It's been a little more than one week since President Robert Mugabe shook the hand of his bitter rival, Morgan Tsvangirai, in what was billed as a historic first step toward a power-sharing government for Zimbabwe.
But negotiations – which are closed to the media – were adjourned on Tuesday amid reports that the two teams could not agree who would sit at the top of a unity government.
Lead mediator and South African President Thabo Mbeki insisted that the talks had not broken down, but the antagonism between Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party and Mr. Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is so strong on such a wide array of issues that negotiators should prepare for a protracted struggle, experts say.
"The polarity on sanctions, international interference, recognition of Mugabe as the legitimate leader, the cessation of political violence, including the dismantling of terror bases, the polarity of the Constitution, these are heavy issues," says John Makumbe, political science lecturer University of Zimbabwe.
As the talks were going on in Tshwane, South Africa, as the capital is now called, the ZANU-PF last week declared it will not accept a deal that fails to recognize Mugabe's reelection in the June 27 runoff election – which was widely condemned as fraudulent – or seeks to reverse the land reform program that redistributed white-owned farms to blacks.
These conditions, agreed at a ZANU-PF politburo meeting last Wednesday, could dim prospects for a deal, analysts say.
Authoritative sources in ZANU-PF told The Christian Science Monitor that Mugabe, who has been ruling Zimbabwe since the country's independence from Britain in 1980, would not to accept any other role other than heading the new political establishment.
"Having two centers of power in the country is a major challenge, because, on one hand, Mugabe would not accept playing a second role to Tsvangirai, while on the other hand, Morgan cannot be second to Mugabe," says Gordon Moyo, director of Bulawayo Agenda, a coalition of civil society groups in Zimbabwe. "If Mugabe remains at the helm, there will not be a solution to the country's problems. To allow Mugabe at the top is like trying to move forward by going backward."
Another sticking point is the fate of members of pro-Mugabe militias who violently intimidated civilians before the runoff vote.
"Not covered in the talks is the issue of what is going to happen to the many monsters who have been responsible of planning, managing, and undertaking the violent repression of the opposition," says MDC legislator Eddie Cross. "These issues must be addressed in the talks."
MDC claims at least 150 of its supporters were killed and 25,000 displaced by Mugabe loyalists since the March elections.
The former minister of information in Mugabe's administration, Jonathan Moyo, says the challenges would manifest themselves in the implementation of the agreement rather than during the talking stage.
"The challenge is not in the success, but in the implementation of the agreement. The devil is always in the implementation, not formulation .... [Negotiators] should not now be just thinking of signing. It will require total implementation," says Mr. Moyo.
"The first 100 days will be the most difficult," says Moyo.
• Our correspondent could not be named for security reasons.