From cricket to diplomacy, any development in Pak-India relationship tends to dominate media at the cost of all other news items both important and not so important. We saw it during the Climate Summit in Paris in November where a very brief contact between Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi grabbed headlines in media coverage, at least in Pakistan and India, at the cost of substantial news about decisions of the Climate Summit as well as the results of the meetings between Nawaz Sharif and Dr. Ashraf Ghani on the sidelines of Climate Conference. Similarly the countdown to the scheduled meeting between the foreign secretaries of Pakistan and India after the terrorist attack in Pathankot remained the focus of media in both the countries. Consequently the meeting of Quadrilateral Coordination Council (QCC) participated by the senior diplomats of Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and US for charting out a roadmap for peace in Afghanistan on January 11 in Islamabad was not discussed and analyzed according to its significance for the future of peace and stability not just in Afghanistan but also in the entire region. As we know, the formation of the aforementioned QCC was agreed upon in the intensive consultations held on the sidelines of the Heart of Asia Ministerial Conference held in early December in Islamabad last year.

The only mentionable piece of information that the brief press release contained after many hours long meeting was about the decision to meet again on January 18 in Kabul. There was nothing much about the roadmap for resuming and developing the proposed process of peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. It is pretty obvious that Pakistan and Afghanistan failed to agree on the basic ingredients of the way forward in the peace process. According to diplomatic sources the point of contention between the two sides was Afghanistan’s insistence on drawing a line between “reconcilable” and “unreconcilable” Taliban followed by a commitment for joint action against the “unreconcilable” ones and Pakistan’s reluctance to do that. On the one hand it might have been disappointing for political observers who had pinned high hopes on the aforementioned conference after intensive background diplomacy of many important players. But on the other hand it might have been a bit unrealistic to expect a quick breakthrough after the large scale skepticism and mistrust between the two sides that was generated by the derailment of the negotiations in 2015 after the chaos in Taliban ranks with the confirmation of reports about the death of Mullah Mohammad Omar.

The basic problem has been and remains to be the lack of any clearly defined political platform of Taliban. They have been a destructive fighting machine without precisely articulated political objectives and there is no indication so far that they intend to come out with a public political position on core issues. No one knows the militia’s position on constitution, modern state, civil society and human rights. They have yet to articulate a manifesto on education, health, socio economic development and international relations. They have not changed their practice of terrorizing people, bombing schools and containing socio cultural mobility of women. So much so that they have not even publicly or clearly distanced themselves from international terror networks with whom they have maintained close relations all along and who have gone into Afghanistan with them in the current round of fighting. After all IS is not the only terrorist network although for obvious reasons it has attracted larger publicity than its actual physical presence. While at times dramatic news have kept emerging about infighting in Quetta Shura or factional tussles in its ranks but none of it has any thing to do with political platforms. Taliban’s recent push in fighting inside Afghanistan also seems to be aimed at militarily overwhelming the nascent democratic republic in that country without presenting any political or social alternative to it. But what is more perplexing is the blind Pakistani support for Taliban that has tended to alienate almost the entire body of non-Taliban Afghans leading to deep and widespread anti-Pakistan sentiments in Afghanistan. While the civilian government led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif seems to be cognizant of the situation of its relationship with Afghanistan it doesn’t seem to be able do much about it. Ironically the Sharif government seems to be more assertive in keeping Pak-India political dialogue intact than saving Afghan peace process from derailment. The irony becomes more glaring when Pakistan’s Afghan policy is juxtaposed against the country’s National Action Plan for defeating extremism and terrorism. It is obvious that unlike India Afghanistan can’t generate the type of pressure that can lead to action against Afghan Taliban in Pakistan.

But for any rational and objective analysis of the Afghan situation it is important to underline the fact that although aggressive military campaign by Taliban remains the major threat to modern state system in Afghanistan it is not by any means the only threat. There are serious internal challenges. The National Unity Government (NUG)  has taken too long to deliver on its reform promises. Electoral reforms is a case in point. Future election for parliament remain under question in the absence of electoral reforms promised for making the process a more credible one. The prospects for a constitutional Loya Jirga promised at the time of formation of NUG are still unclear.

Impatience on the part of opposition political forces to see a “ change” (a situation not very dissimilar to the one in Pakistan) before the expiry of constitutional term of the elected government is creating problems. Last but not the least hedging against the NUG by friends of Afghanistan leads to undermining it as it encourages expectations for premature change.

All the players inside and outside Afghanistan need to learn lessons from the situation in the Middle East. Emergence of stateless patches in this region can also lead to the rise of new type of terrorist threats gravely endangering peace.