The United States appears to have taken the ‘new year, new me’ mantra rather to heart. Indeed, President Trump’s first tweet of 2018 shattered the optimism many here in Pakistan that there would be way forward in the bilateral relationship. But that, for now, is off the table. From American generals stationed in Afghanistan to the US ambassador to the UN — accusations and threats have been routinely levelled against this country. Notice after notice instructing us to do more when it comes to taking “decisive action” against militant groups that are “destabilising the region”. And now US military assistance to Pakistan has been suspended.Islamabad, for its part, seems less than intimidated by all the chest thumping and warmongering that is currently taking place in Washington. Nevertheless, it did call a federal cabinet meeting as well as summoning the US ambassador. And all the while the Trump administration could well be fuelling its fighter planes. After all, before turning his hot guns towards Pakistan the American president had them aimed at North Korea. And although these two scenarios are not identical, they share one striking similarity: the US rhetoric of aggression which suggests it is preparing for another war. This is not as far-fetched as it seems given that all the signals coming out of Washington point to “action”.War is a profitable business, so they say. And the US remains the world’s biggest arms exporter. Indeed, with its longest ever combat operations still ongoing in Afghanistan as well as other more recent conflicts — it is constantly manufacturing weapons. Thus this industry also represents one of the country’s most influential lobbying groups. Indeed it plays an important — but as times, overlooked — role in determining defence and security policy. This likely explains why the Trump administration boasts an unusually high number of retired military officers appointed to key positions. Even though the latter are trained in the art of diplomacy, this is not their first instinct. And while the US has provided aid (both military and non-military) to Pakistan over the years, with no one holding a gun to its head forcing it to do so, a staggering cut to scheduled disbursements had already been made. This was taken up by Islamabad in its initial response to the Trump tweet.American drones rain down on this region, including inside Pakistan with or without the tacit approval of the country’s security establishment. Be that as it may, the 2011 incident whereby NATO helicopters and fighter jets from across our western border targeted two military outposts on this side and ended up killing some 28 troops prompted Islamabad to close US and Alliance supply lines that pass from Afghanistan through Pakistan. This is a card that could readily be played again. But there is another issue at hand. For while the Army conducts operations inside national borders to flush out extremists — a trail of recent attacks here leads back to Kabul. Pakistan has irked the US by cosying up to Beijing and Moscow. At the UN, it also strongly opposed the moving of the American embassy to Jerusalem. Thus Trump’s undue ‘retaliation’ may not come as a surprise. Though the question remains as to how far he might goThen there is the matter of how China’s inroads into this region by way of CPEC have irked Washington. This is not to mention how Pakistan is visibly reducing its dependency on the US while enjoying comfortable relations with both Beijing and Moscow. Indeed, this newly emerging axis is on the same page on Afghanistan. Equally irritating to the US was Islamabad’s strong opposition at the UN over the decision to shift the American embassy to Jerusalem. In fact, each nation that voted against the move was threatened with aid cuts. Thus Pakistan may not be expressly surprised by the undue US ‘retaliation’. Though a serious concern remains just how far the Trump administration might travel along this path of retribution.There has been talk of the Americans following the suspension of assistance with sanctions or else a beefed up drone programme. But if Washington were to use the military infrastructure in place in Afghanistan to cross over into Pakistani territory or to violate airspace — there could only be one possible result: all-out war. The US has long been concerned about the ‘safety’ of this country’s nuclear assets. Indeed it, along with India, would like to see it de-nuclearised in the long-term. If, however, Washington actively pursues this course of action, the fallout out could be a full-blown diplomatic shutdown. According to the chatter in Islamabad, the military establishment will now take the lead in commanding the bilateral relationship. And despite the current turmoil at the domestic level here in Pakistan — continued US belligerence could quite possibly unite the nation. Not just in terms of civil-military ties but also with regard to shoring up unlikely allies which would help the country stand tall.Finally, the notion that the US is taking out its defeat in Afghanistan on Pakistan carries less weight. For ever since China and Russia have begun mediating peace efforts across our western border — the Americans need to stay put to counter this new rising regional alliance which casts Islamabad as the softest target for US ire. With safe havens of other groups, such as ISIS, springing up in Afghanistan, Trump’s accusations against at this country appear increasingly un-weighted. Yet an imploded Pakistan or a Pakistan entirely subservient to American diktats is what Washington desperately needs to consolidate its expansion here in this region. The thus far strong reaction by the government here to recent developments indicates that while Islamabad may be willing to face US sanctions — it will not tolerate any measures undermining its sovereignty.To conclude, therefore, President Trump appears to be looking for another war, be it with Pakistan, North Korea or, indeed Iran. If for no other reason than sheer pragmatism. Meaning that he needs to keep the threat of ‘rogue nations’ alive in order to defend the American people from them.Nevertheless, doing military battle with Pakistan, however, would likely backfire given that any moves towards this end would likely forever spell the end of cooperation between the two sides. Thereby signalling a major setback for the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Thus the coming days will be crucial when it comes to mapping out a clearer picture of the long-term health of the Pak-US bilateral relationship. The writer is an independent analyst based in Lahore with particular focus on media and foreign policyPublished in Daily Times, January 7th 2018.