The U.S. on Monday announced that it was pulling out its negotiators from the prolonged deliberations with Pakistan over reopening NATO supply lines. Though the move signals a further downhill in bilateral ties, both sides maintained this was not a complete breakdown, with Pakistan's Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar saying, “Let us give quiet diplomacy a chance”.

That the two countries remain engaged with each other was evidenced by a meeting of a U.S. Congressional delegation with President Asif Ali Zardari on Tuesday. Meanwhile, British Secretary William Hague — who reached Islamabad earlier in the day on a two-day visit ahead of the Kabul Conference — denied that he was here to adjudicate or mediate between the U.S. and Pakistan, as suggested by a section of the Pakistani media.

Conceding that a decision on NATO supply lines would affect the U.K. also, Mr. Hague said: “What would be of greater concern to us would be if there is a rift between the U.S. and Pakistan.”

The withdrawal was announced by Pentagon spokesman George Little, who maintained that this was a U.S. decision and not imposed by Pakistan. “I believe that some of the team left over the weekend and the remainder of the team will leave shortly.” Maintaining that working out a deal with Pakistan on NATO supply lines remained a priority with the U.S., he said the negotiators could return any time.

Matters were compounded last week by U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta's remarks about Pakistan during his visit to India and Afghanistan. Though similar remarks had been doing the rounds, what has been said by others in the U.S. administration often, the choice of venue, India, is akin to rubbing salt to injury. And, Pakistanis have begun seeing a pattern here because U.S. President Barack Obama did it during his India visit and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also spoken out against Pakistan from Indian soil.

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