Pakistan right now is caught in a whirlpool of internal and external crises. Internally, the country is suffering from the adverse repercussions of bad governance leading to widespread poverty, corruption, growing extremism, incidents of terrorism, high level of unemployment, inflation and economic stagnation. Externally, the shortcomings of our foreign policy have been highlighted by a series of crises in our relations with the US during the current year, starting with the Raymond Davis affair and ending with the murderous Nato attack on our checkposts on November 26. The relationship was punctuated by other crises including the US Abbottabad operation to get Osama bin Laden (OBL) and the memogate issue. Most of these crises in our relations with the US were linked in one way or the other with our Afghanistan policy.

While the incompetence and the unprecedented corruption of the present PPP-led government had a lot to do with the internal and external crises, it would be unfair to hold it alone responsible for the predicament in which Pakistan finds itself. In particular, the foreign policy crises confronting the nation were mostly the legacy of the Musharraf government and the stranglehold that the Pakistan army has maintained on our Afghanistan, India and US policies, since the days of Ziaul Haq.

Similarly, our internal economic difficulties can be traced back to repeated military interventions and the consequent lopsided priorities, resulting in the allocation of most of the nation’s resources to the military at the cost of economic progress of the country and welfare of the common man.

By way of example, it would be interesting to note that during the current financial year, out of the expected net revenue receipts of the federal government of Rs1,528 billion, an amount of Rs718 billion - that is, almost 50 percent - has been allocated for military expenditure! And this does not include the amount that may be received from the US in the form of Coalition Support Funds (CSF) for our military and the services rendered. As against that, a miniscule amount of Rs300 billion has been allocated for development purposes in the federal budget for the current financial year and the indications are that even that amount may be slashed to meet non-developmental expenditure on the military. In such a situation, how can one talk about the acceleration of economic growth and amelioration of poverty in the country.

The current situation is untenable to put it mildly. There is an urgent need for a radical change both in our internal priorities and policies, as well as in the direction and substance of our external policies. As far as our internal situation is concerned, perhaps, our most serious problem is that as a nation we have been living far beyond our resources for a long time, both because of the high level of our military expenditure and the unsustainably high standard of living that our elite, including top politicians, senior officers of the armed forces and the civilian bureaucracy, feudal landlords and others have adopted. The net result is an extremely low level of national saving rate (13.8 percent of GDP in 2010-11), which translates itself into a low level of national investment rate and virtual economic stagnation.

Our lopsided national priorities have resulted in high levels of military expenditure, leaving little for economic development and the welfare of the common man in the federal budget, as explained above. They have also led us into a debt trap. In the federal budget for the current financial year, debt servicing and the military expenditure alone will claim an amount of Rs1,752 billion exceeding by far the net revenue receipts of Rs1,528 billion. That is to say almost one-third of the unproductive military expenditure will be financed through loans, in addition to the expenditure on the running of the civil government, thus rapidly increasing our debt liability. These are the tell-tale signs of the making of a gigantic fiscal disaster, unless we change course and mend our ways.

What we need to do is to tighten our belts and learn to live within our resources like a dignified nation. We must raise our national saving rate from 13 percent to about 30 percent, at least to accelerate economic growth and improve the lot of the common man. However, this cannot be done unless our elite classes, especially our leaders, adopt a simple lifestyle. Those who live in palaces and own chateaus abroad cannot provide the leadership that the country needs. They will have to change their ways if they want to remain relevant to the political future of the country. Henceforth, austerity and self-reliance must be our national mottos. While this change in our lifestyle is essential, it is not enough. We also need to correct our national priorities. We must adopt economic progress and the enhancement of the welfare of the people, at large, as the supreme national objective, as China did under Deng Xiaoping leading to its phenomenal economic growth. Everything else must be subordinated to this supreme national objective, including the conduct of foreign relations and the formulation and execution of our military strategy.

For controlling our military expenditure, we will have to reformulate our national security strategy placing well balanced emphasis on the political, diplomatic, economic and military dimensions of security, instead of our past practice of putting exaggerated emphasis on the military dimension at the expense of the political, diplomatic and economic ones. This will require the pursuit of a firm, but non-provocative approach in our relations with the rest of the world, particularly our neighbours, avoiding the Kargil-type adventures. In the case of Afghanistan we should avoid the mistakes of our Afghan policy of 1990s, while supporting an Afghan-led peace process. Our relations with the US must be in accordance with the dictates of national interest and dignity. Needless to say that in general our foreign policy must be rooted in ground realities at national, regional and international levels. We must take firm steps at the national level to get rid of the jihadi culture, which has given birth to non-State actors with the capability to operate autonomously to the detriment of our national security. We should continue to take firm action against Al-Qaeda and its affiliated terrorist organisations. The dismal situation, in which the country finds itself now, is primarily the result of our deeply flawed national security strategy. A change in it is a must for putting the country on the path of a prosperous and peaceful future.

The rule of law and observance of the principle of merit are essential conditions for good governance, for the provision of justice to the people and the ending of corruption. They are also indispensable for the strengthening of State institutions, like Pakistan Railways, PIA and Pakistan Steel Mills. The future of the country depends in the ultimate analysis on the way we bring up our future generations. There cannot be anything better for our future than invest in the education and health of our children. Unfortunately, these are precisely the sectors that our governments have ignored in the past. The need of the hour is to bring our national expenditure on education and health up to international norms.

It is relatively easy to chalk out a plan for rescuing the country from its present predicament. The more difficult part is its implementation. It is here that the real problem lies. Our leaders, both political and military, have unfortunately failed to come up to the mark in the past. Pakistan’s real problem is not the dearth of talent, but leadership.

    The writer is a retired ambassador.