Imran Malik The US hasproclaimed victory in Afghanistan. It has also announced its long anticipated withdrawal and plans for the region. President Barack Obama has also divulged a decisive paradigm shift in the US approach to the war on terror. He seems to have finally agreed with the Joe Biden doctrine, which stipulates a shift in strategy from COIN to counterterrorism, implying that henceforth the US would not be employing large troop formations against the terrorists, but would instead be banking upon small special services groups backed by strong air force and UAV components in focused and selective counterterrorism missions. These would invariably include hot pursuit and cross-border operations.Furthermore, the US plans to maintain land and air bases in Afghanistan beyond 2014. These new paradigms have drastically altered the strategic environment in the AfPak and the South and Central Asian regions to the concerns of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia, China, Iran and India. Pakistan, however, needs to take a long overdue strategic pause in the war on terror, reassess the current strategic and operational environments in the AfPak regionand make the necessary adjustments in its policies.Our policies thus far have not been able to deliver the goods. Any government policy must secure or further our national interests else be deemed a failure.Our somewhat confrontationist (though populist) attitude towards the US has not and is not likely to pay any worthwhile dividends. Good practical diplomacy would require one to readjust (without being conformist), and yet be able to derive some benefits from this (fractured) relationship. We must also ensure that all the adjustments that we make are not without the requisite quid pro quo. We need to manage our relationship with the US to our mutual and specifically our own advantage. We might have been unwitting victims of our own rhetoric - theparliamentary resolutions, stances taken by our political parties, and the fire and fury being spewed forthin our print and electronic media Yet, there is time and a need to make a course correction in our policies to still glean some advantages from the current and future strategic environments in the Afghan end game and our future engagements with the US. We needsomedeep and true analysis and some honest answers. Hence, the imperative for the Pakistani hierarchy to take a strategic pause and to reassess the prevailing and the expected strategic and operational environments in AfPak, in the light of the paradigm shift announced by the US. There may be a need to change tack on our approach to safeguarding our core national interests in Afghanistan. This readjustment of policy must take us up to and beyond 2014. The civilian government needs to enunciate a clear, explicit and unambiguouspolicy laying down guidelines for the Foreign Office and themilitary to work on. Together the two organs of state mustevolvefresh strategies to stop the rot that has set in in our relationship with the US and yet gain some advantages from this engagement. Furthermore, these strategies must ensure that alloptions for the US and its allies to violate our air and ground spaces are foreclosed. Our armed forces would have the necessary operational contingency plans ready for all possible hot pursuit and cross-border operations that could possibly be launched by the US and its allies. What they need is the political will of the government and its decision to execute them, if need be. We need to have absolute clarity in our policy about our operations. Thus, it is imperative that the government and the military are on the same page. There is a need to bring in a clear understanding of the strategic and operational environments, and our responses to the possible operational contingencies. Dealing with the US under the changed strategic and operational environmentswill demand diplomacy of the most pristine quality and the most sensitive andarticulate form of military collaboration that, on the one hand, should assist the US to achieveits goals, while, on the other, obviates any detriment to our own national interests. Is it possible? Can our diplomats and military experts deliver on this?That would requirestrategic foresight, statesmanship, diplomacy and negotiating skills of the highest and most sublime order and calibre from our politico-military hierarchy. And that is the need of the nation at this critical hour in our history.And the time for this review and delivery by our politico-military expertsis now. n The writer is a retired Brigadier. Email: im_k@hotmail.com