Amazing things are happening with our benighted country. We are a nuclear power. But our recognition in the comity of nations today is only as a "breeding ground" for extremism and militancy and as a country afflicted with a culture of violence and terrorism. No wonder the world now calls us the "most violent and most unsafe" country in the world and also the "most dangerous nation" on earth. Pakistan is now also seen as "the single greatest challenge" facing the next American President. These are most unwanted distinctions for any country in the world. Pakistan in its sixty-year history had never suffered such negative global perception. How did all this happen? The nation wonders how a country that came into being in the name of Islam, the religion that stands for peace, equality, tolerance, fraternity and the brotherhood of man, became the breeding ground for extremism and violence. The events of 9/11 were no doubt a critical threshold for our country but it was General Musharraf's personalised decisions that represented the real and ominous turning point in our history. Thanks to Musharraf, today, we are no longer an independent state. Last nine years have indeed been an embarrassing and excruciating period for our nation. Terrorism-related problems have placed us on the global radar screen, giving Pakistan the unenviable distinction of being one of the epochal "frontlines of the War On Terror." It is now seen as the "ground zero" of this war and also as world's unrivalled "breeding ground" of violence and militancy. Our involvement in this war has only complicated things for us both at home and at regional and global levels circumscribing our sovereignty and freedom of action. Pakistan is now the only Muslim country with an ongoing military operation against its own people. In the process, Pakistan's armed forces have assumed a role that they perhaps had never imagined or conceived as part of their professional training courses and military text books. They are confronted with a double jeopardy. On the one hand, they face a virtual insurgency and guerrilla warfare in tribal areas, and on the other hand, they are helpless in the face of continuing US military incursions inside Pakistan. Our sovereignty and territorial integrity are being violated with impunity. Our freedom of action in our own interest is being questioned and undermined. We are seen both as the problem and the key to its solution. Today, Pakistan's name instantly raises fear and concern. Our image is being tarnished by unabated wave of terrorism and violence including recurring and some high-profile suicidal attacks. All those killed in these ghastly attacks, civilian or military, were Pakistanis. We are killing ourselves. The world watches us with anxiety and disbelief living as we are with almost daily suicidal attacks killing innocent people. We are not even ashamed of this new contemptible feature of our society. We are also being unmindful to what our own religion enjoins upon us. According to the Holy Quran, those who kill innocent people are doomed to eternal punishment (25:68-69), and "whosoever slays an innocent person...it is as if he had slain humanity altogether" (5:32). And it is in this context that global concerns over the "safety" of our nuclear assets are also mounting. They will not go as long as we are weak and vulnerable. The world fears an extremist political deluge in Pakistan. We must understand the gravity of the problem and make a serious and selfless effort to identify and then quickly address the core of the problem. Our problems are not those of foreign policy; our problems are domestic and rooted in our governance failures. It is time to move decisively in correcting the basics of our governance. An ostrich-like attitude will not do. We must avoid reaching points of no return. Excessive use of military force and indiscriminate killings instead of addressing the root causes is not only bringing the government and the armed forces on the wrong side of the people but also weakening the very cause of the War On Terror. We cannot afford any more 1971-like tragedies and national debacles. But we seem to be repeating the same mistakes. The military campaign is only widening the popular 'support base' of terrorists who are no friends of mankind. Even worse is the new thoughtless approach to get the people involved on the side of the army in the form of Lashkars in its military operations. We are dividing the nation in two adversarial blocks between the so-called "moderates and extremists." This is a recipe for intra-state implosion and might unleash an uncontrollable civil war in the country. We are heading towards re-enactment of state-sponsored May 12 tragedies in our villages and cities. It is time we woke up to the real challenges. Pakistan is being weakened methodically by keeping it engaged on multiple external as well as domestic fronts. We are being ingeniously torn apart brick by brick with the ultimate goal of taking out, in a worst case scenario, our nuclear capability. We would be best advised to change au priorit the world's perception of our country, which surely has many reasons and assets other than terrorism and violence to be recognised as a responsible member of the international community. Extremism has never been our creed. Extremists in Pakistan have never had a political base in our country until General Musharraf propped them up as a political force to be shown to his low IQ benefactor in Washington as a "scare crow" for remaining in power with US support. In fact, he not only undermined the larger cause of the War On Terror but also brought our own country to the brink of an apocalyptic cliff where we stand now in great peril. One thing is clear. All these problems that we now face have nothing to do with our foreign policy or security issues. Our problems are rooted in our domestic failures and have been aggravated by decades of internal struggle for power and privilege, long spells of military rule, inept political leadership, institutional paralysis, incessant corruption, and general aversion to the rule of law. Our foremost priority should be domestic consolidation through good governance and restoration of genuine democracy, institutional integrity, and rule of law in the country. 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. A special remedial effort is needed to address the causes of 'injustice and instability' in our country and to purge our society of extremism and militancy which have crept into its ranks due to frequent political breakdowns, military takeovers and institutional paralyses. Instead of repeating Musharraf's "command performance" and using brute military force against its own people, the present elected government must engage them politically through the country's political and tribal influentials. We must not ignore the root causes of terrorism. To address the root causes is not to justify terrorism but to diagnose it and then to overcome it. We can kill or capture terrorists; disrupt their operations; destroy their organisations; but unless we prevent others from following their path, we cannot eliminate terrorism. To win the war against terrorism, we must win the hearts and minds of those who are susceptible to sympathise and support the tactics of terrorism. There is no substitute to dialogue. Even the US after wasting several years in its botched war in Afghanistan and Iraq now accepts as the only solution to the problem. The Saudis are being encouraged to negotiate with Afghanistan's Taliban. Why can't we talk to the people in our tribal areas? We must free our society of "hatred, violence, fear and frustration. We need an environment of mutual tolerance and accommodation through genuine national reconciliation and sincerity of common purpose. And do not look for outside help to save you from the current "failed state" syndrome. There will be no Marshall Plans for you. No one will come, not even the so-called "Friends of Pakistan" to keep you off this peril. Tighten your belts and stop living beyond means on borrowed money. Give up Marco Polo culture. Restore your own credibility. Reduce government spending and borrowing. Concentrate on increasing agricultural and industrial output. Focus on law and order to stop capital flight. A serious and purposeful 'national effort' rising above factional interests is needed to avert the country's drift towards unseen times. This 'national effort' involving major political leaders and key civil society segments must quickly evolve a remedial plan before it is too late. The writer is a former foreign secretary and senior political analyst