As American confidence in the Pakistani government wanes, the Obama administration is reaching out more directly than before to Pakistan president Asif Ali Zardari's chief rival Nawaz Sharif, the New York Times said in a report.
American officials have long held Sharif at arm's length because of his close ties to Islamists in Pakistan, but some Obama administration officials now say close ties could be useful in helping Zardari's government to confront the stiffening challenge by Taliban insurgents, the influential newspaper said on Saturday.
The move reflects the heightened concern in the Obama administration about the survivability of the Zardari government, the daily said.
Gen David H Petraeus, the head of the United States Central Command, has said in private meetings in Washington that Pakistan's government is increasingly vulnerable, according to unnamed administration officials cited by the Times.
General Petraeus is among those expected to attend an all-day meeting on Saturday with senior administration officials to discuss the next steps in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in advance of high-level sessions next week in Washington, when Zardari and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan will meet with President Obama at the White House.
Washington has a bad history of trying to engineer domestic Pakistani politics, and no one in the administration is trying to broker an actual power-sharing agreement between Zardari and Sharif, unnamed administration officials were cited as saying.
But they say that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Richard C Holbrooke, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, have both urged Zardari and Sharif to look for ways to work together, seeking to capitalise on Sharif's appeal among the country's Islamist groups.
Obama administration officials have been up front in expressing dissatisfaction with the response shown by Zardari's government to increasing attacks by Taliban fighters and insurgents with Al-Qaeda in the country's tribal areas, and along its western border with Afghanistan.
A Defence Department official cited by the Times said the administration wanted to broker an agreement not so much to buoy Zardari personally, but to accomplish what the administration believes Pakistan must do.
"The idea here is to tie Sharif's popularity to things we think need to be done, like dealing with the militancy," the unnamed official was quoted as saying.
Both Holbrooke and Clinton have spoken with Sharif by telephone in the past month, and have urged Zardari's increasingly unpopular government to work closely with Sharif, administration officials said.