WASHINGTON - Top US Senator John Kerry's recent visit to Pakistan, which was aimed at allaying opposition politicians' concerns about stringent conditions set in the Kerry-Lugar aid package, underscored the power the Pakistani military continues to wield in the country's political theater, according to a leading American newspaper. "In this show, the army cast itself as the backroom champion of a proud public -- and President Asif Ali Zardari and his civilian government as American stooges, The Washington Post said in a dispatch from Islamabad on the talks Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had in Islamabad. The aid package, which calls for stronger civilian oversight of Pakistan's military, was intended as a display of the Obama administration's support for Zardari's democratically elected government, which initially embraced the funding, correspondent Karin Brulliard wrote. Instead, Pakistani politicians and analysts were cited as saying, a public backlash stoked by the nation's top generals has worsened a tense relationship between the army and the president and further weakened the fragile government. "The message to the people has been that the army succeeded," Tanvir Ahmad Khan, head of the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad, was quoted saying in the course of the dispatch. "They redefined the debate." The Post said that the deepening gulf came at a "particularly dangerous time", when Pakistan, which has a history of military coups, is facing an emboldened Islamist rebellion, and unity between army and the government is crucial, analysts said. The controversy "has sent a signal of a deep divide between the civilian government and the armed forces," said Tariq Fatemi, a former ambassador to the United States. "Which, given Pakistan's history . . . is a very dangerous and risk-fraught development." That might be what the generals wanted, according to the Post. During his presidential campaign, Barack Obama pledged to alter the U.S. relationship with Pakistan, which he argued was too narrowly focused during the Bush administration on supporting the Pakistani military, at the expense of the Pakistani people. Such a shift, the dispatch, citing observers, said would be a major blow to the army and its intelligence services, which rely on U.S. aid but also have a history of quietly stoking anti-American sentiment in their country. "For the first time, money was going directly to the public," said one opposition politician, who did not want to be quoted criticizing the military. "The army succeeded in pressuring the government and maneuvering public opinion. They are showing the Americans, 'We are everything.' " Most analysts dismiss the idea that the showdown between the government and the military would spark a coup, noting that Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, the army chief, has expressed little political ambition. Still, he would need to be reappointed by Zardari next year to stay in his job, and some see the military's rush to capitalize on Pakistanis' deep suspicions about the United States as a way of gaining leverage, the dispatch said. After the army's popularity plummeted under military ruler Pervez Musharraf, the army has been buoyed by a successful anti-Taliban offensive in the Swat Valley, the ongoing operation in South Waziristan and even a recent wave of attacks -- which, a siege by militants at army headquarters notwithstanding, security forces have been praised as handling well. "The army didn't want this image to be lost," said S. Rifaat Hussain, a defense and security studies professor at Islamabad's Quaid-i-Azam University. "The Pakistani military sees itself as a pro-people force." Pakistani politicians said military officials were furious that the government had not discussed the aid conditions with them and had ignored concerns that they had raised. Amid the public outcry this month, the army slammed the U.S. legislation in a rare statement that expressed "serious concern regarding clauses impacting national security."