Machiavelli in his acclaimed book of statecraft, The Prince, presciently remarks that in a regional contest for domination between two actors, a third party should side with the underdog so as not to give the hegemon unbridled sway across the region. If Iran goes down in flames, who will be most affected? A question that should be giving sleepless nights to Pakistan’s strategic policymakers. The heat from a raging blaze inside a neighbour’s house is bound to affect you. The disastrous spillover of the intractable Afghan imbroglio inside Pakistan, since 1979, is a case in point. In the recent meeting between President Trump and Prime Minister Khan, the US President pulled no punches in regard to a conflict with Iran and exhibited a frighteningly nonchalant attitude towards mass-scale destruction. The two countries were dangerously close to an all-out conflict when Iran shot down a US drone a few weeks ago over the Strait of Hormuz. Certain regional actors, Israel et al, have been clamoring for a war with Iran for years now. A planted incident can easily unleash hell and serve as a valid casus bello. Iran has alleged that United States harbours intentions for a regime change in Tehran. Iranians have yet to forget the overthrow of the nationalist Mossadeq regime by CIA and MI-6 organised coup in 1953. Nationalisation of the oil industry by Mossadeq was a gross overstepping and he was replaced with a pliable Shah who was to ensure that Iran would do Washington’s bidding if and when needed. A bellicose US and a trigger-prone Tehran serve as the perfect elements to ignite a devastating conflict. No one can doubt Washington’s ability to wipe away Iran’s conventional military forces but a long drawn out asymmetrical warfare can be predicted due to Tehran’s vast arsenal of proxies. Another Afghanistan, another endless war, another endless cycle of violence and tragedy. Pakistan is hardly able to cope with the ramifications of an undying conflict on the Afghanistan border, handling yet another conflict on the Iranian front along with its baggage would be nigh impossible for an already overstretched security apparatus. PM Imran Khan’s trip to Washington is being hailed for re-setting the ties between the ex-allies. The PM was able to effect a volte-face from President Trump on Pakistan, and the US President upheld Pakistan’s primacy vis-a-vis Afghan political solution. The security ties between Pentagon and GHQ are also in line to be restored, and for now a convergence of interests is in the offing. Good relationships demand quid pro quos, and if the USA resumes security reimbursements, and wards off FATF blacklisting along with playing a constructive role in Indo-Pak dialogue then it would certainly expect that, in case of a conflict with Iran, Pakistan would not only support its stance in the international forums but also act as an ally. Thus, Pakistani policymakers should keep a weather eye on the developing situation in the Persian Gulf and devise a comprehensive policy which can effectively deal with all aspects of a fast un-raveling nightmare. While formulating such a policy the following aspects may be kept in mind:The historically transactional nature of Pak-US relations. The superpower is predisposed towards abdicating her responsibilities and commitments once her objectives are achieved.Pakistan’s would-be response if the US demands logistical support. The government should be able to get a clear message across Washington that Pakistan’s interests are best guarded by neutrality.The leverage that the US and her allies (Saudi Arabia, UAE) command over Pakistan’s fiscal situation. US influence is imperative in securing IMF bailouts, while a blacklisting by the FATF would seriously hamper the country’s economic progress. Moreover, would Pakistan be able to navigate recurrent financial deficits without the help of financial bailouts extended by our friends in the Arabian Peninsula?Oil prices, in all possibilities, would skyrocket in case of a conflict in the Strait of Hormuz through which a fifth of the world’s oil supply passes. How would Pakistan ensure a steady oil supply and handle the resulting current account deficit due to high oil prices.Pakistan can ill afford to offend another neigbhour. It would only be to the country’s detriment if more space is allowed to India on Pakistan’s western borders.The country’s sizeable Shia community has strong spiritual affinity with Iran. If Pakistan is perceived as supporting the US, Shia militias inside the country may retaliate. Pakistan would also have to ensure that no Pakistani citizen is caught in the conflict by taking a side.The country has been hosting millions of Afghan refugees for years now, and can hardly afford to host millions more. A US-Iran conflict can lead to a humanitarian crisis and the country should be well prepared to deal with the fallout.The coming times would test the mettle of Pakistan’s leadership, and the country should be forearmed to handle all possible eventualities.