An Arabic folktale, The 18th Camel, might be extremely instructive and useful for Pakistani foreign policy and defence managers to deal with conflict management and its resolution about US drone attacks on Pakistani territory, an explicit violation of its national sovereignty. It is an extremely important issue because drone strikes have killed thousands of innocent Pakistani citizens and have brought the country to the absolute edge of political, social, economic and cultural destruction.

The story goes as follows: “There was a father, who left 17 camels as the inheritance for his three sons. When the father passed away, his sons opened up the will. It stated that the eldest son should get half of the 17 camels, while the middle son should be given one-third. The youngest son should be given one-ninth of the 17 camels. As it is not possible to divide 17 into half or 17 by three or 17 by nine, the three sons started to fight with each other. So, they decided to go to a wise man. He listened patiently about the will and, after giving this thought, brought one camel of his own and added it to the 17 camels. That increased the total to 18.

Now, he started reading the will. Half of 18 = 9. So, he gave the eldest son nine camels. One-third of 18 = 6. So, he gave the middle son six camels. One-ninth of 18 = 2. So, he gave the youngest son two camels. Nine camels plus six plus two is 17, and this leaves one camel, which the man took away.”

The attitude of negotiation and problem solving is to find the 18th camel, i.e. the common ground. Once a person is able to find it, the issue is resolved; though it is difficult at times. However, to reach a solution, the first step is to believe that there is a solution.

Hence, the imperative questions here are: does the new political administration truly believe that there is a possible solution to US drone strikes on Pakistan? Does it want them to end immediately? Is the Pakistani civilian-military leadership on the same page to deal effectively with the US belligerent drone policy towards Pakistan? Can they negotiate with the Americans from a position of strength?

The problem is that politics in general and foreign policy-making in Pakistan, specifically when it comes to dealing with the US, has always been secretive and evasive, and made purely on an ad hoc basis. We want more money; they want us to “do more” in the service of their global and ideological objectives. We have always been willing to play a subservient role; they have always succeeded in their demands. We have always played weak; they always prevail. For decades, successive Pakistani  governments have never taken its citizens into confidence on the issues of foreign policy and the fundamentals of our engagement with the US. On the other hand, the Americans prepare massive domestic public support for their political and military strategies against foreign countries.

Indeed, the new PM has strongly condemned the Obama Administration’s recent drone attack that killed an important Taliban leader in Pakistan. “The drone attack was not only a violation of the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, but an action that has been declared a violation of international law and the UN charter,” said Mian Nawaz Sharif. Well done, Mian Sahib - but a part of your statement (before taking oath as PM) was quite alarming: “Obama…....claimed to exercise care and caution, while using this technology.” Does this statement mean a drone strike is justified when some kind of “care and caution” is applied? What does it exactly mean in the context of an overall Pakistani strategic and policy approach to drone attacks on Pakistan’s territory and its citizens? Can the statement restore this nation’s confidence in the government’s seriousness and resolve in stopping drone attacks?

It is, however, important to understand the political behaviour of all players involved in a conflict situation. Let us admit some basic facts: the US is a deadly adversary. It always negotiates from a position of strength. It has a financial and military edge in most of its international conflict negotiations. It has the capacity to engage in dangerous and destructive military interventions, both overt and covert, in pursuit of its policy objectives. It takes unilateral decisions in dealing with its adversaries and has the political-diplomatic leverage to influence global institutions such as the UN, the Security Council and other international financial institutions.

On the other hand, Pakistan’s six-decade history of civilian- military leadership has been categorically complacent in its foreign policy approach towards American global agendas. Now, the US foreign policy objectives are to enrol Pakistan in its containment of China policy and in strengthening American political-military commercial interests all over the Central Asian and South Asian regions.

Pakistan’s political weakness during the last six decades has been its civilian-military leadership, which has always been willing to subjugate this nation’s interests to their personal vested interests – both political and economic. Can the Sharif government change its political discourse and engage America in a different manner? Can the it take the entire nation in confidence and postulate a nationalist strategic approach vis-à-vis the Americans to shift Pak-US relations to a new direction?

My considered opinion is that the Pakistan of June 2013 has the capabilities and the opportunities to engage with the US by initiating a new foreign policy doctrine of ‘constructive conflict engagement’.

We can stop drone strikes on our territory on our own conditions. We can negotiate from a position of strength, if we have fully understood American political behaviour and if our own political-military establishment can come on the same page willing to negotiate for Pakistan’s national interests above and beyond their own institutional and personal vested interests.

Let us start with the most important fact: the American policymakers only understand the language of power. To begin with, the administration in Islamabad, with the collaboration of all political parties, should arrange massive million marches all over the country in a show of national solidarity against drone strikes. Imran Khan’s role in this kind of political strategy becomes paramount and should be acknowledged as such.

Secondly, let us put our cards on the table about our explicit conditions for the US forces’ safe exit from Afghanistan via Pakistan. For this, Pakistan’s political establishment would need an articulate and determined team of experts, historically knowledgeable of American foreign policy and linguistically expressive in English, and who have never been in a subservient role to the US, to negotiate with the Americans. Let us be assertive. Let us assure Obama of the US forces’ safe exit next year on our conditions – which are based on three primary demands: end drone strikes immediately, arrange an immediate political reconciliation with the Taliban - both in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and immediately stop the so-called war on terrorism on Pakistan and Afghanistan territories. Indeed, it is an extremely complex process and yet a ‘constructive conflict engagement’ with the US is the only way out of this quagmire.

Do we believe in the 18th camel solution? If we think that there is no solution, we won’t be able to reach any. So, let us give political solutions a fair chance over the use of military force - and the dictates of a superpower. For once, let us stand for the people’s rights. Let us stand for humanitarian principles, rather than for political expediency.

The writer is UAE-based academic, policy analyst, conflict resolution expert and author of several books on Pakistan and foreign policy issues. He holds a doctorate and a masters degree from Columbia University in New York.