If the mountain will not come to Mahomet, then Mahomet must go to the mountain. After Nawaz Sharif, Pakistanís new prime minister, failed to keep his appointment with Hamid Karzai, the Afghanistan president showed up at the door of Mr Sharif without much ado. With time running out for Mr Karzaiís presidency and the drawdown of international forces coming nearer, this is the least Mr Karzai could have done. He realizes that reconciliation with the Taliban is the only thing that can stop his country from crumbling after the foreign troops leave Afghanistanís soil. Unfortunately, that reconciliation is not happening. For one, the Taliban themselves are unwilling to liaise with Mr Karzai, whose authority they do not recognize. They are willing to deal with the United States of America, and this led to the opening of an office in Qatar recently. But Mr Karzaiís insistence on the process being Afghan-led and Afghan-driven, and his objections to the use of Taliban State insignia at the Qatar office, have made it impossible. The second, and perhaps the most important, reason is Pakistanís efforts at keeping a close grip on the process. Pakistan is convinced that this is the only way it can preserve its strategic interests in the region. So, it has often butted into the reconciliation process, arresting crucial Taliban leaders unsympathetic to its concerns or letting loose its proxy warriors, like the Haqqanis. Mr Karzai has hit back by wooing India, Pakistanís bÍte noire, or keeping the Durand Line in turmoil. All this makes the situation in Afghanistan worse. It has seen incessant Taliban activity, including another attack on the Indian embassy. Hence, Mr Karzaiís Pakistan adventure.
Despite his best efforts, however, Mr Karzai has not gained much. Mr Sharif has voiced platitudes, and in the presence of the Pakistan army, perhaps to indicate that he is not a sell-out. In the process, Mr Sharif may have discovered a thing or two about his own problems. Whatever the election rhetoric, forging good neighbourly ties is beyond his ken. It is the prerogative of the Pakistan army. The only way he can make a difference is by changing the army chief, whose term is coming to an end. But now that General Ashfaq Kayani has made himself essential to matters on the eastern and western borders, will Mr Sharif dare?