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U.S., Pakistani relations and bin Laden

By ANDREW THEEN, MEDILL NEWS SERVICE, Written for UPI   |   May 2, 2011 at 4:03 PM   |   Comments

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WASHINGTON, May 2 (UPI) -- Osama bin Laden's death at the hands of U.S. Special Forces in Pakistan may signal a more independent U.S. attitude toward Pakistan, foreign policy experts said Monday, but it also could make the contentious and complicated relationship "extraordinarily difficult."

Bin Laden, killed Monday in a bold Special Forces mission in the Pakistani military stronghold of Abbottabad, died in a compound that U.S. authorities say was built specifically for him in 2005.

The death comes in the wake of rising Pakistani anger over U.S. drone strikes in the country's tribal areas and over the deaths of three Pakistanis earlier this year in Islamabad involved U.S. intelligence officer Raymond Davis.

Richard N. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and former top U.S. State Department official, said the death of bin Laden, an icon in the militant jihadist community, could ultimately cause more problems for the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. "I think it becomes more, not less, difficult going forward," Haass said.

On a conference call with reporters, Haass described the relationship as "one of the most fraught, complicated and difficult bilateral relationships literally that exists in the world today."

He said bin Laden's residence under the nose of the prominent Pakistani military academy in Abbottabad is troubling.

"It strains credulity to say that some Pakistani officials didn't know what was going on in the suburbs of Islamabad," he said.

Haass said U.S. tolerance for Pakistani "hedging" will eventually wane and bin Laden's death shows U.S. forces are willing to operate independently within Pakistan's borders.

Elements in the Pakistani government either knew of bin Laden's safe house, and chose to do nothing, or the government was powerless to act, Haass said. "Neither one of those conclusions is a reassuring one to begin with," he said.

Regardless of prior knowledge, the final result is a public humiliation for the Pakistani government and further concerns about the seriousness to which they handle terrorism threats, Haass said.

Georgetown University Professor Dan Byman said the targeted assassination is "embarrassing" to the Pakistanis. The compound where bin Laden was found "is very close to the center of power in Pakistan," Byman said.

"It suggests at the very least they weren't looking very hard."

He said also bin Laden's location in an urban setting means he was not cut off from information and may indicate he wasn't as removed from the al-Qaida power structure as some theorized.

The challenge facing Pakistani officials is how to toe the line between the unpopular choice of cooperating with American officials or risk U.S. withdrawal of aid by continuing to shelter terrorists for strategic purposes.

Both U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took pains to mention Pakistani cooperation in initial intelligence gathering leading to the raid.

Byman said those statements were calculated.

"From what little we know off the operation, that seems like an effort to paper over differences," Byman said.

Clinton released a statement praising the action of U.S. Special Forces but also the Pakistanis for close cooperation.

"Continued cooperation will be just as important in the days ahead, because even as we mark this milestone, we should not forget that the battle to stop al-Qaida and its syndicate of terror will not end with the death" of bin Laden," she said.

Haass said he worried about the jubilant public demonstrations and comparisons to World War II's V-J Day.

"It shows a certain misunderstanding of the nature of terrorism. It has been franchised, diffused" with less reliance on a strong central leader and increased regional leadership, he said.

U.S. Sen. Richard G Lugar, R-Ind., ranking member of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, echoed Haass' sentiment in a statement released Monday. He said, bin Laden's death is welcome "but it in no way eliminates the threat from the terrorism he espoused."

© 2011 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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