We tend to see the world through stereotypes, i.e., the pictures-in-our-heads that can be called habits or "conditioned responses." But there is something chronically wrong with us. Our problem is that we don't even know what after all is wrong with us. Each one of us has a different world view and tries to draw his own conclusions on Pakistan's dilemmas and challenges with very little clarity on what really is wrong with our country or what after all is at the roots of our unending crises and problems. Most of us don't even have the courage to see beyond their nose. In an ostensibly simplistic approach, an ingenious attempt is now being made to confuse the already tormented minds of our people by suggesting that it is our nuclear capability and the historic decision taken by the then elected leadership in May 1998 to respond to India's tests in kind that are responsible for their current problems. In simplistic terms, this ingenious approach, advertently or inadvertently, does amount to obfuscating the focus on the larger systemic issues of our governance and thus keep the main causes and culprits of our country's political and socio-economic deterioration remain unnoticed. It is almost eleven years now since we became a nuclear power. The mood in the country this year, like last year, has been exceptionally sombre because of the prevailing political uncertainty in the country and growing despair and disillusionment among the masses over the failure of their elected government to address the basic issues of governance. What is alarming however the new proclivity being woven in our minds to raise questions on the very basics of our survival as an independent state. As if the endless foreign-sponsored and highly motivated campaign questioning the safety and security of our nuclear assets was not enough, this new self-indicting controversy has surfaced in our Urdu press involving some of our most eminent and seasoned journalists. Open questions in the form of "personal" opinion are being raised on the very desirability and necessity of our nuclear tests on May 28 and 30, 1998. The same voices of doom and gloom which opposed our nuclear tests then are ablaze again ridiculing the rationale and underlying compulsions for Pakistan's nuclearisation. Some of our "non-proliferationists" are also arguing that the "bomb" does not help us in our ongoing war on multiple fronts. They believe the "bomb" has only aggravated our problems and brought us to "this grievously troubled situation while offering no way out." According to them, our nuclear tests in 1998 have done an irreparable political, economic, material and psychological damage to our country and its people, and the "bomb" has solved no problems. This whole argument is beyond reason or logic. The same detractors are now not only seeking to detract from Pakistan's "moment of glory" but also trying to fuel a sense of "remorse and regret" by suggesting that Pakistan has paid a heavy price for its nuclear capability. What they forget is that there is no price for a country's independence and security. This was the consideration in May 1998 when our elected leadership decided to go ahead with the tests in response to those of India, and this remains the consideration even now when all sorts of misgivings and misperceptions are being created with "invisibly" motivated designs. Whatever the motive or inspiration for this newly ignited campaign against our nuclear capability, those who are being part of this "insidious" effort must not ignore the reality that nuclear weapons were introduced in our region by India, not Pakistan, and that they are a real reality now. All these sceptical assumptions and apprehensions over the utility or safety of our nuclear weapons are misplaced, if not baseless. Unless something weird or "unimaginable" has happened during the Musharraf era, they still constitute an essential element of our security. Pakistan's nuclear capability has served its purpose as a means of minimum credible deterrent between India and Pakistan, and has also restored a strategic balance in our region. Contrary to unwarranted and motivated insinuations, Pakistan's nuclear assets are as safe as those of any other nuclear power. We do have a command and control system that is in safe and secure in professional hands and is based on international guidelines as laid down by IAEA. We cannot even imagine giving up our nuclear option for any reason now. Yes, for reasons not even remotely connected to our nuclear capability, the first decade of our overt nuclearisation has been painful and challenging for our country. Pakistan, which came into being as the 20th century miracle of a democratic state and, which became a nuclear power in May 1998 as a factor of regional and global peace and stability, is today struggling for democracy and has become one of the most "unstable" and most "insecure" states in the world. But this has nothing to do with our nuclear "status." The events of 9/11 were the critical threshold for our country and for its strategic interests. General Musharraf as "chief executive" was desperately looking for legitimacy to remain in power, and the 9/11 tragedy came to his rescue. In his own authority and wisdom, he not only rolled back Pakistan's "controversial" policy of support for the "oppressive and reactionary regime" in Afghanistan but also decided to become part of the evolving US "strategic end-game" in the region. Pakistan's post-9/11 quick policy turnaround not only absolved the Musharraf regime of its global stigma but also made it a pivotal player in the US-led War on Terror, giving it prominence in the international community that helped the military regime in its quest for legitimacy. It soon started receiving special attention in Washington and European capitals. In fact, the US nuclear-related sanctions were quickly waived, and became totally irrelevant once Pakistan started receiving large amounts of US aid from October 2001 onward. The sum total of Pakistan's post-9/11 foreign policy is, however, its new identity on the global radar screen as the "hotbed" of religious. extremism and terrorism, and its frontline role as the "ground zero" of the War on Terror, which has not only made it the focus of world attention and anxiety but also forced it to make difficult choices in its perennial struggle for security and survival as an independent state. The US, in particular, sees Pakistan, irrespective of its nuclear capability, as a pivotal linchpin in its fight against terrorism. If we were not a nuclear power, our fate would have been worse than Afghanistan. Yes, from being a major power in South Asia always equated with India, Pakistan today is bracketed with Afghanistan in terms of its outlook, role, needs and problems. This is an unenviable distinction which circumscribes our role both within and beyond our region. But this situation also has nothing to do with our nuclearisation. It is the leadership miscarriages and governance failures in our country that have cost the nation its sovereign independence and national dignity as well peace and tranquillity of a civilised state. No doubt, as a nuclear power, our problems now do have a global dimension which naturally raises the world community's stakes in the issues of peace and security in our region and in a "stable and peaceful" Pakistan. And it is in this context that global concerns over the "safety" of our nuclear assets are mounting. They will not go as long as we are weak and vulnerable domestically. We must understand the gravity of the problem and make a serious and selfless effort to identify and then quickly address the core of the problem. One thing is clear. Our nuclear capability is our asset, not liability. We must preserve and keep upgrading it as an asset for our security and survival. It is time to refix our fundamentals. An ostrich-like attitude will not do. Simply holding SPD briefings for foreign diplomats and media or addressing think tanks in European capitals will not do. We will have to change the world's perception of our country, which surely has many reasons and assets other than terrorism and violence to be recognised as a responsible member of the international community. We need domestic consolidation, politically, economically and socially. We must re-order our priorities. Let us have peace within and peace without. No country will then fear us or have any doubts about the safety of our nuclear assets. It might also help if we were to have a serving army general as head of the SPD instead of a retired hangover from the Musharraf era. The writer is a former foreign secretary