If history is any guide, the US has always used Pakistan to gain its strategic interests by limiting the bilateral relations to its on-and-off engagements in the South Asian region. It is about time, the US admits that it has been utterly failing in resolving the Afghanistan Conundrum. Ironically, for face saving, it blames the other regional stakeholders. With Trump’s eccentric presidency, Washington’s trend of blaming others instead of coming up with a clear policy is accentuated. When it comes to the North Korean issue, the US chooses to put the blame on China and when it comes to Afghanistan, the US holds Pakistan responsible for its failures. Afghanistan has become an arena where the US faces a humiliating defeat on all fronts, be it military, diplomatic or political. It is about time that the US admits its failure in settling the Afghan problem.

Pak-US relations has always been on a rocky road but Trump’s episodic fiery commentary has deteriorated the already conflictual Pak-US ties. He accused Pakistan of sponsoring cross-border-terrorism and providing safe heavens to terrorists’ outfits and their leaderships, particularly Haqqani Network. He warned, “if Pakistan would not change its policy it loses a lot.” The US military general conveyed the same message earlier but in a mellowed-down tone. Pakistan, in an expected response, denied all the US allegations and enumerated the losses it suffered in terms of human lives and economic damages. Is the recent strain in the bilateral relations any different from the previous ones?

Though Trump’s accusation doesn’t come as a surprise, the recent low in bilateral relations is a different chapter of strategic distrust in the bilateral relations. It has much to do with the dynamic shifts that have been taking place at the regional and global level.

The US approach needs to be understood in the context of changing regional dynamics. In fact, the US is losing its control of South Asia this power vacuum is being filled by China at a certain level. The Belt and Road Initiative is an indication of China’s emerging economic and political influence in the regional affairs. On the other hand, deepening cooperation between China, Russia, and Pakistan is testifying the post American regional order. The US-India are trying to contain the Chinese emergence at one level and they are balancing against evolving triangle of China, Russia, and Pakistan at the same time. Trump stated that US troops will stay in Afghanistan for an indefinite period which means the US is not ready to hand over Afghanistan to regional powers, namely China and Russia. India is very much supportive of the US in this great game.

Another important factor is China’s growing economic and political clout in the region, which has made New Delhi rush to the US for help. The rivalries between China and India has grown too intense, therefore, the South Asian region appears to be a chessboard of power politics where India and China are busy in countering each other. To the west, India is troubled by tribal uprisings in Burma and its economic partnership with China. To the north, it is embroiled in a longstanding border demarcation issue with China. Now, to the South, it is facing a Chinese port in Sri Lanka. These developments have resulted in a marriage of convenience between Trump’s anti-China administration and the Indian statecraft, which is hostile towards Beijing and Islamabad.

These developments suggest no radical improvement in bilateral ties for long-term as long as the China and India factor have a major role to play in Pak-US relations. So, what policy options does Pakistan have to counter expected US military and non-military moves?

Irrespective of the future course of Pakistan’s foreign policy, the country’s civil and military leaderships must be more vocal and articulated than apologetic. The message should be very loud and clear that Pakistan will forcefully retaliate against any US military strike in any part of the country. Pakistan’s response should be divided into internal and external dimensions. Internally, the government should call an All Parties Conference to build consensus vis-à-vis Pak-US relations. And of course, the military leadership must be a part of building an across-the-board consensus. At the international level, the Pakistani government and the Foreign Office should approach to China, and Russia on this issue. All diplomatic and political support by these regional powers must be won by Pakistan to counter US-Indian expected/unexpected military non-military initiatives.

It is time to learn from history and draw a cost- benefit analysis to be made of Pak-US relations. The changing regional scenarios guide us to distance ourselves from the US to a certain extent and to get closer to the regional powers. Pakistan should draft such a foreign policy which could strike a balance between the growing regional rivalries and the global power transition.