Since independence, our relations with the US have enjoyed a central position in Pakistan's foreign policy. The importance of our relations with the US was dictated by its emergence as the most powerful nation in the world after the Second World War and its assumption of the mantle of the leadership of the Western countries. Pakistan's decision to side with the Western countries in the Cold War against the Warsaw bloc headed by the Soviet Union necessarily led to close interaction with Washington. In the process, Pakistan joined Western-backed military agreements like Baghdad Pact (later named as CENTO) and SEATO to check the expansion of communism and the Soviet power. In return, Pakistan got from Washington the much-needed economic and military assistance, which it used to accelerate its economic development and counter the perceived security threat from India. The Pakistan-US relationship came under strains from time to time when one of the partners failed to come up to the expectations of the other. Occasionally, the US subjected Pakistan to economic and military sanctions notably because of Pakistan's nuclear programme. However, the basic bargain of the US economic and military assistance in return for Pakistan's support to the US global agenda continued with some interruptions till the end of the Cold War. The high point of this relationship was the cooperation between the two countries during the Afghan jihad to liberate Afghanistan from the Soviet occupation. The Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and the US victory in the Cold War brought about a paradigm shift in the Pakistan-US relationship. Following the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the US emerged as the sole superpower. In the changed circumstances, the US felt as the master of all it surveyed. The US no longer needed Pakistan as an ally in the Cold War against the Soviet Union or for ending the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. While Pakistan's security and foreign policy establishment was slow to anticipate and adjust its policies to the consequences of these shifts in global geopolitical balance, Washington moved fast to send a clear signal to Islamabad that henceforth the relationship would be qualitatively different. Soon after the dismissal of the Benazir government by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan in 1990, Washington notified Islamabad about its decision to terminate military and economic assistance to Pakistan unless the latter rolled back its nuclear weapon programme. The US charge was that Pakistan had crossed the red line in the development of its nuclear programme. In actual fact, there had not been any significant new development in Pakistan's nuclear programme. Pakistan had crossed the so-called red line much earlier and this fact was well known to Washington. Actually, the US decision was a cold blooded exercise in realpolitik either to force Pakistan to roll back its nuclear weapon development programme in accordance with the former's non-proliferation objectives or, failing that, to cut loose Pakistan from its apron strings under the changed circumstances in which the US thought that it no longer needed Pakistan either globally or in Afghanistan. Thus the same nuclear programme on which the US president was able to issue a waiver till a year earlier became a pretext for reordering US relations with Pakistan. Unfortunately, the Pakistani establishment failed to draw the right lessons from this experience. The US move should have alerted us to the long-term risks of over-dependence on a foreign power for the pursuit of a dignified foreign policy calculated to serve our national interests in the best manner possible. In practice, it has proved extremely difficult, if not impossible, to wean our establishment away from dependence on the US military and economic assistance. Thus Pakistan continues to suffer from this dependence syndrome which severely restricts the manoeuvrability of its foreign policy, exposes it to the risks of dependence on an unreliable partner, lowers its prestige in the international community, increases the possibilities of corruption on the part of the ruling elite and diverts attention from the full development of the national potential for progress. The availability of the US assistance has also historically resulted in the skewing of the national priorities in favour of the military at the expense of the imperative of economic development. In the aftermath of 9/11 when Pakistan brought about a u-turn in its Afghanistan policy to ingratiate itself with the US, the country's dependence on the US largesse has increased with all the benefits and disadvantages that it entails. It is true that the US economic and military assistance makes available to Pakistan the much-needed additional resources which, if put to good use, can accelerate its economic development and strengthen its security. Looked at it from this point of view, the passage by the US Congress of the Kerry-Lugar bill, which embodies a long-term commitment to Pakistan and triples the US economic assistance to Pakistan to $1.5 billion per annum, is a welcome news particularly as it prioritises assistance for Pakistan's economic development. The sad fact, however, is that the Pakistani elite welcomes, in fact begs for, the US assistance primarily because it provides additional opportunities for corruption and reduces the pressure on it for the difficult decisions to bring about the changes in its economic, foreign and security policies necessary for accelerating the country's economic development and strengthening its security. Unless the Pakistani leadership takes conscious decisions to guard against these dangers, it is possible that the increased US assistance may end up doing more harm than good to the country. Despite the promised increase in US assistance to Pakistan and the partnership of the two countries in the struggle against international terrorism, the relationship between the two countries remains fragile with uncertain future prospects. As for the fight against international terrorism, the US views Pakistan both as an asset and a problem as should be obvious from the continuous US demand on us to do more to defeat Al-Qaeda and help it in pacifying Afghanistan. Our chequered history of domestic military takeovers and ineffective and corrupt governments does not create confidence in the minds of the US policymakers about Pakistan's viability and the stability of US-Pakistan relationship. Above all, Pakistan is not part of the US grand strategic design for Asia which aims at building up India as a counterweight to the rapidly growing China. In contrast, Pakistan neither has the willingness nor the capability to play such a role. In fact, the compulsions of Pakistan's vital strategic relationship with China are the reverse of what the US, for whom the growing strength of China is a source of growing concern, would like to see. This is the main reason for the US policy of de-hyphenation of its relations with India and Pakistan, which was initiated by the Bush Administration and is being continued by the US under Obama. Pakistan needs to manage its relations with the US in a mature and responsible manner. It is vitally important for us to preserve and even strengthen our friendship with this great country. However, this must be accomplished in a manner which safeguards and promotes our vital national interests. Herein is the test for Pakistan's diplomacy. We must make it clear to Washington that while we attach high importance to our friendship with the US, it cannot be at the expense of our domestic stability or our friendship with other countries, like China and Iran with whom we maintain strategically vital relations. We must continue the struggle against international and domestic terrorism not as a favour to the US, but because it is indispensable for our domestic stability and for the success of our foreign policy. We should do all that is possible to prevent interference in Afghanistan's internal affairs from our side of the border, while telling Washington that the solution of the insurgency in that country lies in a new political dispensation which engages the Pakhtoons, who constitute almost half of its population, and establishes a just power sharing relationship among its various ethnic communities. Finally, it goes without saying that our ability to manage our relations with the US successfully will depend to a large extent upon our success in ensuring domestic stability and accelerating the country's economic development. The writer is a retired ambassador. E-mail: