All three latest US statements by its Centcom Commander, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia, signify continued engagement with Pakistan. But by no means is there any certainty about what the US policy will entail. Business as usual cannot be an option for us. More disparaging than Trump’s salvo of “nothing but lies and deceit” and stopping of military assistance is that our own state has been confused and reluctant to actualize a cogent policy that advances national interests with dignity. Bravado by the Foreign and Defence ministers, statements of engagement by the Foreign Office, and the ISPR’s lament that Pakistan had the option to become an ally of Russia but it opted for the US along with insistence of ‘no more’ betrayed dishevelment of thought. The ISPR press release from 12th January states, “Pakistan shall continue its sincere counter-terrorism efforts even without US financial support and in accordance with our national interest,” this points to a rightful stance. The state must have a clear framework to tackle the US hardline as well as ensure that Pakistan is perceived globally as part of solution and not problem regarding peace in Afghanistan. Sidestepping reality, giving brave statements and putting faith into new geo-political beneficiaries with clever tactics is not a panacea that Pakistan will find enduring. Without altering the fundamental paradigm, we will only delay the inevitable, which at the world stage would mean the country becoming ultimately either a client state of a new constellation of masters or a pariah. National strength and dignity of any country are determined by the fundamental direction that it sets for itself. With clear headedness and collective wisdom, Pakistan can find a strong footing. Just as no internal dictator has endured, no external dictator can. But for this, the elected governments must be in driving seat of all foreign and domestic policies, including for a robust economy, everyone must shun extremists unequivocally, whether inside or outside borders. It is an affront to all Pakistanis ravaged by terrorism that apart from successful military operations, not much has been done to tackle radicalism and socio-economic problems from where terrorism emanates. It is an egregious violation of the National Action Plan that the PML (N) and PTI have no qualms in cozying up to elements of banned extremist outfits for politics. Their activity gives currency to the notion that Pakistan distinguishes between terrorists. It negates the message that the state is already finding challenging to permeate internationally. Sidestepping reality, giving brave statements and putting faith into new geo-political beneficiaries with clever tactics is not a panacea that Pakistan will find enduring If it is true that the state has allowed safe places within the territory for some Haqqani group members that attack US and Afghan forces, it should not be. It is not only because Americans or Afghans demand it but our national interest necessitates it. Pakistan’s concerns were valid about India gaining influence in Afghanistan to harm Pakistan. However, this calculus needs to be re-examined. Where the US and NATO with their unmatched resources have failed to cultivate wide grassroots support in Afghanistan, India, despite acquiring influence in some quarters cannot reach a point where it increases the dangers that it already poses to Pakistan. To think that the unavailability of an Afghan conduit will somehow drastically eliminate Indian activity against Pakistan is misconceived. It would still have enough ways to pester us. Regardless of our consternation, indigenous Pakhtuns and others opposing any central Afghan government will pressure the government so that it pursues only Afghan interests. The negative views that many Afghans hold towards Pakistan should thus be a very serious concern. Just as we are angry that others do not feel our pain and sacrifices, Afghans feel the same. Is it only propaganda because of which so many ordinary Afghans blame Pakistan for not doing enough to stop attacks on them from its territory? If there is truth behind their anger and if this status quo persists, we will ensure that one day all Afghans resent us, obviating any need for India’s meddling. Where it is in the interest of Afghanistan to engage with Pakistan constructively, we must double efforts to normalize relations with it. Clichéd but the reality is that good relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan are essential for long-term stability and the wellbeing of both countries. We should do our utmost to bring Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table. And we should launch a concerted effort to reverse the pervasive negative sentiments in many Afghans against us. The relationship with Afghanistan needs to be tackled comprehensively in a highly competent manner. With complete clarity, we should talk to Afghanistan to resolve outstanding issues. Hostile statements from both sides only perpetuate existing distrust. Political will may not be a given but with credible steps, it can be nurtured. Space should be given on both sides to foster a positive atmosphere. During this endeavour, Pakistan, working with Afghan government in private, to show public goodwill and confidence, could pause its international calls on pressuring Afghanistan to fence its side of border. We can similarly pause our public messaging on some other thorny issues. Afghanistan must also reciprocate and engage sincerely with needed measures. Best-case scenario for Afghanistan is also that it resolves all issues with Pakistan amicably. We should do our utmost to bring Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table. And we should launch a concerted effort to reverse the pervasive negative sentiments in many Afghans against us. The relationship with Afghanistan needs to be tackled comprehensively in a highly competent manner Confronting truth and building confidence with Afghans, if we get our Afghanistan strategy right, the international community will also be more receptive to our voice. That most important capitals are not buying our account is not hidden. There is indeed also scapegoating of Pakistan for the failure of the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. As difficult as it will be for Trump to concede, Afghan Taliban cannot be won over militarily. Sooner the US focuses on a political solution involving Afghan Taliban, better it will be for everyone. There should not be ambiguity — we need correct course on Afghanistan because it favours us. Beyond that if the US administration piles on Pakistan, it is bound to learn that frayed relations with Pakistan will disadvantage it more than Pakistan. The region will always be more problematic without our support. Regardless of how it pans out with the US, it is a moment of critical soul searching. If we remain economically weak, dependent on others and sidestep reality, we will not find enduring solutions. For changing the existing paradigm, we have to get the fundamentals right. The writer works as consultant on UN issues in New York. He is currently a Researcher and Speechwriter at the Permanent Mission of Indonesia to the UN Published in Daily Times, January 19th 2018.