At a seminar the other day in Lahore, a group of distinguished personalities and "intellectuals" representing different segments of life addressed themselves to probing the question of the "gathering storm" in Pakistan. No one, not even the organisers of the seminar knew exactly which "gathering storm" were they talking about. Each one of them had a different view, and tried to draw his own conclusions on Pakistan's dilemmas with very little clarity on what really is wrong with this country or what after all is at the roots of our incessant crises and challenges. Most of them did not see beyond their nose. India, the US and in their context the question of terrorism were the limiting lines of their "gathering storm." None of them had the memory sharp enough to focus on the crucial happenings of the last couple of years which had drastically transformed our country's political and economic landscape throwing it into a deep multi-dimensional crisis. Very few of them spoke about the domestic failures and governance shortcomings of our successive rulers including the long spells of military rule that have in fact kept our benighted country hostage to a praetorian curse. None of the distinguished participants except the former Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri and CPNE Chief Arif Nizami had the wholesome comprehension and some basic solutions to offer. Both wanted the in-power political parties to get their act together before it is too late. Both spoke of inherent weaknesses in our domestic policies and priorities, and insisted the democratic system to be allowed to continue uninterrupted, and no one, not even the politicians themselves, should undermine it. They genuinely believed Pakistan would be better off with a strong and stable democratic political dispensation which in Kasuri's view required a "strong" opposition, and in Nizami's view was essentially predicated on the repeal of the Seventeenth Amendment as a pre-requisite to the country's return to genuine democracy. They were right. Things will never function normally in the absence of a strong opposition and in the continued presence of a military dictator's "worn out shoes" as integral power paraphernalia at the presidency. Two of the Track Two "peace-veterans" with military background also spoke with some flair of eloquence and conviction. One of them has always struggled for coherence, and narrated how he had been convincing his Indian interlocutors of Pakistan's good intentions. The other vociferously ruled out the premise that India might have itself engineered the Mumbai attacks to divert the global focus from Kashmir, and insisted that it was our own "boys" who had done the "heinous crime." He said we must "tackle" them. But he did not say how. Few others found it convenient as is our national pattern now to blame America for all our woes and wiles. We never admit our own failings. Another participant saw the "gathering storm" only in our "over-stretched foreign policy" and our excessive reliance as a strategic asset on religion-based violence and militancy. He was right but he ignored the stark reality. Extremism has never been our creed. Pakistan came into being as a premier Islamic State with a moderate, liberal and progressive outlook. The Quaid also bequeathed to us a clear roadmap as a "modern and democratic" state based on democracy, rule of law, religious freedom and communal harmony. Who threw us into the dark hole of extremism and violence? Our own rulers. Why? Just to ensure there was no threat to their power. They could not afford an educated people and framed their priorities to keep them illiterate. Pakistan became the hot-bed of a state-sponsored jihadi culture which continues to afflict our society in different forms of violence and terrorism. The scary face of militancy and fanaticism placed on our nation's shoulders has deeply impacted on the personality and outlook of our nation. The global profile that we now carry is largely because of the centrality of our role first in letting loose the monster and now in failing to rein in back. We need courage to acknowledge that there is something fundamentally wrong with our governance. Crime and corruption are rampant. Justice is non-existent. Aversion to the rule of law is endemic. There is no law and order in the country. Our economy is in shamble. The national integrity system and its institutional mechanisms including the judiciary inspire no confidence among our people. Common man is suffering the worst ever hardship. Abuse of authority and actions prejudicial to the dignity of public office are endemic to our entire governmental system. No one, not even those in the highest of places in the political and administrative hierarchy, can claim clean hands. There could be no safer haven in the world today than our "land of the pure" for known looters, murderer and killers. No other country is familiar with the normatic practice of forgiving as a matter of rule the elite loan-defaulters and the highly placed plunderers of national exchequer. We have lost credibility as a state. No one trusts us even with cash. We no longer have freedom of action in our own interest. We have stripped ourselves of sovereign independence. We as a nation have not only failed to grapple with these challenges but are in fact living remorselessly with these problems as an "integral" part of our society. Our country is today the classic example of ingenuities for bribery, exchange of favours and illegitimate perquisites. Unfortunately, since their independence, the people of Pakistan have been exploited in the name of ideology and external threats with no attention paid to their socio-economic wellbeing. They have had no role in determining the course of their history or the direction of their country's political, economic and social policies. No government ever formulated a national agenda encompassing priorities to address their legitimate problems and genuine needs. Our domestic failures have seriously constricted our foreign policy options. The absence of democracy and good governance is our problem. The fault-line of Pakistan's "gathering storm" lies in this gross domestic failure. It has nothing to do with our foreign policy. It is the "crisis of governance" that has destroyed our country and its ethos. In fact, there is no foreign policy in the absence of good governance. A country's foreign policy, and the way it is made and pursued is inextricably linked to its domestic policies, governance issues and socio-economic and political situation. And domestically, Pakistan's post-independence political history has been replete with endemic crises and challenges that perhaps no other country in the world has experienced. We were never able to live at peace with ourselves or with the outside world. But never did we realise that for a perilously located country, domestically as unstable and unpredictable as ours, there were not many choices. Yet we fought costly wars and suffered territorial setbacks. We lost half the country, and yet learnt no lessons. We are a crisis-ridden state. We have still not recovered from the constitutional crisis precipitated in March 2007 by General Musharraf's assault in one stroke on the constitution, the judiciary, the media and the people all together. As if the crises ranging from militancy and terrorism, from the "rule of tooth and claw" to food and power shortages were not enough, we now find ourselves in perilous economic straits and deepening governance crises. There is no decision-making. We continue to have a serious leadership crisis. This is the real "gathering storm" that escaped attention at the seminar under reference. We do have an elected civilian president co-chairing the largest people-based political party. But democracy is nowhere in sight or in practice. Our present "neither-parliamentary-nor-presidential" system is without parallel in political philosophy or contemporary history. The closest we could trace something alike is perhaps the Cromwellian era of the seventeenth century known for its erratic political experiments. What distinguishes us is even more erratic a feature. Our elected president continues to wear the old shoes of his military predecessor in the form of the notorious Seventeenth Amendment. In the absence of genuine democracy and independence of judiciary, the causes of 'injustice and instability' will persist. No state has ever succeeded externally if it is weak and crippled domestically. Even a superpower, the former Soviet Union could not survive as a superpower only because it was domestically weak in political and economic terms. One thing is clear. All these problems that we now face have nothing to do with our foreign policy or security issues. In the ultimate analysis, our problems are not external. They are domestic and rooted in our governance failures. They are the result of our leadership infirmities and governance "miscarriages." Unless we overcome these deficiencies and consolidate ourselves politically, economically and socially, we will never manage to rise above the "gathering storm." The writer is a former foreign secretary