In a sign that US-Pakistan relations are improving, the Pentagon will send Pakistan a $688 million payment, the first reimbursement sent to the country since this summer. Such payments, called coalition support funds, cover the cost of stationing troops on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, and many of them have been delayed as tension increased over the Osama bin Laden raid, an American airstrike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, and other matters. This payment, which covers the period of June to November 2011, was announced to Congress on Dec. 7 and hasn't been protested; officials say that's a sign of the thawing relations between the two countries.
"This is the longest we’ve gone in a while without a crisis," notes one senior US official. A former Pakistani ambassador to Washington agrees, noting that both the US and Pakistan are driven by a desire for stability when NATO troops withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014. John Kerry, the new frontrunner for secretary of State, is the biggest supporter of providing aid to Pakistan, the New York Times reports. Kerry, who has served as an envoy to the country frequently, would be a welcome choice as far as Pakistan is concerned; he is seen as the lawmaker most sympathetic to the country's concerns and has relationships with many top officials there. (Read more Pakistan stories.)