Western hopes of leaving Afghanistan within reach of a peace deal when Nato troops pull out in 2014 are dimming, with planned negotiations in Qatar at a stalemate and Pakistan demanding that Afghanistan, for example, sever all ties with India in return for supporting the talks.
Afghans and foreigners across the political spectrum have been pushing hard for negotiations for several years, driven by concerns that the already-bloody insurgency could spiral into full-blown civil war when foreign forces have left.
A key reason for the failure is the ambivalence of the Pakistani government, which in recent weeks appears to have backed away from support for the process.
The Afghan government says the demands are that ties with India be severed, that army officers be sent to Pakistan for training and that a strategic partnership deal be signed immediately.
“Unfortunately Pakistan today is changing the goalposts on its support for the peace process once again,” said the Afghan foreign ministry spokesman, Janan Mosazai.
“Pakistan somehow decided now to put down certain preconditions for its support for the peace process which are completely unacceptable to Afghanistan and to any other independent country.”
The deterioration in ties has already had an impact: one senior Afghan source said flights organised by Pakistan for militants to Doha had already been halted. Without transport for negotiators, talks are unlikely to get very far.
The Taliban themselves have remained elusive, attacking top government negotiators and refusing to publicly embrace talks.
The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, visited the Qatari capital, Doha, at the weekend, where a handful of Taliban have set up base since 2011. Guardian News Service