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Pakistan Conspiracy Theory Dangerous, Scholar Says

Christine Fair

Peace and security studies scholar Christine Fair says the capture and death of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan will likely have little impact on the United States' relationship with the Middle Eastern country.

Since the May 2 raid that left Osama bin Laden dead, terrorism scholars and experts have been clear that the al-Qaida founder’s death isn’t an end to the Islamic extremist group or other insurgent groups. What isn’t clear is the future of the United States’ relationship with Pakistan. The mastermind behind the Sept. 11 attacks was discovered and killed in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, leaving some to question what officials in Pakistan knew or didn’t know. Peace and security studies scholar Christine Fair traveled to Pakistan earlier this month to examine the country's governance challenges at a conference sponsored by the American Institute of Pakistan Studies. She says speculation about the South Asian country’s military and intelligence agencies being tied to hiding bin Laden is dangerous and should stop.

How would you describe U.S.-Pakistan relations prior to the U.S. assassinating Osama bin Laden?

Our relationship was deeply strained prior to bin Laden’s death. U.S. officials and citizenry were increasingly vexed that despite allocating some $20 billion to Pakistan since 9/11, Pakistan remained committed to harboring Afghan Taliban and members of the Haqqani network [a group that has been implicated in providing safe houses and training camps for members of al-Qaida and the Taliban] among other insurgents operating in Afghanistan.

In other words, Pakistan was being funded to help the United States win in Afghanistan while supporting the same groups responsible for killing our troops, allies and tens of thousands of Afghan civilians. Despite being an ally in the war on terror, Pakistan remains committed to relying upon militant extremist groups, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, as its primary tool against India.

How does Pakistan’s support for insurgent groups affect its relationship with the United States?

There is a realization on both sides that Pakistan’s allies – the Afghan Taliban, Haqqani network, Lashkar-e-Taiba and others – are the existential nemeses of the United States and India, the regional ally of the United States. What needs to be determined is how do you have a strategic relationship when the goals and interests of both parties are at severe odds.

How have U.S.-Pakistan relations changed since bin Laden was found in the country?

In my view, the real goals of the relationship haven’t changed – nuclear proliferation and terrorism. However the wanton speculation that Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies were tied to hiding bin Laden is dangerous and galvanizes the most irresponsible thinking in Congress and elsewhere about cutting off Pakistan. Until there is evidence this should stop.

Even if there were such support elements, the United States has no choice but to engage with Pakistan. Our troops in Afghanistan are dependent upon Pakistan for supplies. We need to remain engaged because of that as well as nuclear proliferation and terrorism. None of these issues disappear with bin Laden’s death.

How do current events impact the Obama administration’s plans to begin troop withdrawal from Afghanistan?

It’s too early to tell, but there is no evidence that he is changing course.

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