US-Pakistani relations, under redoubled strain after the May raid on Osama bin Ladens Abbottabad compound, are only getting worse. This week, the Obama administration announced it would withhold $800 million in military aid to Pakistan, more than a third of Washingtons annual allotment. The proximate cause of this reprimand was the alleged betrayal by Pakistani officials of plans to attack Afghan Taliban bomb-making sites inside Pakistan. Meanwhile, the security outlook in Pakistans tribal areas bordering Afghanistan has darkened. In retaliation for the blocked US aid, Pakistans defence minister threatened to withdraw some of his soldiers from the badlands, including over 1,100 border checkpoints. This would come on top of a previous decision to throw out over 100 US Special Forces soldiers who had been training the Frontier Corps. The decision to finally impose a penalty on Islamabad for the alleged duplicity of some of its officials will no doubt further worsen the relationship in the short-run. Policymakers in Washington will have to assess whether the relationship is a viable candidate for a reset. If not, the United States will have to tally up its options for expanded unilateral action against militants in the region. If it comes to that, President Barack Obama will undoubtedly turn to his incoming CIA director Gen David Petraeus to implement more quasi-military operations. The CIA has had a covert presence in Pakistan for decades, a presence that has taken on a wide variety of forms as circumstances have changed. A continued downward spiral in the US-Pakistani relationship will cause the covert CIA presence to evolve again, or at least intensify in its present form. As a marker of what may be to come, the night of May 11 witnessed one of the heaviest drone bombardments of Pakistan, with four separate strikes killing over 50 people. Petraeus will shed his Army uniform before he reports for work in Langley. But he will still be a battlefield commander, in charge of a robotic air force and a small army of US and Afghan paramilitaries, many of whom are former special operations soldiers. Under US law, Petraeus campaign in Pakistan will be a civilian-led covert action, authorised under Title 50 of the United State Code. To Pakistan, it will look a lot like war. Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, just completed a four-day visit to China. Mullens hosts provided him with unprecedented access to some of Chinas most important military capabilities. Restoring military-to-military relations with Beijing, which have regularly been disrupted over the past decade, has long been a goal of US military officials. Mullen and his colleagues at the Pentagon should be pleased that his visit, coupled with a tour his Chinese counterpart recently made to the United States, will open communications between the two defence establishments and thus reduce the odds of potentially damaging misunderstandings. But Mullens trip also revealed the steady pressure the Chinese government is placing on the US forward presence in the Western Pacific. Mullens tour of Chinese military bases included a visit to the headquarters of Chinas Second Artillery Corps, the unit responsible for Chinas nuclear deterrent and many of its rapidly-growing missile forces. His hosts also allowed him to sit in the cockpit of a SU-27, one of Chinas most advanced operational jets, and to inspect a late-model diesel-electric submarine. Mullen also observed an army training exercise and had numerous meetings with junior and senior officers. The trip seemed to modestly advance the US objective of creating greater transparency between the two sides. But Chinese military leaders also made progress on some of their goals. They took advantage of the publicity associated with Mullens visit to broadcast doubts about the sustainability of US commitments to the region and question the propriety of US military cooperation with countries around the South China Sea. During a press conference with Mullen, Gen Chen Bingde, chief of the General Staff of the Peoples Liberation Army, offered some unsolicited advice for policymakers in Washington. I know the US is still recovering from the financial crisis, Chen said. Under such circumstances, it is still spending a lot of money on its military and isnt that placing too much pressure on the taxpayers? If the US could reduce its military spending a bit and spend more on improving the livelihood of the American people wouldnt that be a better scenario? Chens suggestion was undoubtedly designed to reinforce doubts about the Pentagons ability in the long run to fulfil its security commitments to the region. Chinas message to its neighbours is that they should take those doubts into account when formulating foreign policy. Chen also publicly criticised military training exercises US forces recently conducted with Vietnam and the Philippines. Chen asserted that the timing of the exercises was inappropriate [a]t this particular time, when China and the related claimants [to the South China Sea] have some difficulties, have some problems with each other. Chens message is that it is illegitimate for the United States to interfere with a squabble in Chinas neighbourhood. From Chinas perspective, such interference only makes it more difficult to resolve the South China Sea dispute - on terms Beijing would prefer. American officials are likely to respond by ignoring Chens remarks and carrying on with business as usual. Indeed, the Pentagon plans to further expand its military-to-military agenda with China by hosting a Chinese visit to US Pacific Command headquarters and by including Chinese forces in upcoming anti-piracy and disaster relief training exercises. But China will very likely continue to patiently assert its claims in the South China Sea, question the legitimacy of a US presence there, and raise questions about the reliability of US security promises. Before the financial crisis, US policymakers had not heard such challenges. Now they have a new problem in their inbox. Foreign Policy