n Imran Malik Past masters of military strategy Sun Tzu, Clausewitz, Jomini, Liddlehart et al would be at a loss to make any sense of the strategic nightmare that goes by the name of the war on terror in the AfPak region. It could be aptly described as strategic mayhem The basic strategic contradictions among the protagonists have caused much confusion in this war - a situation further worsened by a loss of allied strategic direction. We have three supposed major regional allies (Pakistan, US, Afghanistan) in this war - all with divergent, nay conflicting, strategic directions and national interests The regional strategic ends they seek are conflicting too. They do not have all the same allies in the war or all the same enemies There obtains a confounding operational environment where we have both the Pakistani and US/NATO/ISAF/Afghan forces carrying out operations in their respective areas, while, at the same time, we have non-state actors fighting on what militarily we call reversed fronts - the Afghan Taliban in NWA, foraying into Afghanistan and the TTP operating from Kunar and Nooristan into Pakistan And these non-state actors are supposedly being provided sanctuaries by the so-called allies against one another. There is blatant and arrogant violation of Pakistani sovereignty by CIAs covert intelligence operations and unrelenting drone attacks killing unarmed Pakistanis by the score. There too are intermittent impediments that keep cropping up on US supply routes through Pakistan. All of this is superimposed by the USAs blatant use of the omnipresent and locally despised routine of carrot and stick. Who is then fighting who? Are we all fighting the same war? It seems to be a great game of chess at the strategic level - only it is the allies manoeuvring to checkmate one another. Masterful strategy is epitomised by the relentless and remorseless pursuit of core and vital national interests to the dismissive exclusion of all distractions. These national interests are to be pursued single-mindedly, regardless of personal affronts or acknowledgements, friendships or animosities, successes or failures, collaborations or disagreements, achievements or frustrations. The consummate statesman/strategist never loses sight of this ultimate goal. He always starts a war with a very clear and distinct view of the desired end state and manages, conducts and directs it towards that goal. He appreciates all possible contingencies, including contentious issues with allies, is never caught without viable options, and carries out continuous reassessments and readjustments for maintaining strategic direction. He conducts war - to win it How well have the US and Pakistani strategists followed these edicts and actually been able to overcome the basic impediments to victory - the contradictions? Both Pakistani and US strategists seem to have erred in their judgments and appear to be losing their sense of strategic direction because of the inherent strategic contradictions in this partnership. This has been furthered by a strange concoction of bad decision making by the two governments, uncontrolled media hype and unrestrained political and public rhetoric. Both sides appear to have unwittingly drifted into strategic paradigm shifts. The strategists on both sides seem to have lost sight of their desired end states and are also losing control of the war. They appear to be headed towards a virtual cul de sac with a fast reducing number of strategic options available to them to remain allies and to win the war. A stage may arrive when the number of strategic options available to both may dry up killing this long and strategic partnership for good; the war may then spiral out of control and linger on endlessly. So how do the two major protagonists look at one another at this point in time? Is it imperial arrogance versus national defiance? Is it to be a perpetuation or a termination of an unequal relationship? Or will balance and rationality be brought into the partnership? The strategists on both sides will have to reassess the whole situation and bring it on an even keel. This war has to be managed to the ultimate success of both allies. Their political and military hierarchy must get a grip on the direction the war is taking. Both sides must ensure that their national interests do not remain mutually exclusive. These must be safeguarded without prejudice to those of the others. Pakistan must facilitate a graceful US exit from this region as a victor. The US in turn must ensure that Pakistans interests are secured in a post-US Afghanistan. Strategists on both sides must agree on these minimum acceptable common objectives and start moving forward from there. The converging interests must be pursued without delay. And negotiations must be held on the conflicting interests. The differences between the two allies must not go to the terrorists advantage. New terms of engagement must be agreed upon. The moment of truth has arrived for both sides; they must reveal their true selves. The contradictions must be removed, attempts to outfox the other, stopped. The war can only be won, if fought and managed as true allies. Else, our efforts will remain at cross purposes to one anothers leading to an endless and debilitating stalemate, if not a veritable defeat for the long term strategic partners. n The writer is a retired brigadier and defence analyst. Email: im_k@hotmail.com