamabad.

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