Pakistan is a black hole for American aid,” said Gary L. Ackerman during a House Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee hearing, recently: “Our tax dollars go in. Our diplomats go in, sometimes. Our hopes go in. Our prayers go in. Nothing good ever comes out.” During the past decade, he added: “We have sunk $24 billion in foreign assistance into Pakistan. It is hard to fathom how so much money can buy so little.”Here, Ackerman has unwittingly used the right language. All this money was meant to “buy” support. This comes quite close to bribing a nation, on a large scale. Ackerman, I am sure, knows well that almost 50 percent of this aid goes back to the USA one way or the other through contracts, consultations and underhand dealings. And how much the trumpeted Kerry-Lugar-Burman Act has actually yielded? Not even half of it – doled out in driblets, to the chosen state and non-state operators.As for calling Pakistan a black hole which keeps swallowing everything that comes its way, one may also look at the way billions of loans (in four years doubled) have disappeared - literally sucked in! The government’s own latest Economic Survey says it all. Some headlines in yesterday’s (Friday) papers: Government misses all targets, trade deficit up by 14.5 percent, inflation 10.8 percent, current account deficit $3.39 billion, power crisis mounting by the minute, GDP growth 3.7 percent against the target of 4.2 percent. Strange that Rs 1.2 trillion are stated to have been injected into the power sector, while the loadshedding crisis has deepened with violent protest held almost all over the country. Foreign direct investment already very low has dwindled by 48.3 percent. The Finance Minister admitted that the power crisis was causing a loss of 2 percent of GDP annually. The survey is mum about the billions being spent on the war on terror and a reference to the increase in the poverty figures is altogether missing. Mention may also be made of the steep fall in the value of the Pakistani rupee, which is selling for Rs 94 to a US dollar.The energy debate does not just hit the economy and makes the already stressed lives of the people more miserable, it also feeds into unending terrorism that takes its own toll day after day. The Washington Post May 31 report thus quotes Sherani - a well known Pakistani economist: “The energy crisis is a fertile breeding ground for extremism and insurgency against the state. You see huge demonstrations, the people are jobless and the businesses have shut down - so that is like playing into the hands of extremists. It is serving their cause.”One may well wonder what would have the Islamabad rulers done to this luckless country if the Supreme Court had not become independent and proactive. And if the media had not exposed the shenanigans of our power-wielders! Just look how they have messed up the law and order in Balochistan and Karachi where all power has remained concentrated in the PPP coalition governments. Sans sense of loss (Ehsas-e-Zia, as Iqbal puts it) and without any sense of shame targeted killings go on and on and nobody resigns. How indeed Pakistan has been dragged down to the level of some of the violence-drenched countries in Africa and parts of Latin America?No wonder our smartly dressed and groomed President was publicly “snubbed” by his host-counterpart in Chicago. He was deliberately dressed down when he was called to a meeting with the US Secretary of State. Repeated efforts to seek a formal meeting with President Barack Obama were rejected. And inside the country our Prime Minister, along with a hard-collar-bound Interior Minister, keeps bragging about the fabulous achievements of the government. How fanciful they and their camp-followers are, indeed! Look how they persist in pooh-poohing (and defying) the court verdicts with a view to protecting their boss. Looking back one can well realise why Mr Asif Zardari repeatedly broke his pledges, oral and written, to restore the deposed judges. How, indeed, he kept on making a fool of Mr Nawaz Sharif. One may not fully accept Imran Khan’s jibe that Zardari and Nawaz confrontation is just “noora kushti”. The fact remains that Nawaz allowed himself to play into the hands of Zardari and let him have his way. If there is one single person to be held responsible for most of the ills in this hapless country, it is Mian Nawaz Sharif. He failed to see that right from the start, the PPP leadership was covertly (and later overtly) striving systematically to weaken, if not altogether destroy the PML-N leadership.Another serious mistake that Nawaz made was the slow and unimaginative pace of mobilisation of the anti-PPP political groups. Here too he woke up a little too late! Had he been politically wise, sensing the expected rise of Imran Khan, he should have gone out of the way to win him over, even if he had to offer a hundred apologies for his acts of omission and commission. He has seen the light now and his initiatives in Sindh and Balochistan are quite commendable. Zardari, with all his tainted past and low ratings in Pakistan and abroad, has played his cards most shrewdly and despite the wrongs emanating from him, he deserves credit for managing to carry on and keep himself and his governments afloat. A plethora of deep-set problems and formidable challenges stare at our benighted country. Which of these merit the utmost priority attention, is not easy to determine: a collapsing economy, an alienated and fractured Balochistan, the violence-ridden metropolitan city of Karachi, an electricity-starved industry, continuing breakdown of law and order, deepening misery and frustration of the people with desperate men, women and children resorting to suicides, with the hydra-headed monster of corruption eating into the vitals of the nation, with fissiparous tendencies rearing heads in the form of new provinces, with terrorism taking its heavy toll in Fata and other places and, perhaps, the most baffling of all the challenges, the fast deteriorating relationship with the sole superpower of the day.While each of these national issues need to be addressed expeditiously, in my view, the most urgent of these is the resolution of our widening differences with the USA. As I suggested in my last column, let a delegation consisting of our most prestigious and sagacious political, legal and media luminaries be sent to the USA to hold meetings with Congressmen, think tanks, media channels and influentials as well as senior administration decision makers. The delegation should carry a well prepared brief equipped with options to settle the thorny issues, which have bedevilled relations between the two erstwhile “friends” and “allies”. The writer is an ex-federal secretary and ambassador, and political and international relations analyst.Email: pacade@brain.net.pk