For a Pakistani a visit to the United States, where I happen to be these days on a private visit, is in many ways a study in contrasts - a contrast in the way the individuals think and function, in the way the society is organized politically and economically and in the way they view the rest of the world. Having served here in Washington and New York on diplomatic assignments in the past and having visited the US several times subsequently, I am reasonably familiar with this country and its people - both their strong and weak points. Still every visit to the US is in some ways an opportunity for exploration and discovery. That is how I look at my current visit to Texas, perhaps one of the fastest growing states of this amazing country. The moment one arrives in the United States, one is struck by the wide divergence in the individual morality of the peoples of Pakistan and this country. The individual freedom, which is taken for granted in the US and which enables the American people to question and criticize the inherited wisdom, is unimaginable in Pakistan where the individual's creativity and potential for self-development are suppressed from the very beginning under the force of dogmas and clichs. The respect for the individual's freedom and the nurturing of his creativity are the basis of the dynamism and progress of the US. In contrast, our tendency to discourage freedom of thought and to emphasize conformism as against change and innovation both at home and in school is perhaps the single most important factor responsible for the stagnation of our society. Of course, there is a downside to this freedom which has led to loose sexual morals complicating the life of the individual, the family and the society in the US. It remains to be seen whether and how the American society is able to overcome the negative consequences of the excesses of the individual freedom. The answer to this question will play an important role in determining the future evolution of the American society. The emphasis on the individual freedom is also reflected in the way the American society is organized politically and economically. Respect for the individual's pursuit of liberty and happiness is a cardinal principle of the American politics. The natural corollary of this principle is the emphasis on the protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the functioning of the American polity. The election of Barrack Obama, an afro-American, to the highest political office of the land has shown conclusively that the American society has finally overcome the contradictions in its midst because of racial discrimination and that the civil rights movement has scored a major victory. One is also struck by the rule of law in the American polity in which nobody is above the law and everybody is considered equal in the eyes of law. There are numerous instances in the American society in which the high and the mighty were not able to escape the iron hand of the law and were ultimately made to face the consequences of their transgressions. This is in a marked contrast with the situation in Pakistan where the members of the ruling elite consider themselves to be above the law. We are daily confronted with instances in which the powerful members of the society violate the law with impunity. The most pertinent example is that of retired General Pervez Musharraf, who was guilty of repeated violations of the law and the constitution, and is now comfortably installed in his apartment in London purchased through questionable means. The examples of our MNA's, MPA's and other members of the ruling hierarchy resisting the application of law to them because of minor or serious crimes, and getting away with those violations of law are too numerous to be recounted. It is ironical that this should be happening among the followers of Islam, which teaches equality before law. Pakistan's political future will remain bleak as long as we do not apply the principle of the rule of law in our individual and collective lives. In the economic sphere, the emphasis on free enterprise and competition has been the engine of growth and progress of the United States catapulting it as the most advanced economy in the world. As pointed out by me in my last article (Is the US on the decline? The Nation, 4th August), reports of the decline of the US have been greatly exaggerated. By way of comparison, the per capita GDP for the US is currently estimated to be $48,400 as against $1000 approximately for Pakistan. The total gross domestic product of the US is about $14.8 trillion as against $152 billion for Pakistan. The US physical and social infrastructure is far more advanced than anything that we can boast of in Pakistan. But the emphasis on individualism has also resulted in extreme inequalities of income and wealth in the US. Side by side with the extremely rich, there are also the poor in this country. There are some similarities between Pakistan and the US in terms of inequalities of income and wealth. However because of the much higher GDP per capita, an average American is able to maintain a much better standard of living than an average Pakistani. The recent financial crisis has brought home to the US government and the public the inadequacies of the free market system and the need for strengthening the regulatory mechanisms to ensure that the market functions in the best interest of the society. There is also a growing realization of the need for stronger affirmative action in social sectors, especially in the provision of educational and health facilities, than was the case in the past to provide equality of opportunity and to counter the consequences of the market's tendency to produce wide disparities in income and wealth. Still my feeling is that the American system will remain market friendly because the free market system remains the real source of the strength of the US economy. In contrast, in Pakistan we have historically neglected the state's responsibility to ensure equality of opportunity to its citizens. Successive governments in Pakistan have also neglected education and health by allocating a very low proportion of our national resources to these vital sectors on which the progress of the country and the well-being of its people depends. One would have assumed that Pakistan is taking full advantage of the attractive opportunities for increasing our exports that the huge US economy and its high level of imports from the rest of the world amounting to $2103 billion in 2008 offers. Unfortunately that is not the case. Whereas Pakistan's exports to the US remained more or less stagnant at about $3577 million in 2007 and $3591 million in 2008, those from Bangladesh increased from $3432 million in 2007 to $3748 million in 2008. While the shopping malls in Texas are flooded with textiles from China, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, there are hardly any textile imports from Pakistan to be seen there. This does not speak highly of the performance of our government and business community, especially our textile manufacturers and exporters. There is an obvious and urgent need for new policy initiatives to rectify the situation. But this can't be done merely with our Commerce Minister visiting the Virgin Islands, known more for touristic attractions than anything else. The writer is a retired ambassador E-mail: