Despite Sartaj Aziz’s reassurance that the Afghanistan–Taliban peace process will be back on track in the “next few weeks” observers continue to be skeptical, as there is little objective evidence to support that statement. After the news of Mullah Omar’s death derailed the Murree talks, infighting and power struggles have consumed the Taliban ranks and finding a willing leader that speaks for most of the militant group has been near impossible. Recent developments suggest the tenuous hold Pakistan had over the proceedings is also slipping away, making a negotiated solution with the Taliban a more difficult proposition than it already was.

On March 14 officials close to the peace process claimed that Pakistan’s only bargaining power over the Taliban – the threat of expulsion from Pakistan and the crackdown on the few safe havens they have in the northwestern region – does not hold the same potency it used to. Military success in Afghanistan and the onset of the spring fighting season has emboldened the militants who would rather take their chances with Afghan security forces if they are prosecuted in Pakistan. While this is a disheartening development that will make both Afghan and Pakistani leaders rue missed opportunities, all is not yet lost. The lack of a centralised figure in the Taliban is a hurdle, but it can be a boon too; some leaders, like Mullah Akhtar Mansour, are still keen on the talks. Success here might not deal with the Taliban threat completely, but it may help in thinning the numbers.

It is undeniable that both countries should persist with the peace efforts, yet it would be wise to also start thinking about alternatives. The National Assembly is already on that count in the recent session, with parliamentarians on all sides joining to pass a resolution which shores up the porous Pakistan – Afghanistan border and makes movement much stricter. While this was only a resolution, not legislation, work has already started on building physical barriers on the Durrand line. More exigent is the question that if the talks fail, what will Pakistan do about the safe heavens it is tolerating as a bargaining chip at the moment? Conventional logic, and good policy would dictate that they be wiped out and all militants arrested and sent to Afghanistan for trial. Anything else would indicate that the ‘good Taliban, bad Taliban’ narrative is still alive.