A senior American military commander is expected to travel to Pakistan this month in what Obama administration officials say is the first step toward thawing a strategic relationship that has been in effect frozen for more than two months.
Gen. James N. Mattis, the head of the military’s Central Command, will meet Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Pakistani Army chief of staff, to discuss the investigations of an exchange of fire at the Afghan border that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, as well as new border coordination procedures to prevent a recurrence of the episode.
General Mattis’s visit, the first by a high-ranking American official since the cross-border confrontation in November, was to have begun Thursday, but has been postponed by at least a week pending what is expected to be a spirited debate in the Pakistani Parliament over a new security policy toward the United States.
Pakistani and American officials are quietly optimistic that both events will trigger a chain of public engagement and private negotiations that will reboot the two nations’ frayed strategic relationship, although along more narrowly defined lines than before.
Pakistani officials say they will probably reopen NATO supply lines running through their territory, which have been closed for more than two months. The State Department is supporting a proposal circulating in the administration for the United States to issue a formal apology for the deaths of the Pakistani soldiers in the Nov. 26 airstrike by American gunships.
“We’ve felt an apology would be helpful in creating some space,” said an American official who has been briefed on the State Department’s view and who spoke on the condition of anonymity as internal discussions continued.
Soon after the lethal airstrike, the White House decided that President Obama would not offer formal condolences to Pakistan, overruling State Department officials who argued for such a show of remorse to help salvage relations.