Fighting has intensified in two areas of the Talibans southern Afghanistan stronghold of Marjah, where the US and the Afghan forces are facing stubborn resistance in their advance. In the same vein, the ISAF has been trading machine-gun fire with insurgents after coming under attack from rocket-propelled grenades. Unlike previous operations, where the Taliban guerrilla forces, have chosen discretion to be the better part of valour and slunk away to fight another day, at Marjah they have held their ground so far and chosen to provide 'stiff resistance. According to ISAF joint commands press release, about 2,000 people have registered for the Cash for Work (CfW) programme in Nad-e-Ali. Additionally, local Afghans are increasingly helping to mark improvised explosive device locations. The Nad-e-Ali district governor has been broadcasting a recorded radio message to provide a phone number encouraging insurgents to reintegrate. Families have been trickling back and shops reopened in the northern part of the town, as a small measure of normality returning to the areas under Afghan and NATO control. Reportedly, 20 NATO service members and Afghan soldiers have been killed since the operation in Marjah, the hub of the Talibans southern logistics and drug smuggling network. Once the town is secure, NATO plans to bring in civil administrators to revive schools, health clinics and electricity supplies in an attempt to win public support. However, the classic principle of clear, hold and rebuild may take longer than envisaged and is fraught with uncertainties. Indication that the operation is not progressing well for the NATO forces is apparent from the news that eight members of the Afghan national police have defected to the Taliban and more may follow. A factor contributing to the alienation of the local population is the incessant collateral damage. Moreover, a UN report released in January has painted a grim picture of the stepped-up military action aimed at killing militants. The report showed that the number of civilians killed in 2009 was higher than in any year since the 2001 US-led invasion. The United States and its allies argue that the militant hideouts are being targeted in their military operations, which include the imprecise drone attacks that result in civilian casualties. Two days into the offensive to clear the city of Marjah, the coalition suffered its first public relations setback after two guided rockets from a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) launched at insurgents firing upon Afghan and ISAF forces impacted approximately 300 meters off their intended target, killing 12 civilians in Nad-e-Ali district. The ISAF Commander General Stanley McChrystal conveyed his apologies to President Hamid Karzai for this unfortunate incident. But the major political fallout has been the collapse of the Dutch coalition government amid a political row over whether to extend the countrys military mission in Afghanistan. The tactical advantage of seizing the district of Marjah in Helmand along with the parts of Nad-e-Ali, Babaji and Malgir districts being taken by ISAF is significant but relatively small. However, Operation Mushtarak is supposed to be the showcase of the new Afghan strategy of curbing the discontent and grievance, as well as NATOs covert war against the insurgency: tracking and capturing the insurrectionary forces. The most overt part of this secret war has been the controversial drone strikes launched in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan, albeit with a measure of success. The arrest of high profile Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and a number of other leaders has provided a bargaining chip when the negotiation phase is entered in Afghanistan. Although according to reports, the Afghan Taliban are incensed by the arrests, Pakistan can still play an important role in the post-operation phase, both in being a facilitator in the envisaged negotiation with the Taliban and the transfer control to the resident security forces, by imparting training. Apparently India, which was being propped up as the prime candidate as a trainer for the Afghan army and police, has been edged out by Pakistan, much to the chagrin of the Indian security planners. This is apparent from the pleading of Sumit Ganguly of the Rajaratnam School for International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, who in his Op-Ed entitled Let India train the Afghan Army advocates Indias case by insisting that it would be the most effective and economical way to prepare troops for counterinsurgency operations. Indian troops failure in Sri Lanka, Kashmir, and its inability to curb various indigenous insurgencies in many of its states including the advent of Naxalites notwithstanding. The Indian desperation is apparent from his closing argument/warning: Not turning to India would amount to a grave strategic error. Some analysts may disagree with Pakistans proposal of training of the Afghan army, as well as facilitating mediation/negotiation. They should not be oblivious of a number of ground realities. Pakistan and Afghanistan share not only historical ties and common boundaries, majority of the population in the North West of Pakistan and Afghan share tribal affiliations. Thousands of Afghan refugees continue residing in the Pakistani territory. Pakistan has sacrificed tremendously for the Afghan cause. The incessant wave of violence in Pakistan, the terror campaign gripping its tribal belt and the attempts of Pakistans detractors led by India in using the Afghan territory to launch campaigns of aggression must be considered. India may have endeared itself to the Northern Alliance and some Afghan citizens through participation in the reconstruction phase there at the cost of Pakistan, which was embroiled in combating terrorism. Nevertheless, for the sake of future stability, as well as peace in the region, Pakistan must not only secure its 2,640 kilometres western boundary with Afghanistan, but also endeavour for peace and tranquillity in Afghanistan, since the ramifications of the events in its neighbourhood affect it the most. Any help to Afghanistan must be on the basis of non-interference to gain the confidence of the Afghanis. Decisions that are taken now will have far-reaching effects for the region. The writer is a political and defence analyst.