Across the world, the start of 2017 has been met with a certain degree of trepidation. Beyond the widespread, if inaccurate, belief that 2016 was a particularly bad year in terms of celebrity deaths (an artifact of the increasing number of aging celebrities and public figures following the explosion of mass communication in the 1960s, coupled with the amplification of awareness and grief due to social media), the previous year also saw the rise of right-wing populist movements and leaders in Europe and the United States, with the election of Donald Trump in particular boding ill for the future. In this context, the notion that things could only get worse in 2017 before they get better is not entirely unfounded.

In Pakistan, by contrast, the new year has been welcomed in some quarters with what could only be called guarded optimism. There are several reasons for this; there is a sense that the economy is picking up, CPEC continues to be invoked as a long-term panacea for a number of the country’s ills, a new army chief has been selected without controversy or conflict, most indicators suggest levels of militancy and terrorism are in decline, and the PML-N government appears to have weathered a number of storms that threatened to derail Pakistan’s fragile process of democratization. While events continue to demonstrate how life in Pakistan remains tumultuous and unpredictable, it seems that the country might finally be inching towards a degree of stability.

Much of this is true, but it would be premature and indeed dangerous to be lulled into a fall sense of security. Credit must be given where it is due, and achievement recognized when accomplished, but the challenges Pakistan continues to face are daunting, and there is little reason to believe that the state recognizes precisely how difficult the path ahead is.

Barely a week into 2017, several events have demonstrated the fundamental structural problems that the country will inevitably confront for the forseeable future. For starters, Pakistan’s travails with regards to the Indus Waters Treaty indicate a worrying lack of strategy and capacity for evolving a workable framework within which it can pursue and safeguard its interests with regards to sharing water with India. Part of the problem here, of course, is an often anatagonistic attitude on the part of the Modi government in India, but it would be misleading to suggest that that is the only issue. As several experts have pointed out over the past week, Pakistan might also lack the bureaucratic expertise to effectively engage in the complex negotiations underpinning the arbitration of its water disputes with India.

Similarly, while the default narrative in Pakistan is one that blames India for being unfair and unjust in its use of the rivers in the Indus basin, alleged Indian intransigence cannot be separated from the underlying reality of hostile relations between the two countries. Put differently, continued confrontation between India and Pakistan, egged on by hawks on both sides, will effectively ensure that efforts at diplomacy and negotiation will fail. Given that climate change poses a severe threat to the well-being of the people of South Asia, one of the most water-stressed parts of the world, the notion that the joint challenges confronted by India and Pakistan can be resolved amidst acrimony and distrust is extremely myopic. In this case, Pakistan does not simply need to ‘have its voice heard’ on international forums, it also needs to explore the possibility of repairing relations with India in order to pursue mutually beneficial goals in the future. The same is true for India; it may be bigger and more economically powerful than Pakistan, but persistent hostility on its Western border amidst ever-escalating stakes can be nothing but a promise of future insecurity.

On a different note, the new year has also already witnessed the first mass outbreak of religious extremism in Pakistan, with the death anniversary of Salman Taseer being marked by the city of Lahore being brought to a standstill by protests launched by virulently sectarian groups vowing to wreak terrible destruction upon all who refuse to condone their message of hate and bigotry. While some welcomed the Punjab Government’s response to the threat, with pre-emptive blockades, the deployment of riot police with tear gas, and the arrest of over 100 activists signifying a more firm approach to the problem than demonstrated in the past, the fact remains that these groups were able to preach their intolerance and incite violence with a great degree of impunity; the leaders of these outfits continue to openly promote their cause, and their followers continue to harass and intimidate their opponents online and on the streets of the city. To add insult to injury, students from several universities, including LUMS and UET, were pre-emptively arrested by the Punjab police when they attempted to hold a small vigil ‘To Save Humanity’ outside the Lahore Press Club on Friday. While the students were told they were being held for their own security, it could be argued that this was yet another case of the government suggesting that there is some kind of equivalence between foaming fanatics wishing nothing more than to spill blood on the streets of Lahore, and students simply asking for peace, love, and tolerance.

Much of the focus on the fight against extremism has revolved around the issue of explicit acts of violence. What often goes unremarked is the fact that three generations of Pakistanis have been fed a steady diet of dogma and intolerance, and that dealing with this is going to require more than just bombs and bullets. Unless there is a credible commitment to the idea of de-radicalizing society and actively taking a stand against the groups and leaders who continue to foment intolerance, things will continue to get worse.