President Trump’s spat against Pakistan when announcing his new Afghan policy last week was un-called for, rather disappointing and downright insulting - naturally Pakistanis are hurt. Ever since, anti-American sentiment here has risen; in reply the opposition leader, Imran Khan, has spoken passionately-cum-strongly in the parliament; and a large segment of proud and patriotic Pakistanis are pressurizing their government to give a tit for tat message to the United Sates (US) or even temporarily sever ties, if need be. While one can surely understand the anger and a sense of betrayal (by the US) being felt here, the question is would a knee-jerk reaction from Pakistan be the right response and more importantly, will it be in the interest of Pakistan ?

After all, one has come to know by now that decisions associated with Trump may no longer reflect the true feelings or majority of the American public. Already there is a strong dissent within the Republican camp on this new Afghan policy, which they consider to be strategically flawed and doomed for failure. They opine that not only is it poorly crafted, but it also fails to capture Pakistan’s role without which a sustainable Afghan solution will always remain elusive – in short, no lessons learnt from the last 16 years. Moreover, critics say that it has been primarily prepared by a group of 3 retired Generals whose objectivity is questionable owing to their quite dismal performance during service on respective assignments in Afghanistan and sadly, a grave personal tragedy in case of one. Potentially, it is likely to implode over time.

However, the reality is that good or bad; a new Afghan policy has been announced by the US that is bound to create difficulties for Pakistan in the days ahead and therefore, we need to now formulate our strategy on how to counter it. Also, the situation presents a new phenomenon for Pakistan , since the 60s, it is the first time that we practically find ourselves on the wrong side of the US foreign policy – the threats of ‘do more’ have been there for a long time, but the enemy status, if labelled, will certainly be the first. And it is this very possibility of reaching extreme positions that we need to diffuse – firm stands and guarding one’s self interest do not necessarily require noise or hurling insults! Any defence czar will tell you that in wake of a threat the best security is one that is subtle. To resolve the situation what is required is a comprehensive approach entailing the required short-term and long-term measures and a process to achieve desired objectives.

Short-term: Like it or not, it is important to take into account certain realities when crafting our response strategy. USA is still Pakistan’s largest market next to the European Union (EU) and we do not want to lose it; All doors to global financial institutions like the IMF, Word Bank, etc. lead through the US and its allies; a significant portion of home remittances still come from the US; and last but not least, our dollar transactions require clearance from New York and any hiccups there could be disastrous for the economy. In wake of this and given that the underlying desire is to keep our friendship with the US intact, the following would be advisable:

* There is a large presence of US Corporations in Pakistan (Abbott, Coca Cola, Pepsi, CPC, Colgate-Palmolive, etc.), which have expanded exponentially in recent years, thus showing their faith in our economy. The government should go that extra mile to assure them of its continued support and that their interests remain well protected in every way. This will not only be vital in cementing existing mutual economic linkages, but will also go a long way in projecting Pakistan as a mature and responsible country, promoting a soft image.

* Resultant anti-American sentiments spurred by any political party, group or media should be strictly curbed.

* Emphasis should be on letting the US know what Pakistan has to offer them, politically, militarily and economically, and not on what the US stands to lose by alienating Pakistan . This will prevent any ‘I said so’ notions from gaining credence in the American public. In fact this will be the most effective way of putting to shame all misconceived rhetoric on Pakistan’s genuine commitment to war on terror.

* No good putting the US in an either-or situation vis-à-vis India. Our relevance in any case is of paramount importance in Central and South Asia regardless of the US relationship with India.

* Work on bringing realism in mutual expectations by clearly articulating importance and necessity of Pakistan’s role in reaching a win-win solution in Afghanistan, but at the same time being mindful of the fact presenting a non-supportive Pakistan will become uninteresting for the US interests in the region.

* Use common friends like Saudi Arabia, China, Turkey, UK and the European Union to put across Pakistan’s point of view.

* Mobilize Pakistani diaspora and Pakistan’s friends in the US for effective lobbying.

Long-term: The objectives should focus on:

* Promoting academia linkages. Most Ivy campuses (including that of my Alma Mater) have an overriding Indian presence, which needs to be matched.

* Encouraging cross investments by providing space to US Corporations aspiring to access Pakistani market (Monsanto is one such case that comes to mind). I am certainly not advocating here that we give them a free hand, but to work with them while ensuring our self-interest.

* Pakistan is a huge market of 220 million people with perhaps the fastest growing middle class in the world, and has its own importance as an extremely lucrative consumption economy. Comparison to India in many ways is irrelevant. Use this leverage effectively.

* Utilize Pakistan’s entrepreneurs effectively to promote economic linkages. For example, the way India formed the infamous London Club of leading Indian business houses, back in the early 2000s, which today has gone on to create a visible Indian footprint on the global corporate canvas.

* Get Pakistan’s economy in order.

Finally, the process: To start with it is important that our Foreign Minister (FM) should definitely undertake his planned visit to the US. To put one’s perspective across and to convince, dialogue is a pre-requisite. However, before the FM lands there, the government needs to ensure that it first puts its own house in order by reigning in any irresponsible media (print & electronic), analysts and think tanks from raising hysteria or from destroying the credibility of the very leaders representing us. Pakistan is certainly not a nation idealizing cheats or corruption, and there is no civil-military rift when it comes to safeguarding the sovereignty of the country. There should simply be no room for airing such divisiveness. Lastly, high level visits for relationship building just set the tone, whereas, the process itself is on-going. Ironically, at present, there is no such framework nor a team of professionals specifically tasked by the government to explicitly identify our objectives and then work at keeping the US engaged in a continuous dialogue process. No wonder, we always wake after the damage has been done!