NEW YORK - The United States' attitude towards Nawaz Sharif, the PML leader from whom Washington kept its distance, is undergoing a perceptible change in the wake of the recent developments in Pakistan that culminated in the reinstatement of independent-minded Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. "Mr. Sharif, often held in suspicion in Washington because of his leaning toward Islamic conservatives, was more cooperative than had been thought," The New York Times reported Tuesday, citing some unnamed U.S. officials. In a new analysis on the easing political tensions in Pakistan, the newspaper said, "President (Asif Ali) Zardari has been severely weakened by his efforts to squelch a national protest and faces defections from the usually cohesive Pakistan Peoples Party. His opponent, Mr. Sharif, emerged as a leader in waiting, but with no clear path to power. "The way ahead is likely to be messy for everyone, including the United States, and could turn out to be a major distraction from efforts to counter the insurgency, which is spreading closer to the main population areas." But there was hope, the Times correspondent in Islamabad, Jane Perlez, wrote, citing American and Pakistani officials. "For a country that has more experience with military rule than with democratic government in its 61 years, there was the possibility that the outpouring of civil society on the streets of Lahore over the weekend presaged a strengthened two-party democratic system, and the beginnings of an independent judiciary, the dispatch said. "In Washington, there was an awareness that Mr. Sharif's reputation from the Bush administration of being too close to the Islamists might be overdrawn, and that his relationships with some of the Islamic parties and with Saudi Arabia could be useful", a foreign policy expert familiar with the thinking of the Obama administration on Pakistan, was quoted as saying in the dispatch. "Mr. Sharif has told people that he got along well with the Obama administration's special envoy, Richard C. Holbrooke, during their meeting at Mr. Sharif's farm last month. "He speaks admiringly of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, whom he met with former President Bill Clinton while in exile in Saudi Arabia". Also, citing Pakistani analysts, the Times said Nawaz Sharif could prove to be a useful partner as Washington tried to talk to what it considered reconcilable elements in the Taliban. "Who from Pakistan can talk to a faction of the Taliban? It's Nawaz," said a senior Pakistani politician who spoke to The Times on the condition of anonymity for fear of alienating Mr. Sharif. "But Mr. Sharif has to play a delicate game because if he is seen as doing Washington's bidding, he will be discredited among much of his constituency," the politician was quoted as saying. And, according to the dispatch, Mr. Sharif could also turn out to be unwilling to back some of the tough steps that Washington wants. "One encouraging sign for Washington was the role played in the crisis by the army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who let Mr. Zardari know that he could not rely on soldiers to confront the protesters who were threatening to descend on Islamabad to demand the return of Chief Justice Chaudhry," correspondent Perlez wrote. "Another positive sign was the nature of the support Mr. Sharif garnered after he drove out of his house in a suburb of Lahore on Sunday through barbed-wire barriers, in defiance of a detention order. "As his bulletproof four-wheel-drive vehicle entered the main thoroughfare of Lahore, it was showered with pink rose petals from the crowd, made up of lawyers, party workers and couples who came with their children to join what turned out to be a celebration of Mr. Sharif's nerve". The support of such a broad range of people is considered a first for Nawaz Sharif's party, which has generally ceded street power to the Pakistan Peoples Party, and it underscored his political instincts, columnist Farrukh Saleem said. "He understood the pulse of the country," he added. "Those political instincts", according to the dispatch, "could serve the Obama administration well if Mr. Sharif continues to work with lawyers and civil society". Summing up Correspondent Perlez called justice Chaudhry a "symbol of democracy and rule of law" and his restoration "a signal moment in Pakistan's political development." "The army did not stage a coup, but insisted that the government accept a compromise," correspondent Constable wrote. Correspondent Pamela Constable of The Washington Post pictured the huge celebrations in Pakistan following the announcement about justice Chaudhry. "They came carrying children and cakes, tootling bagpipes and pounding drums, waving banners from half a dozen political parties and wearing the garb of peasants and politicians," she wrote. "From dawn to dark, a tide of well-wishers streamed toward the Islamabad home of Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, the deposed chief justice of Pakistan's Supreme Court, whom the government on Monday agreed to reinstate after it was unable to quell protests by political, legal and civic activists demanding his restoration... "Zardari is said to fear that Chaudhry could reopen corruption cases against him and overturn an amnesty from Musharraf that allowed Zardari to return from exile in 2007. But aides to the former chief justice said he does not want to create more fissures in Pakistan, which is already facing an Islamist insurgency and a badly declining economy... "In political terms, the winner of the showdown was former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, a longtime rival of Zardari's who championed the lawyers' cause after Zardari used the courts to engineer Sharif's removal from politics last month, and fired his brother as chief minister of Punjab province. "Although still barred from holding office, Nawaz Sharif emerged as a national hero this week. He exhorted his supporters to take to the streets, evaded house arrest and then led an all-night protest caravan toward Islamabad. When Zardari finally capitulated on the judges after a late-night meeting with Gillani and Pakistan's army chief, Sharif's stature soared. "But the man of the hour Monday was the soft-spoken and publicity shy jurist from Baluchistan province, whose independent nature infuriated (former President Pervez) Musharraf -- and whose determination to locate terrorism suspects who had 'disappeared' from the legal system while in official custody alarmed the United States. He had already become a nationwide cause celebre after he was first deposed almost exactly two years ago... "Despite Chaudhry's celebrity status, many people interviewed at celebrations in Lahore and Islamabad on Monday stressed the institutional and political significance of his reinstatement for Pakistani's democratic future, rather than his personal qualifications or judicial views".