Had President Barack Obama expressed regret over the killing of 24 soldiers within Pakistan immediately, Islamabad’s fears might have been assuaged. And probably Pakistan would have attended the meeting on Afghanistan at Bonn. It is no use shedding tears over the spilt milk. However, many in India wonder why Islamabad did not accept ‘regret’. The regret is not exactly an apology but it comes to that. It does mean a feeling of sorrow for wrong doing.

Probably, Islamabad would have accepted regret if there had not been a history of deliberate violations by the US and the NATO forces despite Pakistan’s protests. The fact is that America and its allies care too hoots for Pakistan’s sovereignty or sentiments of its people. Right from the 9/11 attack on New York, Pakistan has been treated as a country which is at the beck and call of the US. At that time, Secretary of State Colin Powell rang up the then Islamabad’s Foreign Secretary Abdul Sattar to inform his government that they would begin carpet bombing from Pakistan instead of Afghanistan if Islamabad was not on their side.

Pakistan could not dare to say ‘no’ then. How can it resist the pressure now even when the rank and file of the army has been permitted to retaliate without awaiting orders from the command? It may sound harsh but the Pakistani soldiers have got used to the bullying of US soldiers after having participated in joint operations which are still continuing. True, Pakistan has played tough after the killing of soldiers and has even got the American drone base vacated. But it is bowing to the enraged public opinion in Pakistan. I am still not sure how long Pakistan Army Chief Ashfaq Parvez Kyani would stay intractable. The armed forces in Pakistan over the years have become so inured to American’s arms as well as aid that a U-turn does not look plausible.

Some rationalization has already started taking place. A limited cooperation is visible on the ground. A NATO commander has said the tragic incident has not disrupted their operation or their cooperation with Pakistan. America’s annoyance does not suit Islamabad in anyway because China cannot fill the vacuum, nor can India help because relations between the two are nowhere at the stage where New Delhi would assist.

Despite the regret over the killings, I do not see Washington behaving differently. It is fighting a war against Taliban who have their headquarters in Pakistan and the US or the NATO forces will continue to chastise them, with Islamabad’s cooperation if possible or without it if necessary. I do not see the Drone attacks stopping or the supply line to American and NATO forces snapping because the two may use the Afghanistan territory for drones and the old Soviet republics for supply. The target is Taliban, the fundamentalists, who America’s sees mixed up with certain sections of the army. Nonetheless, both sides realize that they face a situation which they cannot handle singly but cannot go back to the equation which existed before the killing of soldiers. Still both America and Pakistan may go to the brink—they have done so many a times before—but will not jump. Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has already said that Pakistan wants to reconstruct its relations with the US which in turn has welcomed the statement.

The problem that confronts the world is the withdrawal of 130,000 troops of America and those of NATO in 2014. The Conference at Bonn for a long term international commitment to Afghanistan should have been more categorical. The absence of Pakistan has been like Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark. No commitment adds up to much if Islamabad is not a signatory. In fact, it may well be negotiating with Taliban more seriously than before. It does not mind if they reoccupy Afghanistan because when they temporarily did, Islamabad was quick to recognize their government. This is when the absence of normalcy between India and Pakistan is felt all the more. Both could have asked foreign troops to withdraw as quickly as possible because they have only aggravated the situation. But then the problem is that Pakistan does not want India in Afghanistan and considers its presence injurious to its interests.

On the other hand, New Delhi has signed an agreement to be a ‘strategic partner’ of Kabul. It cannot leave Afghanistan alone, unaided, if and when Taliban begin to move into the country after America’s withdrawal. Both Delhi and Islamabad can be on the same page if Pakistan accepts the sovereignty and independence of Afghanistan without seeking a strategic depth. Therefore, the American interference even after 2014 cannot be ruled out. Willy-nilly, the Pakistan army, already overstretched, has to find a common ground with India to eliminate at least such Taliban, the terrorists, who are making the life in the region hell.

The Pakistan Army is already having a hard time in sorting out what is called, the Memogate. President Asif Zardari, Army Chief Kyani and ISI head Lt. General Ahmed Shuja Pasha have been named respondents in a petition filed by Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the Supreme Court of Pakistan. The petition is based on an unsigned memo by the then Pakistan’s envoy to the US, Hussain Haqqani, to the American military command to rescue the Zardari government from the army and the ISI responsible for dealing with Taliban. The army saw to it that Haqqani would resign and he did.

The problem is bigger than Haqqani’s exit. It is how to make Washington repose its faith once again in the Zardari government which America sees completely under the Pakistan army. Pakistan Foreign Minister has herself admitted in public that the Army is stronger than the elected government. I have no doubt that Haqqani’s successor, Sherry Rehman, has the ability and fiancé to reestablish the rapport with Washington and also convince it that the elected government cannot be pushed away by the army. She is also Islamabad’s trump card for good relations with India where she is trusted.

In fact, this is the time when the Zardari government should take the initiative to spread goodwill in the region. Bangaldesh is celebrating its 40th independence anniversary. Although it means the liberation from West Pakistan it also means that Dhaka has not allowed itself to be pawn in the region’s chessboard.

The Zardari government can go down in history if it helps the subcontinent to shed hatred and work for the betterment of the poor who are concentrated in the region. But first thing first: Islamabad should offer apology to Bangladesh and start a chapter of friendship. By doing so, the Zardari government will be strengthening itself against any interference from the army.