The critical nature of the security and economic problems facing Pakistan calls for equally resolute and imaginative responses from the country's leadership to steer the country to safety and economic well-being. In the face of this daunting challenge, one is struck by the lackadaisical approach of our leaders which bodes ill for the future of the country. Above all, one notices a general tendency to find answers to our problems in foreign capitals forgetting that the destiny of our nation will be decided primarily by the decisions taken on the home front. The present leadership, which took over the reins of the government at the federal level more than six months ago, is yet to give a sense of direction to the country in the management of its security and economic policies. Instead one views with dismay the spectacle of leaders who are clueless in the face of the serious security and economic problems of the country and who lack any coherent strategy for overcoming them. The impression that one gathers is that of a leadership which is floundering in the morass of incompetence compounded by cronyism and supine kow-towing to foreign powers. Terrorism poses an existential threat to Pakistan's security. However, it must be underscored that while Al-Qaeda subscribes to the ideology of international terrorism and must be dealt with accordingly, the Taliban in Afghanistan despite their commitment to an obscurantist interpretation of Islam are basically fighting for their due share of power in the country following the violent overthrow of their government by the Americans. Washington has been guilty of a blunder of historic proportions by treating Al-Qaeda and the Taliban alike. In their attempt to bludgeon the Taliban into submission, the Americans have alienated most of the Pakhtoons on both sides of the Pak-Afghan border since the Taliban are overwhelmingly Pakhtoons. Considering the fighting traditions of the Pakhtoons who constitute the single largest ethnic community in Afghanistan, it is not surprising that the US and coalition forces in Afghanistan are facing serious problems in their attempt to subdue the Taliban. Unfortunately for Pakistan, Washington's efforts to impose a military solution on Afghanistan to the detriment of the Pakhtoons have sucked their tribal brethren on our side of the border into the fighting in Afghanistan despite the best efforts of the over 100,000 Pakistani troops in FATA and the continued US pressure on Pakistan to do more. This was inevitable in view of the strong ethnic bonds between the tribes living on both sides of the border. The use of force by Pakistan against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban elements in FATA to prevent cross-border incursions of the tribesmen into Afghanistan from our side of the border has resulted in a severe backlash in the form of terrorist incidents all over the country. Thus we are being made to pay for the US blunders in Pakistan. The situation calls for a comprehensive national strategy for combating terrorism based on national consensus following a thorough debate on the subject in the Parliament involving all the political forces in the country as well as the genuine representatives of the tribes in FATA. Fortunately a move in this direction has just been made in the joint session of the Parliament. The new anti-terrorism strategy should be based on three pillars: action on the domestic front, policy vis--vis the US forces in Afghanistan and cooperation with other regional powers. The first and the foremost element of the action on the domestic front should be in the form of an agreement with the leaders of the tribes in FATA and the representatives of the Pakistani Taliban under which the GOP would refrain from the use of force against them while the Taliban would avoid giving protection to Al Qaeda elements and forswear terrorist activities in Pakistan and any attempt to impose their brand of Islam on the rest of the country. The agreement must be combined with substantial development activity in the tribal areas and the grant of maximum autonomy to the tribes to enable them to lead their lives in accordance with their traditions. The transformation of the social and cultural life in FATA should be a long-term objective to be brought about gradually and in a subtle fashion. Armed with such an agreement based on national consensus, we should specify to the Americans both the possibilities and the limitations of cooperation with them in the fight against terrorism. In other words, we should tell them in clear terms what we can do and what is beyond our national capabilities. Obviously we cannot and should not be expected to wreck our national peace and harmony for pleasing the Americans. At the same time we as a sovereign nation must be cognisant of our responsibility to prevent cross-border incursions by our tribesmen into Afghanistan. While we must do our best to shoulder our responsibility, the US and the Afghan government must also take steps to promote national reconciliation and peace in Afghanistan through a new and equitable power-sharing formula by engaging the Taliban and the Pakhtoon tribes in a dialogue. In the absence of such an arrangement, it would be unrealistic to expect that the armed conflict in Afghanistan will come to an end. And as long as the military operations against the Taliban in Afghanistan continue, it would be equally unrealistic to expect the Pakhtoon tribesmen on our side of the border not to go to the help of their tribal brethren in Afghanistan despite our best efforts to stop them. One must welcome recent reports indicating a growing recognition in the US and NATO military and foreign policy establishments of the need to engage the Taliban in a dialogue for the restoration of peace in Afghanistan and of the close linkage between the situations in Afghanistan and our tribal areas. The third pillar of our anti-terrorism strategy should be in the form of an agreement among Afghanistan's neighbours supported by the international community to refrain from interference in its internal affairs, to contribute to the process of national reconciliation in that country and to assist in its developmental programmes. In the absence of such an agreement among the regional countries, the danger is that the situation in Afghanistan will remain disturbed providing a fertile ground to Al-Qaeda to fish in troubled waters. Action on the home front based on national consensus is the most critical element for the development and articulation of the proposed anti-terrorism strategy. If there are deep divisions on this front as is the case at present in Pakistan, the country will fail to overcome the menace of terrorism internally and deal with its external ramifications effectively. Our ability to evolve an effective anti-terrorism policy, which is calculated to serve our national interests, will also depend upon our willingness to adopt a policy of economic self-reliance. A nation given to the habit of approaching foreign governments with a begging bowl to overcome its economic problems cannot be expected to pursue policies based on self-respect and its genuine interests. It is instead at the mercy of foreign governments which can manipulate it to serve their own national interests. Our leaders need to be reminded constantly that the real solution of our economic problems lies on the home front. Foreign assistance can supplement but cannot substitute for effective measures within the country to put us on the trajectory of rapid and sustainable economic growth. In the situation facing the country, austerity at the personal and national levels should be the order of the day enabling us to raise our national saving and investment rates and reduce our dependence on foreign assistance for accelerating our economic growth. It is incumbent upon our leaders to set an example in this regard for the rest of the nation to follow. In addition, the government must take effective steps to penalise ostentatious living styles and severely restrict the import of all non-essential and non-productive items. The writer is a retired ambassador. E-mail: