The US is getting desperate it seems. Its Defence Secretary has now said that the global badmash would try ‘one more time’ to work with Pakistan in Afghanistan. And what would happen if we don’t submit to this recent round of bullying? He did not elaborate upon the ‘options’ on the table and the ‘necessary steps’ that President Trump is prepared to take, but we should have a fair idea about what to expect. The question is: Are we ready for the next round?

The day that the US Defence Secretary threatened that this was our last chance to fall in line, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff was telling this to the Senate Armed Services Committee: ‘It is clear to me that the ISI has connections to terrorist groups’. Such noises have been made before but it is all coming to a head since Trump announced his South Asia policy and accused Pakistan of providing safe havens to terrorists. And it fits snugly into Uncle Sam’s agenda for the region.

As in the case of similar accusations against Russia and Iran which have been blamed by the Trump administration for arming the Taliban, the US refuses to provide evidence to support its allegations against Pakistan. It doesn’t share any actionable information about where the terrorists are operating from. It doesn’t seem to matter that, with almost half of Afghan territory not under Kabul’s control, the Taliban resistance or terrorist groups do not need safe havens in Pakistan.

Obviously, this convoluted narrative does not come from a lack of understanding about what ails Afghanistan. It’s not as simple as making us a scapegoat either. What really scares the US is the rapidly evolving regional convergence on Afghanistan. It would like to bully Pakistan into going back to being its AfPak B-team instead of working with China and Russia to find a solution to the Afghan conundrum. The desperation stems from the fact that all its efforts are going in vain.

For Pakistan, there’s no real choice. The security establishment has fought hard and brought areas along Pak-Afghan border under its control. The success of its counter-terrorism operations across the country are supported by statistics and recognised by friends and foes alike. It has managed to do this by distancing itself from the US so-called war on terror in Afghanistan and acting independently to counter the menace. Why would it fall into the AfPak quicksand all over again?

The alignment of countries in the region on Afghanistan, on the other hand, is as natural as gravity: we all stand to gain by stabilising Afghanistan. There is a consensus among not only Pakistan, China and Russia but also Iran and Afghanistan’s Central Asian neighbours that there is no military solution to the Afghan conflict. They are all calling for a negotiated settlement between Kabul and Taliban. Nothing could be further from the two-faced war-mongering of Uncle Sam, the real thorn in Afghanistan’s side.

Clearly, the US occupation of Afghanistan is principally aimed at providing it the foothold to not only keep the country destabilised but also to export that instability to Afghanistan’s neighbours by spawning terrorist groups, an expertise that it has perfected over decades. It is now building up Daesh in Afghanistan for that purpose. For its odious strategy in the region, the US has found a willing partner in Modi’s India, cunningly fanning the mini-me hegemon’s blind hatred for Pakistan and China.

Like I said before, there’s no real choice for Pakistan. Agreeing to do Uncle Sam’s bidding is a sure recipe for being sucked into the mess in Afghanistan and bringing it home. Let’s be very clear about it: There’s nothing Pakistan can do to make the US change its so-called South Asia policy and its disruptive agenda for the region. A closely coordinated regional response is the only way to save ourselves from the nefarious US plans. And we should be prepared for the consequences of standing up for our survival.

We don’t need a crystal ball to know how the US would retaliate if we refuse to do its bidding. It would send in its drones, downgrade our status as a major non-Nato ally, stop financial assistance and eventually slap us with sanctions by declaring Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism. It would accelerate the hybrid war against Pakistan and heighten polarisation and instability through donor-driven NGOs, ethnic and religious groups and its proxies in the parliament, media and state institutions. It would fan political uncertainty by egging on its proxies.

Instead of waiting for these scenarios to unfold and then reacting, we must act now and develop a comprehensive strategy with our regional partners to counter them. We must put in place the mechanism needed to shoot down any drones that trespass our territory. We must learn from China and Russia and take effective measures to stop the infiltration by aid agencies and NGOs. We must crack down on sectarian and ethnic messengers of hatred. And above all, we must take steps to de-dollarise our economy and create an emergency plan to run the country without borrowed dollars.

The narrative about a rogue army supporting terrorists behind the back of our oh-so-democratic government is a tool to heighten the civil-military divide and mount pressure on Pakistan to become a willing slave of Uncle Sam. For a unified response, any engagement with the US must be approved by the National Security Council and conducted jointly by civil and military leadership.

The US is not going to withdraw from Afghanistan unless it is pushed to do so. We must end all cooperation with the US and suspend the NATO supply lines going through our territory. If the US can openly arm militant groups in sovereign states on fraudulent pretexts of fighting terrorism, we should support and arm Taliban to fight the real threat of Daesh in Afghanistan. Ideally, this strategy should be developed and executed with our regional partners who share our concerns and are all directly threatened by the terrorist threat emanating from Afghanistan under US supervision.