The events in the region are moving at a faster pace. The Pak-US standoff on operations against the Haqqani network is apparently coming to a head. A series of accusative statements emanating from the US leadership are becoming increasingly bellicose and threatening. Undoubtedly, it is a fast forward nosedive to the rock bottom in their relations with the potential to actualise into direct punitive actions on a wide spectrum spanning multifaceted military, diplomatic, economic and psychological fronts. This all comprehensive squeeze will limit Pakistans options and compress it into a reactive mass. This situation if left unattended can severely curtail the Pakistani leaderships ability to shape response, rationally. In the case of Pakistan, it can lead to a major strategic reorientation as well as disillusionment with and alienation from the US-West combine. Also, this collision course can generate far-reaching consequences for the regional and global balance of power. The irony in USAs approach is that while strategically on the retreat, having declared dilution of military presence in Afghanistan, and contingent upon crafting a viable pro-US dispensation in the region, it is operationally adopting a posture of belligerence against Pakistan (FATA) that holds the key to peace in Afghanistan and the entire region. What, therefore, motivates this incongruous shift in the policy towards its erstwhile trustworthy and potent ally, at this critical juncture? The USAs recent outbursts are so out of sync with time that it has stunned its friends and bewildered its opponents. They have been described as irrational, insensitive, incomprehensible, unfair, unacceptable and destructive by across-the-board leadership of all hues in Pakistan. The US has demanded precipitate action against the Haqqani network, whereas Pakistan has refused to budge so far. Indeed, it is a strategic impasse. However, the US still holds all the cards because of its insistent, pro-active stance. Being a superpower, it has tremendous capacity to inflict punishment through military, diplomatic and economic means, and shape the environment in its favour. It is issuing volleys after volleys in a hurried and uppish manner, which could be typical of the neocon mindset, but not President Barack Obamas or democrats traditional approach to issues. The question is: How far this strategy is synchronised in the US and what is drastically new? It appears that two personalities - General David Patraeus and Leon Panetta - have marginalised and subdued the existing approach to the region. General Patraeus, the new CIA Chief, with presidential aspiration and famous for his 'surge doctrine in Iraq that assiduously articulated through media had provided the allied forces with the necessary fig leaf to declare victory and go home. But the continuing bloody events in Iraq belie this profound claim as well as the operational efficacy of this concept. Equally prone to see things in black and white and asserting his viewpoint is Leon Panetta, who has been elevated from CIA to the position of Secretary of Defence. The duo spearheads the hard drive campaign against Pakistan. Americas failure to accept apparent defeat in Afghanistan, both militarily and diplomatically, with the pull out schedule staring in the face has forced it to conjure the Pak/ISI-Haqqani nexus as the mother of all evils. Meanwhile, Obamas leadership eyeing the second term presidential bid, not a very considerate Congress and an indifferent State Department are happy to take the backseat. So, what could be the various US options? Through military application, it can target FATA and the Haqqani network with aerial action of enhanced weight and concentration. The boots on ground seem to be a non-option, since technically the US countdown out of the operation area has already begun. However, if executed even at a limited scale, it is bound to become a disaster. It will rather concentrate on creating further divisions within the perceived fractured inner front in Pakistan. But its (USAs) aggressive posturing will help to cement the nation (Pakistan) and rise above petty squabbles. Diplomatically, Washington will try to isolate Islamabad. But with assured Chinese veto thwarting such efforts and Pakistans excellent relations with KSA, Turkey, Iran and the Gulf States give it enough breathing space. Economically, the US can slap hurtful sanctions, but they cannot cripple our economy, as we have endured much worse in the past. But what will America gain from this pain therapy? A lingering and durable ground swell of anti-US sentiments in Pakistan, undesirable exit conditions in the AfPak region and undoing of its carefully crafted 10 years of intervention at a huge cost. The countrys disillusionment will create a broadband of assertive States comprising Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey backed by China. In addition, the US is largely misreading the changing times in Asia and the Middle East. This is the Asian resurgence nightmare; the West had dreaded, but now is helping to create through ineptitude. This surely remains the worst case scenario. However, it is still hoped that both sides could workout a compromise formula avoiding impending disaster and rupture of relations. So far, the inner front is showing unanimity and courage of conviction. A resurgent, confident, assertive and glorious Pakistan will be the result of this crucible test. India will be persuaded to heat up the eastern front, and the Line of Control (LoC). But it dare not venture inside Pakistan, as it will be dealt with very harshly by a beleaguered State, and it would, thereafter, never ever dream of reconciliation with it, since such stabs in the back are rarely forgotten. China has recently made certain unprecedented statements in an upfront manner, which underscores its strategic concerns and correct visualisation of events in the region. It is likely to remain proactively engaged. More so, its forward leaning stance will definitely deter India and limit its options. It is the great game being played again; the coveted prize is the CAR, Afghanistan and Pakistans resources. The US intervened in the region to gain access to these resources and deny them to China. Pakistan and Afghanistan are part of this energy and resource corridor; Balochistan and Gwadar Port have become the strategic objectives. Therefore, engaging Pakistan, rather than antagonising it, can and had yielded positive results in the past. Having said that, it is assumed that the US decision making will remain rational, responsible and befitting of a great power that it is. It retains the initiative and can still emerge as a winner through constructive engagement without trampling Pakistans sovereignty and dignity. Otherwise, Pakistan may significantly suffer, but the US will be knocked out of the region. Through default round one will go to China. The writer is a retired major general of the Pakistan Army.