LAHORE The All-Party Conference called by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani in Islamabad for Sept 29 will be the first such exercise by the present government and third by a government during the past four decades. Field Marshal Ayub Khan had called a Round Table Conference in 1969 and later on then prime minister Muhammad Khan Junejo had hosted one in 1988. Although Ayub Khan accepted both the major Democratic Action Committee (DAC) demands about adult franchise and parliamentary system, Gen Yahya Khan took over power only a couple of months later. Mr Junejo had held the APC to evolve national consensus on the Geneva Accord to pave the way for the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. Then president Gen Ziaul Haq, who was opposed to the accord for hi own reasons, dismissed the Junejo government shortly after the APC. The opposition parties have, however, been holding the APCs on various issues quite frequently. The late Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan convened many such conferences against the governments. However, the conference called by Prime Minister Gilani is different from the previous two government-sponsored moots because it concerns the issue of national integrity and solidarity. The prime minister has invited almost all important political parties to the APC, mainly to discuss the situation created by the US allegations against the Inter Services Intelligence and threats that all options are on the table against Pakistan. No invitee, no matter how seriously opposed to the present setup, is expected to stay away because of the issue on which the APC has been called. Many say that a desperate US, facing a humiliating defeat at the hands of proud Afghans, can go to any extent against Pakistan, which it holds responsible for the setback in the store. Washingtons mood is revengeful and Pakistans defiant. So, apparently, the time has come for the government to decide, in consultation with other parties, whether the US is a friend or a foe. The future relationship should be based on this vital decision. It would have been better for the government to call a joint session of parliament to discuss what it wants discussed at the APC. All important parties have representation in one house of the bicameral legislature or the other, and decisions taken there would have been reflective of true national consensus. But, perhaps, the government has chosen to go for an APC to take along all parties, including those which have no representation in the assemblies. A statement to be issued after an APC will not have the kind of force that the one adopted by an elected house has. And everyone knows the importance the present government had given to a resolution passed by a joint session of parliament calling for shooting down the attacking drones. The authority of the parliament and the governments 'sensitivity to the territorial sovereignty also stood exposed when no session was called after the May 2 episode, when US Stealth helicopters flew into Abbottabad, killed Osama Bin Laden and took the body along to give it a burial at sea. This time the situation appears to be really grim. Talks between Gen Kayani and Admiral Mike Mullen, between ISI Chief Gen Pasha and CIA head Gen Petraeus, and Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and Hillary Clinton have failed to remove misunderstandings. Even Gen James Mattis meetings with Gen Kayani and Gen Wyne have not allayed Pakistans fears. Not all the people are aware of the US designs. During the Musharraf period, an important minister held an off-the-record session with some senior reporters of the city. (This scribe was also among them). He said the US was waiting for an opportunity to occupy the tribal areas of Pakistan. According to him, the US could argue that Pakistan had failed to control insurgents in tribal areas and thus it was left with no option but to take over these territories and then proceed against those creating trouble in neighbouring Afghanistan. It is possible that the current US attitude is because of those designs. In case it has to occupy these territories, it would not be satisfied with whatever steps Pakistan takes. It just needs an excuse. No law, morality or ties can stop the US. Sovereignty of a country, especially a Muslim, doesnt matter for the US. But this is the question Pakistans leaders have to address. They have to think about the likely steps a hostile US can take and the measures needed to keep it within its limits. The APC will also provide the political leadership with a golden opportunity to discuss other important issues facing the country. For example, they should not forget the millions of Sindhis displaced by devastating floods, their needs, steps required for their rehabilitation, funds needed for the purpose. Leaders desirous of bringing an end to dependence on foreign loans should let the APC participants know how the noble goal can be achieved. Anybody who is in a position to enlighten the assembly about how the local resources can be exploited should not miss the opportunity. APCs cant be held every day. The leaders should use the opportunity to the maximum benefit of the country.