SHIREEN M MAZARI The much awaited - primarily by Pakistan - Pak-US strategic dialogue will begin today in Washington. The major players, including the COAS of Pakistan, are already gathered in that capital and are being feted like never before. The Americans are being clever by laying out the red carpet for their main Pakistani guests, including not putting them through the notorious scanners but getting their immigration done while they were still in the plane Now that really is a first for the Yanks. The COAS is especially being softened, with Petreaus being a welcoming host offering military-style entertainment. The ridiculous grin on the face of one of the Pakistanis accompanying General Kayani in the official picture released by the US military says it all - and explains why the Americans think that if they make all the right PR moves before the dialogue, the Pakistanis will have been softened enough to take US dictation. And there will be plenty of hard demands put before the Pakistanis again - let us make no mistake on that count. The issue for us, though, is that are the Pakistanis prepared to stay the course and stick to some basic demands that they need to make, or will we have a repeat of the Kerry-Lugar drama where our foreign minister effectively became an apologist for the Americans and sought to justify a most demeaning and intrusive piece of Pakistan-specific legislation? So what are the main issues Pakistan needs to focus on and demand a positive response from the Americans? First, and a basic issue is for the US to deliver on all past outstanding commitments, some made immediately after 9/11 when Musharraf committed this nation to the US's debilitating and erroneous "war on terror". Amongst these unfulfilled commitments are: access to US markets especially for our textiles, payment of the Coalition Support Fund for services rendered primarily by the military and the whole ROZ drama which may actually be more costly for Pakistan in terms of conditionalities, so perhaps we need to do a rethink on this since the Americans have not moved yet on this project. Second, an end to the drone attacks - including a decisive withdrawal of the permission which the US claims successive Pakistani governments have given them. Here the Pakistan military must make its position clear also. Given how for decades we have done quite well without US military weapon systems, why should the army suddenly feel so desperate for these knowing what happens in terms of spares and so on if we fall out of synch with US demands and expectations? Third, an end to the continuous raising of the proliferation issue which has become a tool of pressure on Pakistan, despite the fact that the US knows that all our safeguards and legislation in this regard are not only in place, they are far more stringent than anything the US or India have in place. The A Q Khan issue must end with a firm commitment on the part of the US, because keeping this issue alive is pushing him to the edge with the sort of disastrous consequences to our national security in terms of "confessionals". Given the US's ongoing proliferation to Israel, and now to India through the 123 Agreement, it is hardly in a position to berate Pakistan and its citizens on this count. The Pakistani state must also stop going on the defensive, given how the reality is that neither it nor any of its citizens actually did anything illegal. As for issues of command and control, it is the US that continues to have problems as the world witnessed when two US bombers flew off with live nukes with no authorisation and no one knew where they were headed Fourth, Pakistan also needs to demand from the US a civil nuclear deal similar to the one signed with India - and then Pakistan can study it and see whether it is actually in their interest to accept such a deal. The Indians are already hysterical at even a hint that Pakistan may be offered such a deal, quite forgetting their own rather dismal past proliferation record which is public knowledge. Nevertheless, regardless of Indian histrionics, Pakistan should be cautious about a US offer in the nuclear energy field, and first ensure that it will not operationalise the unacceptable and highly intrusive conditionalities of the Kerry-Lugar Act. But all these issues will only come up when the US shows its intentions of offering us a civil nuclear deal similar to the Indian one. That will show the intent of the US towards Pakistan - as a strategic partner or a vassal state. But the US cannot be allowed to hold a nuclear agreement as bait or a lure for us to do still more of their bidding which goes against our own interests. Pakistan also needs to put an end to the free run the US has gained in Pakistan with all manner of private contractors and covert operatives proliferating through the length and breadth of the country. It needs to make clear to the US that it cannot have immunity in terms of its activities being exposed in the press either. No one can be above the law, and certainly not foreign intruders up to all manner of harmful antics. As for the US intent of putting in money in the fields of education and development, the schemes they come up with need to be studied very carefully to examine the costs to Pakistan in non-financial terms and the usual conditionalities. As the US never fails to point out: there is no such thing as a free lunch But the US has been lunching and dining free in Pakistan since 9/11, thanks to the pusillanimity of our successive leaders. The Pakistanis also need to come clean on Dr Aafia and demand the US return her to Pakistan as well return her children if they are still alive. The fate of these innocent Pakistani children needs to be known. As for US demands on Pakistan - they should not be making any, since these and our willy nilly compliance have already destroyed our country. We need to ensure that we extricate ourselves from the present debilitating alliance with the US before it proves completely fatal for us - which may be the end goal of the US in any case if one is to believe their analysts writing in official publications. Finally, what should be our red lines if the US does not meet our demands? We certainly should not end up begging again in Washington - they need us more than we need them right now so let us make this apparent to them. Apparently the prime minister has actually been having discussions on our post-dialogue policies and actions if we do not get what we seek. One does not know what red lines the PM has formulated, but in case the dialogue has no substantive results for Pakistan, we should make some hard decisions including: delinking clearly and visibly from cooperation in the so-called "war on terror"; cutting down on the US access in Pakistan and in terms of the numbers of US personnel present in the country; halting of all NATO supplies into Afghanistan; and revaluating the whole gamut of Pakistan-US relations. It is time we played hardball with the Americans who are in a quagmire in this region. This is a rare opportunity which we must recognise and exploit instead of always putting ourselves up for abuse by the Americans.