Over the past half a century Pakistani elite has unceasingly practiced a policy of dependence on external powers and escapism from its own responsibilities for the security and economic well-being of the country. Faced with a serious national problem or a crisis, nothing comes more naturally to our decadent leaders than to take the next flight to Washington to prostrate themselves in front of their American masters for security support or economic assistance. If the issue is purely financial in character, their next destination invariably is Saudi Arabia not only with a begging bowl in their hand but also with a plane-load of hangers-on to perform umra as if it is the duty of this impoverished nation to pay for the enormous cost of these umra junkets. How these leaders and the sycophants around them justify to their conscience the performance of a sacred duty at the state expense is simply inexplicable. The main reason for this policy of heavy dependence on foreign doles is the unfortunate habit that we have acquired as a nation of living far beyond our means. It is interesting though not surprising that throughout most of our history the current expenditure of the federal government far exceeded its net revenues making it dependent on internal and external loans not only for economic development activities but also for its expenditure on running the day-to-day affairs of the government. By now we have got so used to living on foreign assistance that it does not bother our leaders that by their frequent pilgrimages to Washington and Saudi Arabia with their ubiquitous begging bowl, they demean themselves in front of their foreign interlocutors and in the process lower the prestige of the nation whom they represent. Loans and grants from foreign governments rarely come without strings or costs in terms of our internal and external policies. It is the height of unrealism on the part of our public and leaders to expect that while providing economic and security assistance to us, Washington would not ensure that we tailor our internal and external policies to conform to the US foreign policy objectives. We ourselves will be to blame if in the process our country is destabilised internally or if our external security is compromised. In short, we can't have our cake and eat it too. The predicament that we are facing now internally and externally in the context of the so-called war on terrorism is at least partly the consequence of our heavy dependence on the US besides being the legacy of our flawed pro-Taliban policy of the period from 1995 to 2001. Dependence on foreign assistance engenders the serious malaise of escapism from one's responsibilities in the form of intellectual and bureaucratic inertia and the general national tendency to find in foreign capitals ready-made answers to difficult problems confronting the country rather than by exercising our own minds to develop them. A nation given to escapism is prone to living in a fantasy land instead of facing squarely the realities facing it and coming out with viable solutions to difficult problems. It is also likely to fall into the trap of imaginary foreign conspiracies to explain its difficulties instead of realising and overcoming its own shortcomings. Pakistan presents a classic example of a nation suffering from the twin syndromes of dependence and escapism with all the attendant ills. A few examples from our recent history would illustrate the point. The Musharraf government's responses to the different challenges facing the country during the seven years of its rule after 9/11 were a long story of growing dependence on Washington and escapism from our own responsibilities. Faced with an ultimatum from the US after 9/11 and conscious of the international isolation from which Pakistan suffered because of its flawed pro-Taliban policy, Musharraf promptly surrendered. Musharraf, who had been treated virtually as an international pariah till that time because of his coup against a democratically-elected government, saw his political survival in reversing the pro-Taliban policy and obtaining the US economic and military assistance. He availed himself of that opportunity and succeeded in prolonging his illegitimate rule. But in the process, the country became too heavily dependent on the US militarily and economically and its sovereignty and territorial integrity were compromised. The frequent violations of Pakistan's sovereignty and territorial integrity by the US forces that we have been witnessing during the past few years, sometimes acknowledged by our government and sometimes not, are the direct consequence of the deal into which Musharraf entered with the US. The moral is that heavy dependence on external assistance and national sovereignty and dignity do not go together. The Musharraf government and its economic planners also failed in utilising the increased foreign economic assistance, which became available after 9/11, for investment in raising the productivity of the economy instead of squandering it on the promotion of consumerism and ostentatious living. The negative consequences of the flawed economic policies of the time are with us in the form of the energy crisis, woeful state of our physical and social infrastructure, the critical condition of our agriculture and industry, and the rapidly growing trade deficit. One can only conclude that the heavy dependence on foreign assistance led our economic planners into the trap of escapism by relying on imported solutions of our economic problems instead of utilising their own knowledge of the local realities and good judgement for developing home-grown solutions. Unfortunately, the induction of the democratically-elected governments after the February elections has not brought about a fundamental change in our style of dealing with the daunting problems facing the nation. For instance, the PPP government instead of utilising all the national resources at its command for investigating the tragic assassination of Benazir Bhutto and punishing the culprits, has conveniently passed on this responsibility to the UN which is ill-equipped to deal with this issue. There can't be a more telling example of the abdication of the responsibility of the state or the admission by a government of its incompetence and lack of control on its security and intelligence agencies. If the government is incapable of investigating the gruesome murder of a nationally acclaimed leader, what can the poor and the down-trodden sections of the population expect from it when subjected to similar acts of terrorism and cruelty? There is no denying the fact that the country is currently faced with a serious economic crisis and an existential threat to its security on its western borders in the form of the threat of terrorism, the growing US pressure on us to "do more" and frequent violations of our sovereignty and territorial integrity by the American forces. The situation calls for strengthened national unity and resolve through an intensive debate in the Parliament and outside with a view to evolving a national consensus on ways and means of overcoming the challenges facing the nation. This requires the presence of our leaders in the country. Instead, the first thing that President Zardari did after being sworn in and going through the formality of addressing the Parliament was to rush to New York to attend the UN General Assembly session and meet a lame-duck American President. This dash to New York once again reflects our chronic national malaise of heavy dependence on external assistance and escapism from our responsibilities in dealing with national crises instead of getting down to hard work and relying primarily on ourselves for finding solutions to our problems. Admittedly no country can isolate itself from the rest of the world in this age of globalisation. Cooperation at regional and international levels is a must for every country. However, action on the home front is the most important pre-requisite for success in tackling the serious internal and external problems facing the country. External support is definitely helpful but can only play a marginal role in this difficult task. It appears from the upside down priorities of our political leadership and state functionaries that they haven't drawn the right lessons from the country's history. The writer is a former ambassador E-mail: javid.husain@gmail.com