The Heart of Asia conference did present a compelling vision what could be achieved if the South Asian nations put aside their differences and cooperate. However, it is also a restatement of the enormous challenges that face peaceful resolution of the problems that beset the region. A day after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani took a great political risk at home and gave a hard-hitting but progressive speech in Islamabad; the head of Afghanistan’s Intelligence agency quit his job saying Pakistan cannot be trusted. This is a great blow to the nascent peace process that perfectly underlines the magnitude of the challenge faced by Ashraf Ghani in getting his country on the same page.

Ashraf Ghani talked about the primary problem in his own speech; referring to historical Afghan suspicions regarding Pakistani intentions. With the Taliban resurgence in full force and attacks happening frequently the rage and frustration in the country is overflowing, and Pakistan – which has had historic links with the Taliban – becomes an easy target to blame. The resignation comes amid a string of major Taliban attacks, including a 27-hour siege of Kandahar airport this week which left more than 70 people dead. The longer the attacks continue the mistrust grows. Ashraf Ghani’s commitment to the cooperation is not the only thing that matters, sections of Afghan government are decidedly anti-Pakistan, and convincing them to give time to the peace process remains Ghani’s greatest challenge. 

In his resignation letter, National Directorate of Security chief Rahmatullah Nabil cited "a lack of agreement on policy matters" and restrictions imposed by the president which he alleged had impaired his ability to do his job. These are strong words that will challenge any elected government, but for the makeshift ‘unity government’ that Afghanistan is being governed under this may be a far greater problem. President Ashraf Ghani’s ability to negotiate a meaningful agreement with the “reconcilable’ Taliban will be hampered if he is faced with a fight for survival in power.

The future of the talks remain uncertain with these new developments, but instead of waiting for the Afghan government to sort this issue out the Pakistani government should take proactive measure to build confidence in the Afghani population. The refuge problem could be a start; a humane and well managed repatriation program could heal the wounds that have troubled the two nations for decades.