Pakistan is currently facing serious threats to its economy and integrity, and the coming days are likely to put our leadership's mettle to the test. Pakistan's internal problems have been compounded with increasing tension and hardening attitudes between erstwhile coalition partners. There are speculations galore of serious rifts between Zardari and Gilani, with ugly forecasts regarding the fragility of the presidential set-up in Islamabad. The lawyers' call for a million march towards the capital on March 9 to seek restitution of the deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry with full support from PML-N and other opposition group has further complicated the picture. On foreign policy issues, the Mumbai tragedy has shown no signs of abatement from India. It has initiated a propaganda blitz against Pakistan, which has badly mauled Pakistan's image and credibility abroad. The threatening tone of the Indian leadership is becoming more strident with warnings that "all options are open" to dismantle "terror outfits," charging Pakistan of using terror as a state policy. These problems and their critical mass will become clearer now in a couple of days with Obama as the new President of the United States. Observers have agreed that Afghanistan and Pakistan will be among the priority issues engaging Obama's attention. Former Secretary of State Colin Powel had considered the Afghanistan war "the second biggest challenge for President Obama." Against this grim backdrop, the need for close and cordial relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan has never been so urgent. The Kabul visit by President Zardari on January 6 was therefore, most timely and, judging by its outcome, most salutary. Political constraints and compulsions drove the two leaders, Karzai and Zardari, towards a political modus vivendi that, unless disturbed by an untoward diplomatic or military development, would stand us in good stead. Karzai has his eyes on April when he seeks another presidential term, and must clear out all hurdles. For both leaders, good or even normal bilateral relations would give them more time and lessen their burden to sort out the domestic mess. A New York Times article by Michael Gordon identified Afghan problems as "a rural based insurgency, an enemy sanctuary in neighbouring Pakistan, the chronic weakness of the Afghanistan government, a thriving narcotics trade, poorly developed infrastructure and forbidden terrain." Zardari made the first move by inviting Karzai as a special guest on his oath taking ceremony in September 2008 in Islamabad, and followed it up with a visit to Kabul, preceded by visits of chief of army staff and the foreign minister. The joint declaration signed by the two foreign ministers in the presence of their leaders was a breakthrough and a positive development of considerable significance. It spoke of "a new visionary chapter" in their bilateral relations. The two countries agreed to develop a joint comprehensive strategy for combating terrorism and closely cooperate with each other as well as the international community to counter and completely eliminate the menaces of militancy, extremism and terrorism from the region. To that end, the two countries agreed to remain fully supportive of the joint peace jirga process and to remain fully engaged with other frameworks of cooperation. They also agreed to cooperate on complete eradication of narcotics and drugs including their production, consumption and trafficking from the region. The declaration, titled Directions of Bilateral Cooperation, said the two countries agreed to maintain frequent exchanges of high-level visits and contacts between government departments, parliaments, armed forces and security agencies to enhance mutual understanding in all fields. The two countries further agreed interalia to enhance connectivity through improvement in infrastructure, including rail and road links and building of transportation, communication and transit corridors, connecting the entire region. They also agreed to collaborate on developing energy corridor in the region via Afghanistan, including building oil and gas pipelines and electricity networks. The declaration also detailed the areas of cooperation at bilateral and regional level in all fields especially in economy, trade, transit, investment, agriculture, education and technology. The declaration, if implemented, could certainly herald a "new relationship" as described by Karzai. Both parties must assert to the maximum to forge closer coordination in mutual interest, in particular in the fight against terrorism and extremism. The crux of the "new relationship" would be in terms of Pakistan's role against the Taliban moving into Afghanistan from its territory. There have been regular complaints by Afghan leaders of infiltration by Taliban from the Pakistani territory of FATA. Besides bilateral imperatives of stability, there are unmistakable signs of increased US pressures on this relationship. The US has already announced that it will beef up its military presence with additional troops ranging from 20,000 to 30,000. The US has lost 628 of its soldiers in Afghanistan since 2001, with slim hope of achieving much. During her confirmation hearing in the US Senate as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified that fighting terrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan would be the highest priority of Obama Administration. The US will make more focused commitment to stabilising Afghanistan and to pushing Pakistan to eliminate the terrorist havens in FATA. Pakistan must do everything to make the commitments made in the Joint Declaration work. The escalation in military operations would strain the relationship and must be preserved. Too much is at stake for Afghanistan and Pakistan and both must accord priority to good and correct relations and nurture it with frequent dialogue at the presidential level, as a part of a multi- pronged diplomatic exercise. The writer is a former ambassador