EVER since Pakistan got an elected government, and the Army declared its retreat from politics and governance, there has been a discernible trend to create and sustain the perception that there is a serious divide between the military and the civilian government. Every misstep is blamed on their not being on the 'same page'. Invariably the government comes out as the underdog because it is read the riot act every time it deviates from what the military perceives to be the national interest"at least that is the impression created. One reason could be the mindset of many in positions where they interact with the media and international interlocutors. They may actually believe that they are sustaining democracy and helping their government by discreetly putting the word out that they are hampered by a dominant military and it's Inter Services Intelligence Agency (ISI). The cover story in the December 11 issue of 'India Today' makes a strong case for the helplessness of a well-meaning civilian government against a military that calls the shots and whose chief is the 'real boss' in Pakistan. Influential voices from the US have also called for civilian control over the ISI and one US group even suggested that a civilian head the ISI, completely forgetting that it is an inter service agency" where inter service spells army, navy and air force" and whose main task is the provision of strategic intelligence. Also forgotten is the fact that the ISI is funded by the government and reports to the President/Prime Minister. Some confusion in recent decision-making has reinforced the thinking that the military forced the civilian government to retract the decisions made by them. This started with a suddenly announced decision that put the ISI under a ministry. That this decision was made on the eve of a high-level visit to the US created the perception that this had been done either under US pressure or to please the US. If it is true that the military pointed out the flaw in the decision and how it would wreck the intelligence process then they actually helped the government. The ISI simply cannot function under any one ministry given its present organisation and task. Another much quoted 'intervention' is in the matter of sending the ISI Chief to India immediately after the Mumbai attacks. If this decision had been taken and subsequently reversed on 'advice' then that advice reflected the view of the entire armed forces and an overwhelming majority of Pakistanis. Public opinion does determine the limits to which decision-makers can go. The offer of a joint investigative mechanism was the correct response but this came later. Yet another confused situation arose after a call taken by the President purportedly from the Indian Foreign Minister turned out to be a hoax call. The danger being seen by the Indians was based on the perception that the Pakistani Armed Forces were put 'on alert' and that could have led to war. There is no evidence that the President ordered an alert but there is the certainty that the call was investigated and found to be a hoax. Much is being made of the statement by the President that Pakistan would not be the first to use nuclear weapons"the no first use policy that Pakistan has resisted. It is said that a 'U-turn was made after the Army Chief ticked off the President'. The President probably meant that Pakistan would not be the first to create a situation that could snowball into a nuclear exchange. The subsequent debate highlighted the disparity in the conventional power balance, the unresolved issues with India and Indian thinking that a limited war could be fought under the nuclear shadow if 'red lines' were not crossed or with ideas like 'cold start operations' or 'surgical strikes'. The violation of our air space and the initial reaction that this was a 'technical violation' does not mean that a protest cannot be lodged - even technical violations are violations and therefore the Government acted correctly by formally protesting. More important than the confusion, if any, is the fact that important lessons are being learnt and the importance of institutionalizing decision-making has emerged very clearly. If anything these events all prove that the military and the civilian leadership are on the same page because they are talking and listening to each other-a good omen for democracy. More significant is the thought in India that a confrontation or fight with India suits the Pakistan military - a 'one-shot solution' that brings the Army to the forefront again, unites the nation behind it and gives it the excuse to pull out troops from the Western border thereby forcing the US to leverage India on a settlement of the Kashmir issue thus 'souring' India-US relations. Far fetched but it does further the agenda of creating a disconnect between the government and the military - especially if it is also put out that the government in Pakistan is for peace with India and the military is not. By now it is clear that neither the Pakistan military nor the government want a confrontation with India. The dialogue process is on hold because the Indian government put it on hold - Pakistan wants the dialogue to continue and lead to a restraint regime and a settlement of all issues. The best security environment for Pakistan would emerge from a secure and stable Afghanistan with no exploitative external forces and a cooperative and peaceful relationship with India that cannot be disrupted by terrorists. Pakistan can then do some introspection to improve its internal environment and economy. Others in the region could also do with some serious introspection. The Pakistan Army is led by a profession-oriented officer whose focus is on improving the capacity of the forces he commands. Under a declared policy the Army has been pulled out of politics and its intervention is now a remote possibility. The Army as an institution is giving unstinted support to the government and its advice has been constructive - never disruptive. The ISI's political wing has gone and it can now concentrate on its real job without distraction. Past entanglements are being detangled without creating new and more problems - this takes time and patience. The easier option of hasty action under pressures will create more problems than it will solve. It is very important for the US to build trust and not create a trust deficit by expectations that far exceed capacity. The Mumbai event can be a watershed for forward movement or the first step into the morass of the past because it should be clear by now that neither the government nor the military nor any intelligence agency of Pakistan was involved in the terrorist attack - time will tell who was behind it unless those responsible trigger a bigger event to protect themselves. Pakistan and India need to cooperate on this and reach the right conclusion. Very quickly after the Mumbai event the Indians mounted an effective external maneuver that brought in the US, UK, Israel, Afghanistan and eventually the UN Resolution on their side. This was done under the shadow of virulent media hype against Pakistan. Pakistan's official response was muted as it investigated and waited for hard evidence beyond finger pointing but there was reciprocal media hype within Pakistan and a coming together of all political factions and public opinion against the accusations and pressures from India. Pakistan also acted on the UN Resolution and its actions have satisfied the UN. Pakistan needs evidence to move further under its laws. So far India has not brought in the Interpol either within the evidence loop. A further extension of this external action may be an escalation of destabilizing events within Pakistan ostensibly linked to the situation in the Western border areas. If this happens it will confirm Pakistan's perception of an external hand exploiting the Afghan scenario for its own agenda. Already there have been incidents of NATO logistic terminals being burnt and schools destroyed in the Peshawar area and carefully planted misinformation about the Pakistan military's action against insurgents. With the Indian Foreign Minister saying that 'all options are on the table' Pakistan has no option but to base its response preparation on a 'worst contingency' basis"but Pakistan is being careful not to start an escalatory process that could get caught up in India's political and election environment. The one positive aspect is the continuous and frank exchange between the Pentagon and Pakistan's GHQ including intelligence agencies - the real base of the US-Pakistan alliance in the war against terrorism. The war on terrorism is being fought under the shadow of a persistent perception that the real objective of the US is the 'de-nuclearisation' of Pakistan and that there is convergence between India and the US on this. In fact on a broader scale the US is perceived to be acting on the assumption that its 'battle space' includes Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Middle East and parts of Central Asia with sights on the future containment of Russia and China. The UK, EU, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and Australia, and lately Poland and India, are seen as the nodes in the arc around this 'battle space'. This perception would account for the opinion against US policies and the view that Pakistan by fighting in its Western areas is actually becoming part of the design to destabilize it. Even if this perception is correct the right strategy for the countries within the zone (that the US has identified for possible contingencies) is to stabilize internally, ensure governance and not permit non-state actors to use any infrastructure within their territories. Countries within the region have to come together bilaterally and regionally to develop resistance and leverage. It is in this context that India and Pakistan must view their future relationship and understand the urgency for resolving issues and cooperating"this requires a vision beyond events that rock their internal situations and encourage militant extremism. www.spearheadresearch.org