May 022011
 
Authors: McClatchy-Tribune

WASHINGTON — Osama bin Laden’s death is likely to alter U.S. relations with Pakistan profoundly and may open a door to negotiations with the Taliban in Afghanistan, according to lawmakers in Congress and analysts of the war on terror.

Lawmakers look upon Pakistan with heightened suspicion and less trust now that U.S. Navy SEALs found and killed the terrorist leader in his fortified compound about a mile from the nation’s top military academy.

His outsized compound was found in Abbottabad, a town about 72 miles from Islamabad that is home to scores of retired Pakistani military officers. In essence, bin Laden was hiding in plain sight, some U.S. lawmakers said, and many suspect that at least some Pakistani authorities knew it.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York) speaking on MSNBC on Monday called Pakistan “our number one foreign policy problem we face in the next decade.”

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said lawmakers should pressure Pakistan through its wallet.

“It seems to me that this incident shows that Pakistan remains a critical but uncertain ally in the fight against terror,” Collins said. “We clearly need to keep the pressure on Pakistan, and one way to do that is to put more strings attached on the tremendous amount of military aid we give to that country.”

Congress authorized over $2.5 billion in military aid to Pakistan for this year, plus nearly half that much in civilian aid.
Washington consistently has questioned the commitment and will of Pakistani officials to root out terrorism in their country. But punishing them could further strain an already tense relationship, experts said.

The Pakistani government is upset that the Obama administration rejected its requests for a pause on drone missile attacks in northwest Pakistan and for a significantly reduced role for CIA operatives on the ground.

“The relationship was on rocky ground before this occurred,” said Mark Quarterman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a centrist policy group. “It’s extraordinary to me that Osama bin Laden was in Abbottabad without the Pakistanis knowing — a lot of retired military people live there. It’s hard to ignore that compound being built without the Pakistani military knowing about it. That raises a lot of questions about the U.S.-Pakistan relationship.”

Michael O’Hanlon, a defense expert at the Brookings Institution, another centrist policy group, said that U.S.-Pakistan relations face a big challenge and that Congress may take some action — most likely a reduction in U.S. aid or restrictions on it — to discipline a country it views as an indifferent partner.

“We’re upset with them for not caring so much about where bin Laden is,” O’Hanlon said. “We’re at a crossroad with Pakistan. We’re going to have to come up with additional alternatives and ideas.”

Yet while bin Laden’s death could harden U.S.-Pakistan relations, it also could open a hopeful new chapter in U.S.-Afghan relations, one that could yield peace negotiations, albeit slow ones, that include talks with the Taliban.

“The death of bin Laden will be extra helpful in that regard,” said Robert Finn, a Princeton University lecturer who was U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan in 2002-03. “People are moving in that direction and this will help.”

 Posted by at 5:44 pm

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