Muhammad Javed Pakistan is perceptibly shifting towards a state of mind where national prestige, dignity and self-assertion have started occupying the centre stage. It is an inevitable outcome of constant haranguing and coercion that Pakistan had been subjected to through a US-Indian concerted drive aimed at conditioning it into a state of demoralisation and ready obedience. It had hurt our nations sensibility and found popular support when powers that be stood up to this studied arrogance. This stepping away from a decade of submission to US whims and commands first manifested itself when the Kerry-Lugar Bill was opposed for its cavalier composition and negative ambiance about Pakistans major institutions. The US decision-makers, used to unquestioned acquiescence, were indignantly surprised by this unexpected twist in behaviour. Since then the Pakistan armys image has improved after the collateral damage it had received from the merciless battering of former President Musharraf in his twilight year in office. Its successful operational performance in Swat and FATA, unstinted support from the public and ability to work in harmony with its political superiors underscore maturity of behaviour and a genuine desire to focus on formidable challenges at hand. Displaying sensitivity to collateral damage, it has conducted the operations at a greater cost to itself but has managed to retain public confidence. The armys declaration of a one-year operational moratorium for consolidation, re-fitment and psycho-physical recuperation has another grave imperative of the possible worsening of the military situation on its eastern borders. Indian sabre-rattling is a continuation of coercive strategy operative since the Mumbai attack and beyond. Pakistan needs to rethink and readjust its strategic orientation. Generally a discredited statement by Indian Army Chief Deepak Kapoor about winning a two-front war may have a method to his established physical deafness and probable mental dumbness. He had artfully omitted the role of world powers, especially the US-West nexus, in such an eventuality. He had chosen to show only a part of the doomsday scenario - Third World War - where only total destruction will win. Actually, the reverse of this operational possibility is more imminent and ominously destab-ilising for the region. Nevertheless, it is a two-front threat scenario for Pakistan which its leadership has assiduously tried to avoid since 9/11. It is a repetition of Indian mobilisation on its borders in concert with heightened operational commitment in its turbulent west. The difference this time will be a military misadventure by the Indian forces across the Line of Control in Kashmir or Pakistans borders; a possibility which can put the region into a spiral of escalation with unintended and uncalc-ulated consequences. Robert Gates Nostradamus like prediction in New Delhi about Indian impetuousness in the event of another Mumbai like incident is equally revealing. This outside body blow can hurt Pakistan gravely in view of its fractious and uncertain internal dynamics. The much hyped ides of March are likely to accentuate the internal divide. Hence, all powers in play are feverishly realigning themselves on the chessboard to gain favourable positions. Whatever, the emerging combination, Pakistan needs internal stability and cohesion. The public mood, however, is charting a more focused and definitive course. Nevertheless, it desires and awaits a durable broad-based political reconciliation and integration to forge a formidable synergised response we are capable of mounting against the external challenges. Mercifully, the democratically elected forces are mindful of the public opinion that is very earnestly reflected by the media. They are sensitive to these winds of annoyance and self-assertion and are increasingly giving it expression in dealing with powers of coercion. Our elected representatives response to Indian belittling of Pakistan even in the field of sports gives voice to public outrage. Moreover, the reaction to the US discriminatory search regime on its airports and calls for reciprocal stringent verification before granting visas to US citizens entering Pakistan are responses inconceivable just a few years back. Possible signing of the lPl gas pipeline project in the near future strikes a defiant chord. Our increasingly visible wide range interaction with China is another manifestation of retaining balance in our national policies. Truly, it augurs well as a moral expression of our self-respect and liberty of action enjoyed by us as a sovereign state. But this attitude must enjoy a solid inner front foundation, economic strength and intellectual clarity to become sustainable. Pakistan is facing a critical situation where all the forces, inimical to its stability, are striving hard to keep its 'house divided to obtain favours cheaply. On the positive side, we have a democratically elected political dispensation, a vibrant judiciary, a cohesive army in battle committed to achieving national objectives and a defiant public grounds well which seems to be fed up with unrelenting Indian disdainful snorting and American do more advisories, in spite of the high cost we are bearing for being in a dangerous neighbourhood. The finesse in our policy should aim at creating a wedge in the Indo-US collusion to retain space between these two pincers to avoid a siege like situation. Since the more critical and stronger arm is the US pressure in pursuit of its regional interests, we should focus on the Indian arm as the weaker of the two. A robust reactive stance to Indian bullying will keep her on the back foot and more amenable to dialogue. Our policy of appeasement with India since 2003 has only whetted its appetite for more. We are constrained to continue with our existing support relationship with the US-led allied forces, in order to keep the world sufficiently satisfied but on terms increasingly more favourable to us. Up-gradation of the level of visits, including an extended charm offensive by Hilary Clinton and later by Robert Gates, is an acknowledgement of their having registered the growing sentiment of self-assertion from all quarters they got engaged with in Pakistan. However, upping the anti-US ante beyond a certain threshold can lead to possible diminishing returns and retributions in varying hidden and overt forms. We need US leverage, at least in the short-term, to offset the Indian advantage which in case of a full Indo-US collusion can become fatally injurious to us. The US attention span, historically, has been short and intense on any regional issue. It seems to have run its course in Afghanistan. The reality and its wide range coverage by the western media of Al-Qaedas centre of gravity having shifted to Yemen, gives some space to the US-led forces in Afghanistan to declare partial victory at a certain point in the near future and dilute its presence. In any case, we should continue with our prudent and positive engagement in Afghanistan to facilitate internal reconciliation and a face saving exist to the US, as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia hold the key to many possible permutations for peace and stability in Afghanistan. Although, paradoxically, a peaceful arrangement in Afghanistan with Al-Qaedas epicentre appearing in Yemen will be a prospect least desired by Saudi Arabia. As a final word, our armed forces have complemented the peoples aspirations for negotiations from a position of strength by holding strategically significant war games recently and planning to conduct high visibility exercises to display our combat readiness for all fronts. Dialogues with India have an unfortunate history. We have to tread with caution as the Indians will aimlessly keep on blowing hot and cold at the same time. Over optimism can be extremely frustrating. We need the peace of the brave, as an idiom goes in the Middle East. We must understand our strong points and play to maximise our advantages by cool headed bargaining. The circumstances around us are in a state of flux and so is the inner front. New order can emerge out of this chaos. Crises augur opportunity and change. If we can manage to synergise elements of our national strength from the rock bottom of despair, we can emerge as a confident, defiant and cohesive people to claim our rightful place at least in the region. The writer is a retired major general and ex-chairman, POF Wah and Pakistan Steel Mills.