There is one school of thought that maintains that if a country has strong and functioning institutions the fact that its leadership is either non-existent or in tatters makes not a whit of difference as the country will muddle through, finding its own way even in the absence of governance. That may be so, but in the case where the institutions of a country have been dealt such deadly blows over the long period of decades that they are in a state of debilitation, then it is only a strong, determined and dedicated leadership that can keep it afloat. The one institution of Pakistan which has been much in the national eye for two years until it was, in a manner, settled this March is the judiciary, which over the years of what we knew as democracy and then as dictatorship was by each knocked for a six and sent spinning into the wilderness. The reinstated Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, is in the throes of valiant attempts to put it all together. So far, he may have succeeded to a large extent in the case of the superior judiciary, but the nether part of his empire remains in a state of complete disarray. The legislature is a huge unwieldy body of representatives who have, in the main, great difficulty in representing anything other than their individual selves. Parliament is utterly out of tune with the constitution, as the man elected president by a stroke of fate has assumed unto himself all the powers that should be with the prime minister and his government. President Asif Zardari has twice promised to shed the powers inherited from his predecessor, the dictator, as he terms him, General Pervez Musharraf, but has consistently procrastinated. He now has the excuse of the warfare being pursued in the Malakand area and the tragic plight of the displaced citizens to further enable him to shelve the minor matter (to him) of constitutionality. The administration, shorn of guidance from the executive, meanders around doing what it can do and has done for over sixty years, without actually delivering. To expect it to deliver with a dysfunctional government that is clueless as to governance would be unrealistic. The army, strictly speaking, is not an institution of state, but in the case of Pakistan is very much classified as one, as it has ruled, or rather failed in ruling, for lengthy periods of the country's life, negating the growth of democracy. The one period of Ziaul Haq's rule has done untold damage which to this day has not been undone. The yo-yoing democrats of the 1990s had neither the time nor the inclination to do some cleaning up, and Musharraf chose not to do so for reasons of self-preservation. So for Pakistan, it has always been a lose-lose situation come democrat or dictator. Now we come to the source and fountain from which all power decisions flow - the president of the Republic. Where he leads, all others follow - and when he leads not, nothing moves. A case in point being the latest crisis to hit us, the displaced persons, where the presidential and government reaction has been very much hands off. The drawback of having Zardari in the presidential all-powerful position lies in the perception that exists outside and inside the country. Further perception came from Canada after the Canadian Defence Minister, Peter Mackay, met Zardari last week and stated that Canada was considering "doing military business in the future" with Pakistan. The Toronto Star of May 21 commented: "One Western diplomat said if Canada decides to end its arms embargo with Pakistan there's the concern over whether Canadian-made weapons could be used for human-rights abuses and there's the concern that they could end in the wrong hands." None of this is reassuring or complimentary - but that is where we are. And it was decidedly unpleasant, with no humour attached to it, to read a UPI report of May 18 on the Obama and Karzai-Zardari White House meeting being referred to as "a non-meeting with various shades of the truth spoke by both sides. Zardari came across as an oriental merchant, asking high, settling low, as he knows Congress will approve economic and military assistance way below their immediate needs." Pakistan's needs are great and urgent. How will they be met with the world knowing what it knows, or thinking it knows, and the government making no effort to allay the negative perceptions? The writer is a freelance columnist