Trump and Sharif are not liable for all the fault lines in Pak-US relationship. Nor are they responsible for all developments and stalemates. Uncertainty has been the hallmark of this relationship. But there are many dimensions to it. Some are evident, while a few exist in a different world where erratic relations rarely matter. The only certainty for now in the bilateral relationship is consistency. Nothing seems to be changing. The underpinnings of the relationship are strong. There were hopes, for good or bad, that the new administration in US would review the policy toward Pakistan. Some emphasized putting pressure on Pakistan for a face-saving end of the war in Afghanistan. Others spoke in detail about the benefits of de-hyphenation of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Yet nothing has changed as such. Trump’s Afghan policy has many continuities with that of Obama’s. The threat of denying Pakistan the Coalition Support Fund was a favorite tool of the Obama administration. Tentative improvement in the relations meant the transfer of funds. And moving a motion against aid or fund to Pakistan showed the stringent mood in Washington. The US Congress’ decision to reimburse Pakistan $700 million shows a tentative improvement. The Obama administration was strict in a tacit way. Trump however can be different, though only a few would take such a stance. Owing to his unconventional approach toward diplomacy, some thought he would be able to diminish the ambiguity in the US objectives and approach towards Pakistan. But most of them ignored the bureaucratic impediments an American president could face. In other words, the policymakers did not change, nor did the perceptions of Pakistan in the US. With no significant change in actors and perceptions, it may not be wise to expect a significantly changed Pak-US relationship. The existing trend may intensify, but this is the maximum this administration can offer. Pakistan’s double-game perceptions remain intact partly because Pakistan has not shown any overtures to convince the Americans. Or that nothing noteworthy has occurred to influence the Trumanities in the Department of Defense and, to some extent, the Department of State. Think within the box and think out of the box are oft repeated suggestions from Pakistani and American foreign policy pundits. Both sides may follow any of the two. But they seem unable to forget or ignore the box itself. They cannot. Otherwise they may ignore the limits of their shallowness and parochial policy preferences The Pakistani policy thus remains unchanged. Perhaps the change in Trump’s Af-Pak policy is not sufficient to change the course of Pak-US relations. Skepticism remains on both sides. From the American perspective, Pakistan’s alleged double-game does not allow the American and Afghan forces to completely overwhelm militants in Afghanistan. From the Pakistani perspective, American support for an increased Indian role in Afghanistan ignores Pakistan’s concerns and thus overlooks the losses it has suffered over the years. The US policymakers want Pakistan to follow their lead. Pakistan, conversely, looks for more room in Afghanistan that is perhaps not possible while American remains there. So far, there is no strong conjunction between the two sides other than Afghanistan. The Trump administration has shown little interest in Pakistan as an ally. Pakistan, on the other hand, has historically remained dependent only on one side. And that side today is certainly not the US. Pakistan’s ideals have changed in this decade. From weaponry to infrastructure to city planning, Pakistani policymakers and bureaucracy are unable to hide their romance with China and the great marvels it offers to the world. But the stalemate in Pak-US relations cannot be attributed only to the political leadership on both sides. American foreign policymaking process is complex. The unelected but powerful Trumanite network holds the levers of power. And none within the network would wantto bring significant changes in the so-called Washington-playbook. Trumanites may replace each other or even fashion a different rhetoric. Their modus operandi, objectives, and options and choices nonetheless remain similar. The elected Madisonians, on the other hand, rarely commit themselves to foreign policy issues. They mostly see what they are shown, and they mostly speak what they listen. The Af-Pak policy has been no exception. The American approach toward Afghanistan has been overwhelmingly militarized over the past decade. Trumanites don’t have any anything new in their toolbox to offer. If political psychology tells us anything here, it is a conclusion that people are unlikely to change their perceptions of others. And they find it difficult to change the policy course they pursue. Trumanites have done an enviable job to militarize the Afghan policy and hyphenate Pakistan with the failures in Afghanistan. One should expect no change in their position because no visible benefit lies for them in changing their position on the Pakistan policy. On the other hand, Pakistan’s relations with China create sufficient room for our political leadership to be unrelenting on certain issues and have a hardline position on other aspects. Some may underline the relations between the militaries of two sides. But as I have mentioned in the third line, “Some of them exist in a different world.”The Pak-US relationship doesn’t cover the whole gamut. Its benefits are also debatable. It has its own pros and cons. Diplomatic understating and a strong civilian bond are necessary if this relationship is to benefit the general public. Policy preferences of both sides don’t appear to create any room for any positive developments in the relationship. If both decide to continue their policy courses, the bumpy ride in their relations is likely to prolong, with additional bitterness. But both would still cooperate on certain issues and compete on the rest. This assessment does not imply any enchanted policy prescriptions, but it highlights the existence of The Box. Think within the box and think out of the box are oft repeated suggestions from Pakistani and American foreign policy pundits. Both sides may follow any of the two. But they seem unable to forget or ignore the box itself. They cannot. Otherwise they would succeed in ignoring the limits of their shallowness and parochial policy preferences. The writer is PhD candidate at Area Study Centre, Quaid-i-Azam University. He’s previously a visiting fellow at Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He can be reached at email@example.com Published in Daily Times, November 25th 2017.