As Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari joins other global leaders attending the Nato Summit in Chicago, the country's ruling elite and opposition leaders all live in danger of miscalculating the significance of this event.

Zardari has travelled to the summit on a last-minute invitation that he received with the backing of his American hosts, as the two sides struggled to overcome one of the worst periods of discord in their relations.

To the extent that Pakistan will be present on the high table, this is, probably, a positive outcome for the country. In sharp contrast, leaving Pakistan's slot vacant at the Chicago event ran the risk of opening further opportunities for yet another round of Pakistan bashing.

But the ruling elite suffer from a danger that may well undermine some of the country's best interests. For long, Pakistan's leaders have assumed that their ability to reach out to foreign leaders and governments can be a vehicle to stabilise not just their own positions, but also the future of their increasingly dysfunctional country. Indeed, nothing could be further from the truth.

Events leading to the latest breakdown of Pakistan's relations with the United States emanated from circumstances surrounding the November 2011 helicopter attack from Afghanistan, which targeted two of Pakistan's army posts near the Afghan border. The subsequent killing of 26 Pakistani soldiers in that attack prompted Islamabad to shut down a crucial land-based supply route for Western troops in Afghanistan.

In the past six months, the Western forces in Afghanistan have indeed stood the test by bringing in supplies through alternative routes. In the short term, they have clearly withstood the pressure though sustaining this in the long term may not be feasible

As the Western world loses appetite for the Afghan war and prepares to draw down contingents of US-led troops by 2014, a new phase in this conflict will likely emerge. Going forward, the world will have to rely increasingly on key Western allies in the region surrounding Afghanistan.

This is where Pakistan's position will become vital. It is, probably, in consideration of this fact of the coming future, more than anything else, that the US and other Western powers eventually brought Pakistan back to the decision-making table.

As for Pakistan's ruling elite itself, the less said the better. Zardari's trip to Chicago comes at a time of the worst possible breakdown of fundamentally vital elements of daily life across Pakistan. Ordinary Pakistanis have neither enough electricity, nor sufficient gas for cooking or adequate water supply for daily use. In the four years since Zardari became Pakistan's President, the country's economic outlook has sharply deteriorated, while its ability to overcome the growing number of challenges has only weakened.

For any Pakistani political figure, the writing on the wall of a country increasingly in disarray must be far more worrying than the influence they gain on the world stage. Zardari may, indeed, get the chance to rub shoulders with some of the world's most prominent leaders, but that just does not hold the key to unlocking the challenges which engulf Pakistan.

Once the summit in Chicago is over, Pakistan's President will return home, likely without the assurance of being anywhere close to dealing with challenges faced by his country's mainstream population, than before the summit.

In the past 18 months, Pakistan's relations with the United States have gone from one period of disarray to another. Matters ranging from the activities of Raymond Davis, the CIA operative arrested in Pakistan for the killing of two Pakistanis, to the US raid that targeted Osama bin Laden in May 2011, have only dragged this relationship downwards.

Indeed, Pakistan's reaction to the Western helicopter attack that targeted two of its army posts in November 2011, amply illustrates the degree to which it has run out of patience in the face of repeated provocations. And the subsequent public outrage on this matter is evident from the growing degree of discontent.

In returning to the negotiating table, the US must understand the futility of pushing Pakistan endlessly. However, Zardari and his cronies must also appreciate an all too visible fact: their failure to respond to the outcries from ordinary Pakistanis will only further undermine their ability to rule the country.

n    The writer is a Pakistan-based commentator, who writes on political and economic matters. This article has been reproduced from the Gulf News.