During most of the first part of the 20th century Asia basked under the glory of national liberation movements and people’s uprisings against colonial rule and oppressive systems that changed its political and social map in significant ways. But in the later period, at the height of the Cold War, it also saw some devastating wars like war in Vietnam and Afghanistan.

War in Afghanistan continued in different forms and phases even after the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan and entered into the 21st century. Billions of dollars and petrodollars went into igniting and continuing the bloodiest war of the Cold War era. Extremist ideologies like Wahhabism and Salfism were mainstreamed at an international level, misusing the name of Islam. A distorted view of Jihad was propagated (a genie that later refused to go back in the bottle). Innocent people around the world have faced blood baths at the hands of terrorists but Asia, Afghanistan in particular have been victims of an undeclared war since that time. In Pakistan military dictators used these calamities as opportunities to legitimize and perpetuate their unconstitutional despotism. That is why no serious or effective effort was made to defeat this menace. Right or wrong, this war, along with numerous other factors, led to theterrorist attacks of 9/11 in the US. The rest is history.

States in general, and big powers in particular, are not known for resorting to self criticism in order to avoid repeating the mistakes committed in the past. Had it not been so the world would have been a better place to live in as US and other western powers would have learnt a lesson from supporting religious extremism in Afghanistan and would have desisted from doing the similar things in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Somalia. But on the positive side the world seems to have a learnt a lesson from another one of its mistake, and that was putting its back on Afghanistan once the Soviet troops withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989. Not only a small contingent of ISAF forces was left behind in Afghanistan in 2015, to refrain terrorist forces from overwhelming the nascent Republic of Afghanistan but a number of bilateral, multilateral, regional and international process were also launched to support peace and democracy in Afghanistan.

One of these processes is the Heart of Asia Conference founded in Istanbul, in Turkey in 2011. The 5th Ministerial Conference of the aforementioned process was held in Islamabad this week. It was important for Pakistan to hold a significant international conference. But two uncertainties haunted the conference up till the last moment. First was the question as to weather Afghan President Dr. Ashraf Ghani will participate in the conference as co-chair or will he send some lower state functionary to record his protest against Pakistan’s continuous and not so secret support for Afghan Taliban? It goes without saying that holding this conference without proper participation of Afghanistan would have been like playing Hamlet without a prince of Denmark. US, China and some other countries lobbied behind the scenes for the participation of Afghan President in the conference. A delegation of Pashtun politicians from Pakistan visited Kabul to request the Afghan President and other leaders to play their role in the peace process. The problem seemed to have been resolved when President Ashraf Ghani agreed to meet PM Nawaz Sharif on the sidelines of Paris Summit on Environment. But the news emanating from Quetta about Mulla Mansur, the new Taliban leader getting wounded or killed in a factional shoot out created new uncertainty.

The ripples created by this news threatened to raise the level of tension between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Questions were raised in Afghan media about the sincerity of Pakistan in facilitating the negotiation process. Ashraf Ghani’s critics pointed out that the death of Pakistan based Taliban leader Mulla Omar was kept secret for two years. After the leakage of the news of his death, his successor was selected in broad day light in Kuchlak near Quetta. Now the presence of top Taliban leadership in Pakistan was confirmed by the most recent news of Quetta shoot out. Obviously Ashraf Ghani once again took a lot of political risk by attending the conference, despite serious reservations among numerous Afghan political circles. One has to see as to whether the Pakistani security establishment has finally realized the gravity of the situation and is prepared to rethink the policy of supporting the Taliban or not?

The second uncertainty was about the level of India’s participation in the conference. Of course it was pretty certain that India will participate because the same conference will be held in India next year and India would like Pakistan to turn up on that occasion. But the questions were about the level of participation and Pak-India bilateral talks on the sidelines of the conference. Now we know about all that.

Indian FM Suashma Swaraj came for the conference, met Pakistani leaders and there was a decision about the resumption of dialogue between the two countries. This is a welcome development. But the way the news about her arrival and interaction with our leader overshadowed news about rest of the conference in the media shows the schizophrenic mindset of our mainstream media. On the one hand it is ready to go into an anti-India “crusade” at the throw of a hat and on the other hand it is over-exuberant and overexcited at any news about reapportionment between the two countries. A few years ago there was a lot of hue and cry about a remark of former President Asif Ali Zardari when he had said that there is an Indian hiding inside every Pakistani. In view of the aforementioned attitude of our media it seems he was not wide off the mark.