Last week Washington hosted the US-Pakistan strategic dialogue, whi-ch focused on building mutual trust and strengthening Pakistans socio-economic sector. At the end of the convention, a joint declaration underlined the need to elevate the dialogue to the ministerial level. Both sides recognised the need for addressing the trust deficit, which had heretofore plagued the erstwhile allies in combating the common enemy - terror. Embedded in the counter terrorism relations has been the impediment of lack of mutual trust in intelligence sharing. This trust deficit gave rise to the oft parrot-like repetition of the do more mantra. The shoe has however moved to the other foot. The US has once again woken up to Pakistans importance, as the endgame in Afghanistan draws nearer. It is dj vu for us since Pak-US relations have swung like a pendulum from one extreme to the other. One day we are the most allied ally and the next we are the most sanctioned one, depending on whether we are serving the US purpose or not. We have traversed this path before and been jilted too many times to be dazzled by the bonhomie and candour witnessed in the Pak-US strategic dialogue of March 24-25. The fact that Pak-US ties have progressed from a relationship to a partnership may be a matter of rejoicing in some quarters but there is cause for concern for a few that not a single significant accord was signed at the conclusion of the strategic dialogue. As a nation we are very whi-msical. We pin our hopes on every summit and get depressed at the non-fulfilment of our aspirations. Diplomacy and statesmanship necessitate pra-gmatism and understanding of the functioning of other governments. True that Pakistan has regained its importance in the US calculus of the endgame in Afghanistan; it had done its homework in presenting its 57-page wish list prior to the strategic dialogue. Its primary economic concern is the energy and investment sector. So with the US pledging to help Pakistan meet its needs thr-ough its Signature Energy Pro-gramme, there is mounting optimism in Islamabad, which is beset by a severe energy crisis causing unprecedented power outages with the worst yet to come as the searing heat of summer approaches. Additionally, by furthering investment opportunities as part of the Bilateral Investment Treaty agenda, Pakistan hopes to gain enhanced US market access for its products. The US has also promised to speed efforts for the Reconstruction Opportunity Zones legislation. However, the fruition of these schemes would be consequential to intense encounters of the Policy Steering Committee, established to address political, security and economic specifics of mutual concern and approval of its recommendations by both houses of the US Parliament, which could take weeks to months. In this context, there is some solace in the fact that Pakistans grievances over what it perceives as continuous criticism, non-acknowledgement and lack of appreciation from the US of its (Pakistans) efforts have been finally addressed. Instead of the usual reprimands, occasional rap on the knuckles and demands of do more, the US Secretary of State praised Islamabad for its efforts to check militancy and acknowledged the need to move beyond past misunderstandings. The war on terror has taken a huge toll of over 5,000 lives comprising Pakistan armys gallant soldiers and innocent civilians but earned respect for its leadership at the Pentagon as well as at the Capitol Hill. Not only is financial military aid indispensable for continuing the operations against extremists in the tribal agencies bordering Afghanistan, Pakistan also needs vital counterinsurgency equipment. The current dispensation in the US administration appears to be cognisant of Pakistans urgent needs. While the operative word here is 'urgency, bureaucratic red-tape must yield to expediency. The window of opportunity is rather narrow. But with the announcement of the date for withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan, the mid-term (November 2, 2010) US Congressional and Gubernatorial elections to elect 435 members of the US House of Representatives, 36 new members of the Senate and 38 governors vis--vis the declining popularity graph of the Democrats, the Obama administration is desperately in need of a success story in Afghanistan. Therefore, Pakistan can play a key role in the US game plan because the interests of the two converge. Netting key Afghan Taliban leaders within the country, offering security training to the Afghan forces and political support to Kabul for negotiations with insurgents, and decimating the miscreants in Pakistan, has opened fresh vistas and a new phase in Pak-US relations. It is imperative that the US develops and strengthens Pakistan to assume its rightful place in the region and deliver on its promise of the fulfilment of its capacity-building goals. Needless to say, Pakistan on its part will have to play its cards carefully. It should have learnt lessons from the past and instead of letting history repeat itself, the Pakistani decision-makers must make a cogent representation of their case to ensure that the transition of the relationship to a partnership is long-term, secure and devoid of dictations on Pakistans domestic policies or even external affairs. The importance the US decision-makers are attaching to a resolution of the Afghan imbroglio can be gauged from the swift but top secret six-hour visit President Barack Obama made in the dead of the night to Kabul. It was his first in-person view as commander-in-chief of the war he dramatically escalated. The trip comes nearly a year after he made a secretive visit to Iraq. His one-on-one with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, meeting with the Afghan cabinet and address to the US troops, speak volumes for the resolve of the US president not to endanger the lives of more Americans. If Pakistan can lend a helping hand, so be it for it would be to ensure a safety net for us too. However, Pakistan must be treated with due regard to its distinction and dignity as an equal partner. The writer is a political and defence analyst.