There are two types of leaders in this world. Some leaders in the face of serious economic challenges strengthen their resolve and try to overcome them primarily through mobilizing the energies of their people. They are conscious of the fact that the resolution of economic problems basically requires action at home and that despite the interdependence of the modern world external assistance can play only a marginal role in prevailing upon them. This, of course, is the honourable way to handle serious economic problems. Admittedly this course of action requires the leaders and the people at large to take difficult decisions and make painful sacrifices. But the nations emerge stronger in the long run after such an experience and their prestige in the international community is enhanced. Then there are leaders who take the seemingly easy way out and seek solutions of their national economic problems primarily in assistance from foreign governments and international financial institutions instead of focusing on the initiatives to be taken at home for redressing them. In the process, the control over the economic destiny of the nation is lost to foreign governments and institutions, the independence of the foreign policy is compromised and, above all, the dignity of the nation is lowered. After all economic dependence and independence of foreign policy cannot go together. Pakistan currently has a leadership which is pursuing with great enthusiasm the course of begging bowl diplomacy in the face of the serious economic crises facing the country. President Zardari soon after being sworn in flew to New York to address the UN General Assembly and meet a few leaders instead of staying at home to focus on the pressing domestic issues demanding his attention. The mindset of Pakistan's current leadership and its unrealism was revealed when during his stay in New York he made the request for assistance amounting to US$100 billion for enabling the country to overcome its serious economic problems. To make such a request at a time when the Western donor countries are passing through perhaps the worst economic crisis since the days of the Great Depression defies logic. Of course, nothing much has come out of President Zardari's toils in New York as far as Pakistan's serious economic problems are concerned. It has been clarified by now that the Friends of Pakistan, established with great fanfare during Asif Zardari's stay in New York, should not be seen as a group of donors for Pakistan to assist it in these difficult times. One wonders in the light of the disappointing results of the visit whether it was worth the cost in terms of the time and money wasted on it. Similarly the earlier request by the government of Pakistan to Saudi Arabia for the supply of oil on deferred payment basis has received a lukewarm response from the Saudi leadership. The same is true about the request made to the Iranian Foreign Minister for a similar facility. Prime Minister Gilani's request to the Chinese leadership for financial assistance for Pakistan has met the same fate. These are not the ways of a leadership with some sense of dignity and honour. It is high time our leadership realized that our friends are getting tired of our chronic habit of messing up our economic affairs and then rushing to them with a begging bowl for assistance. It is high time they stopped demeaning themselves before foreign leaders and lowering the dignity of the nation they represent in the comity of nations. There is no doubt that the Musharraf-Shaukat Aziz government was guilty of grossly mismanaging the economy and passing on serious economic problems to the present government by delaying politically difficult but economically unavoidable decisions because of the phenomenal increase in oil prices. But with the passage of time this argument is losing force. The fact of the matter is that the present government has little to show for itself in the economic field, during the seven months of its rule. Instead of coming to grips with the difficult economic problems, it has been merely tinkering with the serious economic issues of inflation, growing poverty and unemployment, increasing deficit in balance of trade, energy crisis, low productivity of agriculture and industry, lack of development of physical infrastructure, and neglect of education and health sectors. The root cause of most of the economic problems confronting us lies in our chronic tendency to live beyond our means as a nation. Since its very birth the country has been saddled with the heavy burden of defence expenditure which its weak economy and meager resources could not sustain forcing it to rely on foreign economic and military assistance for its economic survival and safeguarding its national security. A short-sighted interpretation of the concept of national security neglected economic development and diplomacy while placing excessive reliance on the military dimension. The problem was aggravated by the wasteful expenditure by our elite both in their private lives and in the management of the government affairs. The contrast in the living styles of our official elite class and those of countries like India and China is too striking to be ignored. Our Presidents, Prime Ministers and Ministers live like kings and princes instead of leading their lives in a simple and austere manner as behooves the leaders of an impoverished nation. The same is true of our senior military officers, civilian bureaucrats, industrialists and the feudal landlords. The result is that our national saving rate which generates domestic resources for investment and economic development is among the lowest in the world raising our reliance on foreign assistance for meeting our requirements. Just to give an example, while China's saving rate is over 40% of the GDP and India's national saving rate is over 30%, Pakistan in the financial year 2007-08 saved only 14% of the GDP. The low national saving rate besides restricting the growth rate of the economy reflects itself in the high level of deficits in balance of trade to meet our developmental and non-developmental requirements for imports. The resultant shortage of foreign exchange which currently grips the nation in turn generates pressure for seeking assistance from foreign governments and international financial institutions through begging bowl diplomacy. Our leaders and policy makers need to draw appropriate lessons from history and the experience of other countries in the recent past. The Soviet Union disintegrated not because of the shortage of conventional and non-conventional weaponry. It collapsed because its weak economy could not support the heavy military super-structure that it had built up to enable it to play an oversize role internationally, precisely the mistake that we have committed historically over the past half a century. We would instead be well advised to follow in the footprints of China which, after the initiation of economic reforms by its great leader Deng Xiaoping, defused tensions in relations with its neighbours without compromising its essential national security interests, avoided adventurism in foreign affairs and focused in a single-minded fashion on its supreme national objective of accelerating economic development. Consequently its economy has made rapid strides over the past quarter of a century placing it in an enviable position in the comity of nations and enabling it now to adopt a higher profile in foreign affairs and increase its military expenditure in support of its foreign policy goals. The need of the hour is for our leaders to adopt austerity both individually and as a nation as well as to cut our defence expenditure drastically to release the resources required for turning Pakistan into a welfare state and accelerating our economic development. This would, of course, require corresponding modification of our foreign policy. Our leaders must set an example by adopting a simple lifestyle in their private and official lives for the rest of' the nation to follow. They must give up the habit of the begging bowl diplomacy and instead learn to rely our own resources to meet our developmental and non-developmental needs. Let us hope that the present leadership in the country will have the wisdom and the courage to adopt this honourable course instead of running from pillar to post in search of foreign doles. The writer is retired ambassador. E-mail: