Daniel Markey, scholar and senior fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia at the US Council on Foreign Relations, who handled the South Asia portfolio on the State Department's Policy Planning staff from 2003 to 2007, in his latest Op-Ed titled Zardari's War, highlights the ongoing political mayhem in Pakistan. Commenting on the occasion of Pakistani and Afghan delegations, which were in Washington to discuss the revised US policy on Afghanistan, Markey highlights the Obama Administration's concern regarding the political conflict in Pakistan. The erudite scholar remarks that it is not the Islamist militants or Al-Qaeda, who are stirring up trouble. Rather, "Pakistan's government - elected in the wake of former President Pervez Musharraf's resignation - has gone to war with itself." Describing the disqualification of the Sharif brothers by the Supreme Court, the Governor's Rule in Punjab and the Sharif brothers accusing Zardari of manipulating the court, vowing to take their case to the streets, he states that: "This is no idle threat. According to public opinion surveys, Sharif is now Pakistan's most popular politician. His party, the PML(N), might well succeed in mobilising violent street rallies that would test the capacity of state security and could even deliver a deathblow to the coalition government in Islamabad." In the wake of these murky developments, Daniel Markey discusses President Obama's options in the region. He believes that in their deadly gripping battle for survival, the Pakistani political leadership will become oblivious to fighting the Taliban along the Afghan border or for rooting out the networks of extremist militants. And as long as Pakistan's politics remain deeply unsettled, the United States will have a hard time building sustainable partnerships to confront the region's underlying challenges, from poverty and poor education to inadequate judicial and security structures. Markey declares that despite the claims of Pakistan's many conspiracy theorists, the United States cannot dictate political outcomes in Islamabad. He concludes that judging from the recent history of Bush Administration efforts to navigate the messy end of the Musharraf era, Washington's leverage in the tussle between Zardari and Sharif will be limited. Recommending that, the Obama team should be clear on the potential outcomes of this political clash and should do its utmost to avoid the worst. In order for the Obama Administration to chalk out a clear strategy, Daniel Markey deduces three likely outcomes of the political battle in Pakistan. First that Zardari could succeed in quelling Sharif's protests, effectively sidelining his primary opponent and consolidating his own national standing. Second, Sharif could leverage street protests and existing cleavages within Zardari's party to claw his way to power. Third, destabilising violence and prolonged political uncertainty could convince the COAS, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, to reassert control and sideline both civilian contenders and assume power. Markey surmises that of the three scenarios, the Obama team will find it most natural to resist the third - return to military rule - having just observed the shortcomings of a dictatorial regime, knowing that it would throw a sabotage the chances for a closer partnership and increases in US support. He recommends that Washington should encourage General Kayani to confine the army to the barracks. However he predicts that if the violence gets out of hand, US entreaties will fall on deaf ears. Markey advises that the United States must prepare for that undesirable contingency by formulating a list of its highest-priority demands for any new military regime, including, but not limited to, a timeline and plans for Pakistan's return to constitutional democracy (dj vu). Tongue in cheek, the academic jibes that Mian Nawaz Sharif's return to power may be more dangerous than army rule because Sharif's well-publicised Islamist ties may spell trouble from the US standpoint. In the fog of war, Markey advises Washington to endeavour to avoid the worst-case scenario, in which a Sharif-led government would curtail partnership with the United States in ways that undermine critical US counterterrorism goals. Like a master strategist, Markey professes flexibility and advocates if Sharif's popularity increases, Washington should move quickly to woo Mian Nawaz Sharif, share its primary strategic concerns with him directly and then gauge his reaction consequently. In the alternate option, Markey construes that if Zardari weathers the immediate political storm, his government could veer dangerously toward unconstitutional and illiberal measures to ward off waves of popular protest. Washington's too-close association with an unpopular or repressive regime would be too similar to the US courtship with Musharraf. Obama would then need to strike a difficult balance between closer bilateral cooperation on issues of common interest and the appearance of over-dependence upon Zardari. In particular, the Obama Administration might need to rethink or condition apparent plans for vast increases in non-military assistance, a policy intended to support Pakistan's ongoing democratic transition, not civilian authoritarianism. Since Pakistan's alliance is essential for the US war in Afghanistan, and the issue is high on the new Obama's agenda, the US is obliged to deal with whoever calls the shots in Pakistan; thus it is offered only Hobson's choice. Now it is for the politicians to put their own house in order to deny external forces the option of fishing in troubled waters. The writer is a political and defence analyst