The major players on the regional chessboard are locked on to their respective single preferred options in exclusion of others vital interests. While the US continues pursuing its multilayered objectives of Indian hegemony in the region, peace construct of its choice in Afghanistan, continuous exploitation of our space and resources, containment of China and encirclement of Iran, Pakistan is learning to stand its ground to safeguard its interests. It has resolutely refused to oblige on the dictated terms, timings and quantum of force application in the North Waziristan Agency (NWA). It is not only an issue of capacity, will and the undesirability in a limited time and space matrix, but also at the strategic plane Pakistan expresses its preference not to enlarge its force employment in a direction with a potential for a long drawn struggle, in a prohibitive terrain, chasing a battle hardened elusive enemy, who has so far respected the States laid down red lines. Incidentally, it is the same enemy who eludes US terrorist watch list and is considered to be their future peace partner whom Pakistan is required to beat into submission. Hence, suddenly the Haqqani network has eclipsed the Al-Qaeda hype, as the new bogey. New deployment of US troops on the hilltop facing NWA can be an excuse to inflict targeted aerial engagements. But it is not likely to change much on ground, as the US/ISAF enjoy strategic advantage in air, but have limited tactical level capability in terms of ground offensive. Simultaneously, the US inspired indirect approach has resulted in a hurriedly cobbled together Indo-Afghanistan entente, which is again hardly expected to take on the onerous task where the US seemed to have got stranded. Pakistan has multidirectional threat hypotheses to respond to. If it operationally leans too heavily in the West, it loses balance on the eastern front and would have to further dilute presence on the Line of Control. No external assurances or multinational umbrella can substitute an on-ground, deterring, rational and effective deployment of its defensive capability, giving it a measure of assurance of gaining time and retaining its vital spaces in view of the highly hyped Cold Start concept of aggression, which can be imposed on it. Inadequately, covered spaces can invite coercion and bellicose posturing through mass deployment, on borders, threatening our critical spaces and sensitive geographical hinges. Indias most forward leaning airbases and its penchant for massive manoeuvres of its strike corps very close to the Indo-Pak borders, only further accentuates Pakistans insecurity perception. So far, Pakistans armed forces have retained a finely crafted operational balance. It speaks volumes of its senior leaderships acumen and general staffs due diligence. Why should this painstakingly constructed balance of forces be tipped? Indian forces development strategy is Pakistan-specific. It reinforces Pakistans perception of encirclement by a trilateral US-Indo-Afghan combine to undermine its will to resist. It does not augur well for a peaceful Indo-Pak coexistence at least in the foreseeable future. It may not be forgotten than more that 150,000 Pakistani troops have remained operationally active since 9/11. If recycling on two to three years basis is taken into account the Pakistan Army has recycled itself at least twice. This force which is half-a-million strong stands formidably vibrant, combat tested, cohesive and well honed with no parallel of its combat edge anywhere in the world, thanks to the sagacity, professionalism and courage of conviction of its leadership at all tiers and its brave soldiers. It, therefore, knows where to stop and avoid fatigue, overstretch and the prospect of diminishing returns. It is acutely aware that any weakness in our conventional capacity will lower the nuclear threshold. Why the US/ISAF military strategist do not factor these simple logics in their calculus. Or has the battlefield and political considerations clouded their professional judgment to an extent that it is antagonising an avowed ally most thoughtlessly? The US has well enunciated specific objectives and timelines in the AfPak context. It wants to fight and talk simultaneously. It desires to exit only once it could engineer a viable pro-US dispensation ensuring the physical security of its seven airbases/military firm bases with 30,000 to 40,000 troops presence and continuation of its influence in the AfPak region, decades beyond 2014, through pro-US regimes. However, America identifies Pakistan to be historical pro-Pashtun/pro-Taliban vis--vis the northern alliance. Its suspicions of Pakistans Pashtun preference is shared by Iran and ethnically inclined Turkey. China at a certain level of sensitivity is equally uneasy with the growing extremist influence in Sinkiang and Turkic rebellion on its western borders. Taliban, therefore, unnerve many regional states with their aggressive posture and ideology. The US is trying to structure an extra-regional regime for the AfPak tangled affairs to being to bear broad-based trans-regional weightage to dilute the negative concentration on ground. The AfPak hyphenation has put FATA in focus, which indirectly imperils Pakistans security. Having secured a status of centrality in AfPak region, Pakistan has to adroitly launch diplomatic manoeuvre to ensure that Iran and Turkeys involvement remains supportive of its stance in the long-term perspective. However, India has to be kept out of the core loop in the Istanbul Conference. The US is persistently driving event towards its desired end state in 2014 and beyond. The Istanbul Conference in November, Bonn +10 Conference in December, followed by the NATO Summit in May 2012, are the various phases of transition. Apparently, Pakistan can be pushed to the sidelines in this melee until it comes with a fresh proactive diplomatic initiative and reduces gap between the US and other participants objectives and its own national interests. The US seems to be abdicating its self-assumed responsibility and subletting the issue to the regional actors. However, Pakistan remains the key player in engineering reconciliation and stability in Afghanistan. Externalising this un-concluded core issue will create ambiguity, which can retard the peace process. In the regional context, Pak-US equation is tilting in Pakistans favour. A superpower has been trapped in a catch 22 situation, losing its clout both within Pakistan and in the region at a rapid sliding scale. The external factor is being added to regain balance through an extra regional construct. But intrinsically, it remains a three-way US-AfPak issue. Avoiding this basic reality cannot change facts on ground. Pakistan can be ignored or marginalised only at a cost to the enduring regional peace. The US bid to bring Afghanistan out of its historic isolation, shapes up in the form of the new Silk Road concept, which will economically gel the region into a single trading zone from Uzbekistan to Iran through Afghanistan and Pakistan. Hence, the recently concluded MFN status upgrade for India fits in the bigger picture, as a conciliatory move both towards the US and India. It is an unusual favour extended by Pakistan without solid quid pro quo in Kashmir, Siachin, Sir Creek or prohibitive Indian tariff regimes imposed on Pakistani goods. Pakistans leadership seems to be bending under unceasing external pressure and internal political heat. Such a hasty unilateralism can create differences within various power centres in Pakistan. Any suggestion of change of guards at the helm of affairs will not alter its fundamental stance, as across the board the political leadership is deeply committed to the countrys vital national interests. We must keep faith. The US economic titanic has hit the iceberg. The Orange Revolution of Occupy the Wall Street is spreading fast and engulfing major capitals of the world. The beleaguered world will come around soon to see the validity of Pakistani stance. Our litmus test lies in showing our conviction during Hilary Clintons visit. It is going to be the game changer. The write is the former chairman of POF Wah and Pakistan Steel Mills, Karachi. Email: Muhammad.jamil1@live.com