THE Friends of Pakistan, the consortium that has been set up to help the country meet "many challenges in the security and economic fields", held its inaugural session at New York on Friday. Although the participants did not consider the quantum of aid that should be set apart to bail it out of the current economic mess, the figure of money being quoted by some sections of the media to ensure proper economic recovery is between $10 and $15 billion. The Pakistan Foreign Secretary, who was present at the meeting, maintained that that much amount was, indeed, needed in view of the grave challenges the country was facing. Howsoever sweet words of "strong support of the international community for Pakistan's democratically elected government" one might hear at such get-togethers, experience proves that they are of little significance unless sufficient assistance does actually start coming in. Unfortunately, it had hardly been the fate of commitments made at these conferences. One hopes that in this particular case since the stakes for the world community are quite high it would turn out to be an exception. President Asif Zardari received assurances of help from US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, UK Foreign Minister David Miliband, UAE Foreign Minister Shaikh Abdullah bin Zayed and some other countries. The question is whether these commitments would start taking concrete shape as soon as the first regular session of the Friends takes place in Dubai next month. It is difficult to understand why Mr Zardari should wish to make the forum a permanent feature. The idea is suggestive of a permanent dependence on outside help, which is hardly something that a self-respecting nuclear power of 170 million people should relish. One would like to believe that it was a mere slip of the tongue especially as he stressed that he wanted to 'learn how to fish' rather than 'get a fish'. Pakistan would have to make the most scrupulous use of whatever assistance it receives. It should be put to most productive use and not frittered away on specious enterprises or administrative purposes. Another extremely important point, which Islamabad ought to keep in mind while accepting any foreign assistance, is that always there are strings attached. Hence we have to be careful that the conditions must, in any case, be promoting primarily our own interests. Only if this stipulation were to be strictly followed, the support from the US and the world would prove to be a "blessing" for the country that Mr Zardari calls it. At the same time, one would expect the Americans and their allies not to try to take advantage of the difficult situation Pakistan is in; for that would serve their long-term goals. But, in any case, the onus would be on Pakistan.