Pakistan has reached a watershed in its relations with the USA. In the process, we are maturing to a status of responsibility and dignity as a nation. It gives us an excellent opportunity to revisit the whole gamut of Pak-US relations. Chinese Deputy Premiers visit fitted in well the prevalent environment. The brinkmanship has ended when the USA blinked first. It appears a rather simplistic explanation of this grave standoff, but it is a consolation that Pakistan could endure the battle of nerves. But can we sustain and channelise the groundswell of patriotic feelings into a more durable mode? For a decade or so, we are being conditioned through adroit perception management to develop a low self-image as a nation. Whenever, a calamity hits Pakistan, a barrage of negativity is unleashed only picking on the faults and failures. The masses were being deprived of the most precious virtue: Hope. The spontaneous and broad-based response to the US coercion has surprised many, including its perpetrators. But is it really a paradigm shift? How to sustain the sentiment and attitude? There are relevant questions surfacing in a confusing environment of weak inner front and diametrically opposite opinions. On the plus side, the moral and legal climate in Pakistan has registered a quantum change through proactive engagement of the superior court on critical national issues. Most praiseworthy is its initiative in Karachi, fully supported by the media and the armed forces, which had brought appreciable degree of normalcy. This paradigm seems to emerge as the cutting edge for change in a decaying socio-political environment in Pakistan. It can be repeated with equal promise of success, elsewhere. The medias responsible application of its immense power has lent it greater authenticity and enhanced influence in shaping public opinions. For a year or so, the establishment in Pakistan, particularly the armed forces, has been articulating a strategy of national interest first, in defiance of US pressure to suit its exit strategy. As a matter of professional practice, they would have war gamed many scenarios, including the worst case possibility and evolved response options. As a sequel to this brainstorming, a series of contacts with China, Saudi Arabia and Iran and easing tensions with India ensued. Even with Pakistans considerable support, the US is losing the war in Afghanistan, which has clouded its judgment and divided its leadership. Divergent personal and group interests had found it convenient to make Pakistan the scapegoat. The unfortunate AfPak hyphenation had implicitly extended the theatre of war to FATA. Since then Pakistan is fighting a debilitating war within its own territory. (This is the rub.) Now we are being made responsible for the US war in Afghanistan as well. Pakistan had all along clearly enunciated to fight its war against terrorism, suiting its military operational capacity, selecting its own military objectives and retaining liberty of action in choosing the time, place and quantum of application. After all, it is not operating under US-NATO command. Both had developed tacit agreement on these lines, which has been scuttled by extraordinary US demands and the manner in which they have been articulated. Much had been talked, speculated and theorised as to why the US has abruptly and arbitrarily changed stance to open hostility. It can be said that prior to the OBL raid, Pakistan had overestimated its strength. But after the incident, the US is seriously underestimating Pakistan. Three fundamental truths must be embraced by the US to forge a new equation of cooperation with Pakistan. First, the Haqqani network is not a lone warrior; it is part of a holistic insurgency effort headed by Mullah Omer. Second, the network or at least its operational arms has already relocated to Afghanistan. Rogue elements in the garb of Taliban have been launched from the Afghan safe havens to traumatise Pakistan through subversion and suicide attacks; we have been nursing our wounds silently. Lastly, Pakistan is not responsible for the safety of allied troops, their embassies or the vicissitude in their war against the mujahideen in Afghanistan. As a nation, we failed to comprehend US insistence on expecting Pakistan to fight their war to their desired end state. Hence, the response from Pakistan is strong, broad based and spontaneous, and equal and opposite to the harsh demands. Let it be forgotten that Pakistan has the moral advantage of a defender safeguarding its integrity and sovereignty from a much bigger power. Being pro-Pakistan does not necessarily mean being anti-US. It is an honour to flaunt our patriotism. Hence, there is such a wave of support for Pakistans stance that no leader of substance can opt to ignore. But the question is: How to manage, institutionalise, synergise and articulate these feelings into a bulwark of resistance? It is possible through reducing the hype, cooling the temperatures, and rationalising and legitimising our response, creating a space for the APC and Parliament to provide leadership followed by all instruments of national power to concentrate on the stated national objectives. So far, the response from ingenious President Zardari, stoic PM Gilani, resolute Hina Rabbani, redoubtable Nawaz Sharif, fiery Imran Khan, pragmatic Fazalur Rehman, obliging irrepressible Altaf Hussain and Asfandyar Wali, is heartening. The APC is a success. It sends the right message of solidarity and national resolve. It has raised the stock of our political leadership much closer to its rightful stature. The nation looks to them for guidance and assurance. The APC has shaped the contours of a broad national response with a long-term perspective. We are facing an existentialist threat. Only a robust, confident and proactive stance can deter it. The riposte must be launched for maximum strategic gains. In an era dominated by asymmetrical wars, conventional battles have rarely been fought since the last three decades. The concept of conflict has entered new realms of aggressive posturing, psychological conditioning, perception management, diplomatic manoeuvring, economic attrition through pressures, sanctions denial regimes and blockades, and the subversion of political and military resistance. At the core of our national response, the armed forces and the ISI have become the prime targets. They are being weakened, maligned, demonised and isolated for some time now. But it has failed to carry. Pakistan must formulate policies and put in place administrative arrangements against a possible economic, financial and energy squeeze orchestrated by the US/West. We do not seem to be well prepared. It can be fatal in the long run. USA is a big power with self-assumed global obligations, capacity for inflicting pain, diplomatic clout and huge military instrument. But no one can browbeat into submission and be made to fight its war, which has put the whole region into a tailspin. The asymmetrical warfare has neutralised Americas formidable military advantage; it is shy of putting more troops on ground, as it is mired in Afghanistan. For the first time, the US leadership appears to be confused and irresolute. The nation is ready to bear the consequences of our strategic defiance, but are the leaders equally prepared to shape and sustain this paradigm shift in our national response? Can they wean themselves away from the US? Can anyone emerge from the crowded deck and lead from the front? (Pakistan is uniquely poised to help architect a win-win dispensation for all the major actors. But the US must acknowledge Pakistans centrality to the regional peace. Nothing can be achieved by marginalising or demonising Pakistan.) The writer is a retired major general.