Extinguishing the brief flicker of hope about curbing the US role in Pakistan, the government has comfortably slid back into the slave-mode, doing what it is told by the superpower bully. As if on cue, the media hype around the PNS Mehran attack and the murder of a journalist has targeted the Pakistan armed forces and ISI, putting them on the backfoot and discrediting the security establishment. While issues of civilian control of the military and its bloated role should not be taboo and need to be sorted out, the present debate and denunciation of the security establishment is unlikely to produce any positive results. The discussion, which is being conducted in a politically-correct vaccum without any effort to place the issues in the overall national context, is clearly adding to the chaos. To sort out the mess we are presently in, it is crucial that we prioritise the issues confronting us. Amidst loud criticism of the role of the armed forces and their professional competence, the government announced renewed counter-terrorism cooperation with the US and presented yet another IMF-dictated budget. This inter-linked trap of the US war on terror and our borrowed economic policy lies at the root of our problems. The foremost goal for anyone claiming to have Pakistan's interest at heart should be freedom from this exploitative trap. We could hope to address our multifarious internal problems only when we rid ourselves of this debilitating and domineering external influence. There is no denying the fact that we cannot blame everything on external factors and there is an urgent need to address a host of serious homegrown issues. At the same time, any effort to address them would be futile if the meddlesome role of the US remains intact. Whether it is the twin menace of militant extremism and terrorism in the region or the civil-military equation, the energy crisis or price hike, gas shortage or Pak-India relations, it is impossible to make any positive headway on important issues with the US poking its nose in everything. There are those who would like to brush aside this view, insisting that we cannot put everything on hold till the US leaves us alone. Their eyes gleam with glee as they propound how this is the best time to cut the armed forces down to size and rein in the ISI now that their weakness is exposed. In private, they say the security establishment is pro-Al-Qaeda and pro-Taliban, and the aggressive US policy is the only way to control the menace of terrorism in the region. They'd like to solve these problems hiding behind the might and clout of the US. The energy crisis, price hike and many other issues crippling the people are not on their list of concerns. Their concern is limited to the US agenda that they would like to take on its face value. It is difficult to understand where their optimism regarding the US role is coming from? Haven't we seen the problems of extremism and terrorism getting increasingly compounded with the US involvement? The dubious US objectives and its military-centric approach that kills scores of innocent civilians for every suspected terrorist has only added to hatred and militancy in the region. While it talks to the Taliban and pays millions of dollars to warlords for safe passage of NATO supplies, it pushes Pakistan to bomb and kill them. While its spies establish contacts with terrorists and its diplomats engage with religious extremists of all hues, it condemns Pakistan for keeping the communication lines open with them. Given the history of CIA partnership with terrorists in many parts of the world, the war-led economy of the US and its diplomatic doublespeak, it is difficult to understand where those who argue for cooperating with it on counter-terrorism are coming from? It's a bit strange that they are ready to believe the US public pronouncements as the whole truth. Can they be so naive? Similarly, isn't it obvious that the US has persistently acted to create friction between the civil and military leadership, egging them on in opposite directions, weakening both to its advantage? Whether it was the conditionalities of the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act or the fact that the endless stream of US officials hold separate meetings with the military and civilian leadership, their divide-and-rule agenda is no secret. They make tall claims about strengthening democracy on the one hand and on the other, by discussing political and strategic issues with the military leadership, weaken the civilian authority. The US has actively thwarted attempts by Pakistan to address its energy crisis, limiting its options to what fits into its designs for the region. The IMF-sponsored economy facilitated by it has created extreme hardship for the poorest sections of the population. It projects itself as a normalising influence on Pak-India relations, but has actually created more friction between the two neighbouring countries by encouraging India in its aggressive stance towards Pakistan. Of course, all these problems will not disappear automatically on saying good-bye to American control. We will still need to control militant extremism that was nurtured by the state for years. We will still need to bring some sanity to the role of the security establishment that has been polluted by decades of military dictatorship. Pakistan and India are confronted by real issues that need to be resolved for normalisation of relations between the two countries, and leadership on both sides will have to work hard to end hostility. Similarly, the problems of an economy run on borrowed money for too long are not going to vanish just by saying no to the IMF. It will take time to control the energy crisis and inflation. It will take time to sort out the mess we are in. Time and unity among various pillars of the state that must shed the divisive cocoons of elitism and join hands to serve the people in whose name they occupy high offices of the land. Pakistan is faced with real problems that require vision and courage to surmount, and the Pakistani leaders and citizens will have to grapple with them with or without the US. The only difference is that we can hope to deal with these challenges without US interference. With the US casting its shadow on Pakistan, they will only get worse. The writer is a freelance columnist.