Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has left Islamabad on his latest overseas tour, which will climax with a meeting with US President Barack Obama at the White House on Wednesday.

For Pakistan’s ruling elite, Sharif’s meeting with Obama may open new avenues in terms of economic cooperation. Broadly speaking, the South Asian country is keen to remain a close US ally even after US-led western troops leave Afghanistan next year.

For Islamabad, the relationship with Washington dates back to just after the 9/11 attacks. It has brought significant economic gains, ranging from payments for security-related services in areas along the Afghan border, to outright economic assistance.

Yet, expectations of Washington’s largesse propping up Pakistan are misplaced. The US has just emerged from a partial shutdown of its government caused by a deadlock over budgetary spending. The US has neither the means nor the necessary long-term interest to bail Pakistan out of crisis after crisis given that the country has failed to tackle its growing list of challenges.

Sharif’s departure yesterday was preceded by continuing evidence of his government’s failure to tackle fundamental challenges. The killing of Israrullah Gandapur, the law and parliamentary affairs minister in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, in a suicide attack, came as a powerful reminder of the worsening security situation.

Sharif’s election as prime minister in May was preceded by his public promise to open peace negotiations with the Taliban to end the security nightmare in Pakistan. Though he has continued to defend this controversial position, the challenge posed by continued Taliban attacks has only caused paralysis across Pakistan.

In the recent past, some of the worst attacks eventually linked to Taliban militants have included the targeting of a church in Peshawar as well as other attacks on junior government employees and pedestrians in the city.

Such attacks have reinforced a repeated message from the militants: They have no interest in joining peace talks overseen by Sharif. Many of Sharif’s critics have noted — and rightly so — that pushing a peace agenda at a time when Taliban militants appear to feel that they are clearly on the ascent will not work.

By contrast, a significant weakening of the Taliban prior to such an offer may have brought the militants under sufficient pressure to force them to the negotiating table.

At the same time, Sharif has overseen one of the worst periods of eroding confidence surrounding the country’s already weak economy. Recent events such as a widespread public outcry over a staggering tariff increase for low-income electricity consumers and the slide of the Pakistani rupee, in part thanks to an acceleration of an ongoing flight of capital from the country, are clear pointers towards this trend. Together, these events provide evidence of an accumulation of policy failures surrounding the country’s national security and economy.

If indeed Sharif is serious about taking charge and giving a new direction to the country, he must first recognise that he needs to put his own house in order urgently. The trip to Washington may be a timely opportunity to meet with Obama, but that will not solve the accumulation of difficult challenges on his plate.

Tackling Pakistan’s many issues is all the more vital at a time when the nuclear-armed country remains surrounded by rapidly mounting stakes involving important global players.

By this time next year, the US-led western troops are likely to begin marching out of Afghanistan, leaving behind a country invaded under orders from former US president George W. Bush.

But more than a decade after the New York terrorist attacks prompted an all-out invasion of Afghanistan, the US is poised to leave practically without securing a victory. Instead, and tragically for the US, the Afghan venture has left behind a colossal bill of war-related costs.

For Pakistan, the Afghan conflict not only involves past and present costs in the shape of the fallout that the country has suffered. More vitally, Islamabad will likely bear the brunt of that fallout for years to come. This will come principally in the shape of an increasingly out of control security parameters and a challenging economic outlook.

Sharif needs to not only take himself through a changed mindset, but become the agent of change for his country. This must be done through educating Pakistanis on the need to urgently tackle the challenges the country faces. Left unattended, these very same challenges will only further haunt Pakistan for years to come.

If indeed symbolism says much about the bigger picture, there is one from the past week which provides a telling example of Pakistan’s direction. Late on Monday, the government made the surprise announcement of adding a fourth holiday to the three already announced to mark Eid Al Adha.

Practically, with Saturday and Sunday added on, this makes up for up to six holidays marking the celebratory event. For a country in need of rescue on many fronts, Sharif and his government need to lead by example and urge Pakistanis to work. Taking time off will not solve these challenges.

The writer is a political and economic analyst. This article has been reprinted from the Gulf News.