The controversy around the Shamsi airbase indicates the kind of problems Pakistan is likely to face as it tries to redefine its terms of engagement with the United States. While Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar announced last week that the US had been asked to vacate the airbase, foreign news agencies quoted unnamed US officials as saying that the US does not plan to do any such thing. Adding confusion to the controversy, Federal Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan declared that the Defence Committee of the Cabinet had not taken any decision asking the US to vacate the base and that the ISPR would know better. What are we to understand from these conflicting statements? As it is, freeing ourselves from the evil embrace of the United States is not an easy task. Ministers like Firdous Awan and Rehman Malik are bound to make it more difficult with their erratic behaviour and irresponsible statements. In the present controversy, though nothing official has come out of the United States so far, it is obvious that the global bully is reluctant to leave the Shamsi airbase. This is confirmed by the planted leaks in the Western media on the issue attributed to unnamed officials. Naturally, which bully would allow the victim to free itself from the oppressive clutches that tie it down? As Pakistan attempts to bring some sense to the Pak-US relationship and scale down the meddlesome and extensive involvement of the global bully in the country, the US is expected to resist such efforts in every possible way and try to further expand rather than trim down its shady presence on our soil. The threats disguised as friendly lectures from an ally are fast losing their colourful clothes, and assuming the form of naked threats from an enemy. The evil superpower would like us to believe that, like Afghanistan next door, we are under its occupation. What else is one to deduce from its refusal to leave the Shamsi airbase, despite being told that it is no longer welcome. According to the Defence Minister, the US had been told to leave the base even before its unlawful May 2 Abbottabad raid, and the demand had again been communicated in the aftermath of the raid. So, why are they still there? If they were foot-dragging before, the present statements attributed to unnamed officials and flashed through the Western media send a new message: Even if Pakistan wants us out of its airbase, we will stay on. Of course, the US government cannot say so openly in so many words. But actions speak louder than words and the fact is that it is still there months after being told to leave. As if this was not bad enough, it is sending messages through its embedded media and unnamed officials that it had no intention to leave either, whatever Pakistan's wishes or demands. Pakistan must share the blame for bringing things to such a sorry state. We opened the doors of our house to a certified bully, recognised the world over as a self-serving menace without any scruples, a country that thrives on the death of other peoples and destruction of distant lands. We gave it a free hand to strengthen its overt and covert presence in our country and, as a consequence, push forth its tunnel-visioned declared and undeclared agendas that go against our national interest. By indulging the bully, we reinforced its power over us. But as they say, it is never too late. The newfound resolve to rid ourselves of the menace is therefore welcome and an achievable goal worth pursuing. To accomplish the task made arduous due to our earlier laxity, it is imperative that the civil and military leadership approach it with unity and firmness of purpose. The irresponsible statement of the Federal Information Minister has the exact opposite effect. By suggesting that the decision was not taken by the civilian government, but by the military leadership, she has created the impression that the two are not on the same page on the issue. While this impression had been reflected earlier on several occasions, especially during the debate on the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act and when the government tried to place the ISI under the Federal Interior Minister, recent developments had indicated a closer partnership between the government and the military leadership. President Zardari had spoken about the armed forces in a different and positive vein, and their recent joint interactions with visiting US officials had indicated a growing convergence between the government and military leadership on vital security concerns. So where is Firdous Awan coming from? Is she plain stupid or was it just a silly slip of the tongue? Even worse, was she prompted by her government to add to the controversy? Many observers feel that whatever the government public posture, it is hopelessly wedded to a slavish mindset vis--vis the United States. They feel that the resolve to move away from the deathly embrace of the evil superpower has emanated from the military leadership and the government has decided to go along with it, but only on the surface. Essentially, according to these observers, the government does not have its heart in it, and it would like to avoid any significant re-orientation of the Pak-US relationship. While the government does not have valid reasons to continue with the abusive relationship or the guts to oppose a popular demand now backed by the military, the observers say that it would try in its own devious ways, and through its devious ministers like Firdous Awan and Rehman Malik, to scuttle the initiative of the military leadership. The observers present various reasons for supporting their point of view, some of them quite convincing. At the same time, there are reasons to believe that the government and the military are together when it comes to renegotiating our terms of engagement with the United States. In any case, to clear the ambiguities, some urgent steps are needed to be taken by the government. It must make public whatever understanding exists between the two countries and present its plan for redefining them in partnership with the military leadership. Instead of verbal commitments, everything must be in black and white. And of course, the government must rein in its ministers with important portfolios who do not miss an opportunity to pass confusing statements regarding important national matters. It must create some discipline within its ranks and punish those who violate it. The writer is a freelance columnist.