ISLAMABAD US political and military officials go on the offensive inside Pakistan, confronting critics and seeking to build a coalition of allies across Pakistani politics, media and the academia to create a domestic counter to the entrenched Pakistani policymaking establishment that is resisting American efforts to force Pakistan to become a voluntary full-fledged second theatre of war after Afghanistan. Signs of the new American aggressiveness abound from increased willingness of US diplomats in Pakistan to confront their local critics, to sweet-talking Pakistani politicians, media and academicians into openly promoting the US agenda through sponsored visits to Washington and Florida. This is similar to a Plan B: using local actors to force change from within. Plan A, the coercive diplomacy and threats of sending boots on the ground into Pakistan, failed to yield results over the past months. This counteroffensive began with Ambassador Anne W. Pattersons attempt to intimidate a Pakistani columnist and a known critic of US policies. Ms. Patterson did not seek a public debate to counter the criticism and resorted instead to backchannel contacts, something that has worked well for US officials in Pakistan over the past eight years. The pressure worked, breaking a new barrier for US influence, this time creating a precedence for how the US embassy deals with the Pakistani media. This is something that the Ambassadors counterparts could never dream of pulling off in places like Moscow, Ankara, or Cairo. Buoyed by this, the Ambassador went on the offensive. This month, she held a press conference, released a long policy statement, and met Prime Minister Gilani last week to assure him, after reports that her government did not trust Islamabad, with the expected aid money. She also appeared on primetime television last week, carefully choosing a non-aggressive TV talk show as a platform to address Pakistanis glued to their sets in peak evening hours. The television appearance coincided with an interview she gave to a US news service accusing Pakistan of refusing to join the US in eliminating one of the Afghan local parties - the Afghan Taliban - whom her own government and military failed to wipe out in Afghanistan in eight years of war. The statement played on the usual American accusations, backed by no evidence, that seek to explain the growing disenchantment of the Afghan people with the failed American occupation of their country by linking it to alleged Pakistani sanctuaries and covert support. But hours before her television appearance, on Sept. 19, Pakistani police raided the Islamabad offices of Inter-Risk, a Pakistani security firm representing American defense contractor DynaCorp, where a huge quantity of unlicensed weapons were confiscated. According to one news report, the Pakistani owner of the firm, retired Captain Ali Jaffar Zaidi, escaped from his house hours before the police arrived. A Pakistani journalist, Umar Cheema, who works for an English daily, confirmed in a published statement that Mr. Zaidi told him a day before the raid that the US embassy in Islamabad had ordered the import of around 140 AK-47 Rifles and other prohibited weapons in the name of Inter-Risk and that the payment for the weapons would be made by the embassy. On Sept. 30, another senior journalist, Mr. Ansar Abbasi, published the full content of a letter written by Ambassador Patterson to Interior Minister Rehman Malik, dated March 30, seeking his intervention to grant Inter-Risk and DynaCorp the requisite prohibited bore arms licenses to operate in the territorial limits of Pakistan and as soon as possible. The story creates a new dent in the US embassys counteroffensive that seeks to downplay the presence of private US security firms in the country. An earlier story in TheNAtion had released fresh evidence this month showing the infamous US security firm formerly known as Blackwater recruiting military-trained agents fluent in Urdu and Punjabi. The strong denials of US officials on the presence of private US security firms in Pakistan do no tally with the circumstantial evidence. At least three verified incidents have been reported in Islamabad alone over the past few weeks that involve armed US individuals in civilian dress. In two incident, Pakistani police officers arrested and then released them after intervention from the US embassy. In one incident, a Pakistani citizen reported being assaulted by armed Americans in civilian dress. The American charm offensive coincides with a new bout of US meddling in domestic Pakistani politics. The US government has put into high gear its contacts with Pakistani political parties. Washington is now conducting direct diplomacy with Pakistani political parties. A high level delegation of MQM is in Washington, meeting US political and military officials. A similar exercise is planned with the ANP. The Americans are trying to accentuate what they see as pro-Indian, pro-American strains within the two parties. Washington began this programme quietly in 2007 after getting a green signal from President Musharraf to increase US involvement in Pakistani politics. There are reports that nazims of several districts in Sindh, Balochistan and NWFP were invited to Washington to meet US government and military officials. But these were very low key visits. In fact, they were so low key that ANP chief Asfandyar Wali refused in early 2008 to confirm or deny a visit he made to Washington after the Feb. 2008 elections in Pakistan. In contrast, no effort was made this time to downplay the current visits by MQM and ANP delegations to Washington and their meetings with US and NATO officials. Reports confirm that the federal Pakistani government is not on board regarding the content of the new direct US diplomatic push with different Pakistani political parties and players. While there is no immediate evidence that Pakistan should be alarmed by Washingtons direct diplomacy with Pakistani political parties outside Pakistans territory, Islamabad needs to be wary of strong strains within Washingtons policy establishment that have been focusing on exploiting Pakistans ethnic and linguistic fissures in order to support its so-called 'Af-Pak agenda. During Pakistans worst domestic instability in 2007, mainstream US media outlets were leaking policy and intelligence reports focusing on alleged separatism in Sindh, Balochistan and NWFP. This week, some of the most ardent American supporters of separatism inside Pakistan - the usual suspects from the US think-tank circuit - came together in Washington to launch a political action committee that seeks independent status for Pakistans Sindh province, in contacts with US Congress. The ceremony for the launch of the 'Sindhi American Political Action Committee was addressed by Selig Harrison and Marvin Weinbaum, both advocates of engagement with Pakistani separatists. The new American confidence in open and public engagement and meddling in Pakistani politics should, however, raise alarm bells. This is the strongest sign yet of how weak the federal Pakistani government appears to outsiders.