At last week's session of the Geneva-based 65-member Conference on Disarmament (CD), Pakistan had no choice but to ensure its vital national interests were not jeopardised. It had earlier in May this year joined in a consensus adopting the CD's "programme of work" which everyone hailed as a breakthrough for the long-stalemated conference. The "programme of work" clearly specified four "core" issues on its agenda, namely, Nuclear Disarmament, Negative Security Assurances, Prevention of Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS), and Fissile Material Treaty (FMT). Pakistan had joined the consensus on the "programme of work" in "good faith" on the assumption that the CD would be enabled to substantively address all the four "core" issues without any selectivity or discrimination. This was a clear evidence of Pakistan's constructive approach in support of CD's work as the only multilateral disarmament negotiating forum. As anticipated, Pakistan soon discovered alarming manoeuvres on the part of some countries which traditionally have had a uni-dimensional approach on nuclear disarmament issues. Today, the continued existence of nuclear weapons remains the most serious threat to international peace and security. Unfortunately, the multilateral system is being used only to legitimise the strategic and security set up suited only to the few. It is outright "nuclear apartheid" as India's former External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh has repeatedly said. The Cold War is long over, yet tens of thousands of nuclear weapons remain in arsenals around the world. Together the US and Russia alone possess more than 95 percent of the world's nuclear weapons. . Public opinion within Europe and the US is reflective of growing discontent over the major nuclear powers' hypocritical policies on nuclear disarmament issues. The real problem with the overall architecture of the global nuclear dilemma is the rhetorical stance on the part of the NPT-5, especially the US and Russia, which are not ready to go beyond cosmetic arms reduction arrangements. They think they can have their weapons forever but others don't need them. President Obama has himself publicly said that he may not live long enough to see a nuclear-free world, and that the United States will maintain a nuclear arsenal "as long as these weapons exist." He has candidly unveiled the bleak reality that his delegates as well as those of some other Western countries have been enacting over the decades in multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiating forums. To our friends in the Western world, the nuclear question has traditionally been uni-dimensional. The symptom, not disease, is their problem. Their undivided focus has been on non-proliferation only as a concept which they have ingeniously adapted to their own intent and purpose. A whole network of non-proliferation regimes has been built up only to confine everybody "else" within its four walls. But this discriminatory policy has already failed. The genie could not be kept in the bottle. In the end, the goal of complete disarmament remains elusive. Discriminatory, country-specific and short-sighted policies for access to nuclear technology motivated by narrow gains in disregard of equitably applicable criteria have further undermined the international non-proliferation regime and detract from its credibility and legitimacy. The situation is compounded by the distinct possibility of such arrangements leading to diversion of nuclear material for military purposes. The US-India nuclear deal is a case in point. In view of the highly discriminatory nuclear order being promoted by the so-called champions of non-proliferation, Pakistan cannot afford complacence and must not succumb to any pressure or blackmail to compromise on its supreme national interests. Specifically on FMT, the issue of stocks has become even more crucial for Pakistan. No fissile material treaty would be comprehensive without a robust verification regime that covers not only the future production but also the existing stockpiles. This is the key to cessation of a nuclear arms race. Any nuclear cooperation arrangement without adequate international safeguards has the potential for increasing fissile material stocks that can be diverted towards weapons production as was done in the past. For this reason, the issues of verification and stocks have become vital for Pakistan in any negotiations on a FMT. We cannot also ignore the ominous implications of US-India nuclear deal in terms of its bolstering of India's massive nuclear and conventional build up, including its nuclear "triad" and adoption of an offensive "Cold Start" doctrine based on rapid convention strike capability. Pakistan must resist attempts to make exemptions in line with the US-India deal with negative consequences for our security as well as for regional stability. What the Western countries should realise is that their attempts to disturb the strategic balance in South Asia are no service to the people or the cause of peace and security of this region. They must understand that instead of making "preferential" and discriminatory nuclear deals they should be contributing to strategic stability by reducing security gaps in this volatile region. For decades, we made several proposals to keep South Asia free of nuclear weapons. But our efforts were thwarted by the Indian nuclear tests in 1998, to which we were forced to respond to restore the strategic balance in the region. Since then, we have been pursuing a policy of restraint and responsibility and have even offered to India a Strategic Restraint Regime involving conflict resolution, nuclear and missile restraint and conventional balance. It is these stabilising arrangements that our Western friends should be supporting if stability in South Asia is important to them. As regards the CD, it has been kept from starting substantive work for more than a decade because after the 1995 Shannon mandate for a multilateral, non-discriminatory, internationally and effectively verifiable treaty, the US back tracked on the issue of verification. This impasse was not due to Pakistan. It was due to reluctance of the Western nuclear powers to agree to the verification clause. This has been the real issue because without verification states can cheat on their obligations. A non-verifiable and mere cut-off treaty will not be a disarmament measure. It will just freeze the status quo and not further the goal of disarmament. For Pakistan this has been particularly important because of our previous experience when India entered into a bilateral agreement with us in 1992 not to develop chemical weapons. Since that agreement was not verifiable, India cheated. When it joined the Chemical Weapons Convention subsequently, India declared itself a possessor state. Earlier this year, the US restored its support for a verifiable treaty. That is how in due course a consensus on CD's "programme of work" became possible which Pakistan joined in good faith on the assumption that in its subsequent work the CD will accord equal treatment to all the four "core" issues. It was a misjudgement on Pakistan's part. We forgot our experience in negotiations on the NPT in the sixties when the US managed to exclude the issues of negative and positive security guarantees to non-nuclear weapon states. Ironically, India, the biggest beneficiary of America's nuclear largesse, did not hesitate to spell out several conditionalities before joining the consensus on the "programme of work" making it clear that it is a "nuclear weapon state" and will not accept obligations not in keeping with or prejudicial to its national security interests, or which hinder its strategic programme, its R&D requirements and its three-stage nuclear programme. It said it will not accept an FMT "placing an undue burden on its military non-proscribed activities." This is what we should have done before joining the consensus. It is time we remain vigilant on pitfalls being laid for us in multilateral negotiating forums. In this case, eventually we had to do what we had to. We had to question the ambiguity on implementation of the "programme of work" and propose an amendment to the document which called for all the four "core" issues to be addressed equitably to ensure, without any discrimination, "balanced outcomes" from their consideration. In the absence of consensus on implementation, the matter will now go to the UN General Assembly where we will have to be even more alert and firm on our national security interests. Any FMT with India-specific scope will be totally meaningless. The foremost challenge for us in this situation will be not what we are required to do for others' interests; it is what we ought to do in our own vital interests. The writer is a former foreign secretary