We are a nuclear power. Yet we are worried about our security and about the safety and security of our nuclear assets. Unfortunately, an attempt is being made to confuse the already tormented minds of our people by suggesting that the last eleven years have been difficult for us only because of our nuclear dimension. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Our problems over the last eleven years are not because of the nuclear tests that we carried out in May 1998. Our problems are because of our gross governance failures and leadership miscarriages. At a conference in Lahore this week coinciding with the eleventh anniversary of our nuclear tests, there was total consensus on the need to preserve and upgrade our nuclear capability. In a resolution adopted at the conference, it was the unanimous conclusion that Pakistan's minimum credible deterrent was working and serving its purpose. It was also asserted emphatically that Pakistan's nuclear assets were as safe as those of any other nuclear power, and that any fears and concerns on this account were totally baseless and unwarranted. We have a command and control system that is in safe and secure professional hands. One must not ignore the reality that nuclear weapons were introduced in our region by India, not Pakistan, and they are a reality now. In 1974, India conducted its first nuclear test not far from our border. Ironically, instead of condemning India's first nuclear explosion, the self-proclaimed custodians of "non-proliferation" hailed it as a "peaceful" explosion representing the myth of the "Smiling Buddha" and paid no heed to its ominous regional and global implications. Pakistan was in particular confronted with a double jeopardy. On the one hand, we faced India's nuclear ambitions as a direct threat to Pakistan's security and survival; on the other, we faced pressures and punitive measures from our friends and allies in the name of nuclear "non-proliferation." After the 1965 and 1971 wars, we were already being denied the means of a conventional defence. In the absence of any security umbrella, Pakistan was left with no choice but to orient its nuclear programme for defence purposes and to develop an indigenous nuclear and missile capability. But we never challenged the non-proliferation regime when the NPT was being finalized in 1968. In fact, we supported it objectives. We did not sign the Treaty because India refused to do so and was adamantly pursuing an ambitious nuclear-weapon program. Yet, every single non-proliferation initiative came from Pakistan. Several proposals which sought to establish an equitable and non-discriminatory regime in South Asia were rejected by India and ignored by the world community. These included a "nuclear weapons-free zone in South Asia, a joint renunciation of acquisition or manufacture of nuclear weapons, mutual inspection of nuclear facilities, simultaneous adherence to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards on nuclear facilities, bilateral nuclear test ban and a missile-free zone in South Asia. India and the world ignored them. In June 1991, we proposed a five-nation conference, which was later expanded to also include all permanent members of the UN Security Council, to discuss conventional arms control and confidence-building measures as well as the promotion of nuclear restraint. In 1997, before the UN General Assembly, the prime minister of Pakistan proposed mutual and equal restraint by Pakistan and India on the development of nuclear and ballistic missiles. But after its "peaceful explosion" in 1974, India never looked back. With overt and covert support of the major powers, including the Soviet Union, it continued its nuclear weapon programme disguised by deceit. In April 1998, Pakistan's prime minister addressed a letter to the G-8 heads of state and government drawing their attention to India's threatening nuclear designs and the imminence of its nuclear tests under the new BJP government. Our warnings remained unheeded. India's five nuclear tests on May 11 and 13, 1998 close to our border proved us completely right. We again came face to face with the harsh reality of grave threat to our security and survival. Pakistan became the first country in the world to be subjected to nuclear blackmail. We heard Home Minister L.K.Advani saying on 20th May 1998: "India would not shy away from using its new found strength, despite international disapproval". The very next day, he threatened: "We have decided to take action against Pakistan and to take a step forward to respond. Our nuclear explosions have created a situation similar to that caused after the fall of Dhaka". These were disturbing and indeed irresponsible statements, even if they were made for domestic political consumption. We drew the world's attention to this jingoism. For seventeen days after India's nuclear tests, we waited for the world to do something about India's nuclear threats. Nothing happened. In fact, we were advised to take the "high moral ground" by not responding to India's tests in kind and thus forfeit, in the name of non-proliferation, our right to exist as a free people. Peace was indeed hanging by a slender thread in South Asia. In the absence of any security guarantees, we had no choice but to take measures to protect our freedom and independence. Despite intense international pressure not to respond to India's tests in kind, Pakistan exploded five nuclear devices on May 28, 1998 followed with one more on May 30. No doubt, it was a difficult but inevitable decision. We were offered monetary packages but no price was greater than the country's security and survival as an independent state. In reaching that decision, the country's elected civilian leadership withstood all pressures and inducements and did not trade off Pakistan's security interests for any monetary package. The world also recognised that our tests were an act of self-defence, nothing less, nothing more. There were no doubts left any more. The era of ambiguity was behind us. The world also recognized that it was not Pakistan but India which "inducted" the nuclear dimension into the volatile security environment of South Asia. The UN Security Council Resolution 1172 of 6 June 1998 inter alia, condemned the tests "conducted first by India and then by Pakistan, and also urged the two countries to resume their dialogue "on all outstanding issues, and "to address the root causes of their problems, including Kashmir." This was a major diplomatic gain for Pakistan. Yes, in those difficult times, we remained under extraordinary pressures and economic sanctions for having demonstrated our nuclear capability. But as a matter of challenge to our foreign policy, we were able to engage the world in a constructive dialogue establishing the rationale of our security interests. The US engaged both India and Pakistan in a "strategic" dialogue on an equal footing to encourage them to use their newly demonstrated capability with utmost "restraint and responsibility." After eight rounds of talks with both countries ending in February 1999 in which I was privileged to represent Pakistan, we were able to signal our sense "restraint and responsibility" and a clear "nuclear parity" was established between the two countries in the form of an implicit "strategic linkage" promising them "equality of treatment" in terms of any future concessions including access to technology. That linkage is no longer there now. Pakistan has been "de-hyphenated" from India. There is a new geo-strategic landscape altogether in our region. No doubt, with overt nuclearization of the sub-continent, South Asia's problems are no longer an exclusive concern of the region itself. They now have a worrisome global dimension, which raises major powers' stakes in the issues of peace and security in this region. But one thing is clear. Nuclear weapons are not meant for military purposes. They are an instrument of devastation. We must look for a total disarmament at global level with no exceptions. Non-proliferation can never be ensured in a security void. Today's world has never been more chaotic. Peace and security are an illusion. And a global disarmament or a nuclear-free world will be possible only when the root causes of instability are addressed, and reasons of inter-state tensions and conflict are removed. In South Asia, at the epicenter of all problems remains the unresolved Kashmir dispute which must be addressed in a fair and just manner. As for Pakistan, all these problems that we now face domestically or externally have nothing to do with our nuclear capability. Our problems are those of governance failure and leadership infirmities. We must change world's perception even if it entails voting out the current "weak and fragile" leadership of our country. Pakistan surely has many reasons and assets other than terrorism, violence and corruption to be recognised as a credible and responsible member of the international community. The writer is a former foreign secretary