Academics question Rohrabacher on Pakistan bill

Two foreign policy experts at UC Irvine have questioned the wisdom of Rep. Dana Rohrabacher’s sponsorship of a House bill that would end U.S. financial aid to Pakistan.

But the Republican Costa Mesa congressman stood by his proposal, saying he feels that Islamabad is not a trustworthy ally because Osama bin Laden was able to hide in Pakistan.

In interviews with the Daily Pilot, UCI professors Mark LeVine and Cecelia Lynch suggested that cutting aid to the South Asian linchpin in the U.S. war against terrorism could be an unwise move that undermines American security in the region.

“The instinct there is to stop aiding regimes that fundamentally harm American security interests,” said LeVine, a history professor and Middle East expert. “I’m all for that, but if you’re going to start with Pakistan, you’re going to end up not giving aid to anyone.”

Rohrabacher stuck to his position after the revelation that Bin Laden had been hiding out in Abbottabad, which is close Islamabad, for years and the persistent post-mortem questions about whether Pakistani authorities had been harboring America’s most wanted man — and that it was not the first time Pakistan has behaved in a questionable way toward its American benefactor.

“After Osama, we can’t fool ourselves into thinking Pakistan is our ally,” Rohrabacher told the Pilot.

The type of legislation proposed by Rohrabacher is reactionary and too broad, given Pakistan’s instability and its complex and delicate relationship with the United States, the academics said.

“It’s more of a knee-jerk, more of a gut reaction, that doesn’t allow for any nuance,” said Lynch, a professor of history and director of UCI’s Center for Global Peace and Conflict Studies.

“The idea of pulling all aid is definitely not a good idea,” she said. “It’s sort of a reaction because there are other types of aid that are potentially more constructive.”

On May 5, days after Navy SEALs swooped down on Bin Laden’s urban hideaway in a nighttime raid and killed the Al Qaeda leader, Rohrabacher introduced House Resolution 1790 that would cut U.S. funding to Pakistan.

Pakistani military and intelligence leaders have maintained that Bin Laden had sought haven in Abbottabad.

Rohrabacher said that if harboring Bin Laden was the only instance of Pakistan acting as an enemy to the U.S., then such legislation would be premature.

“If it was only the Osama bin Laden incident, it would be too soon to change a 50-year policy — just too much of a response,” Rohrabacher said. “What we’re talking about is one of many incidents” where Pakistan has acted as an ally of U.S. enemies.

Arguing that Pakistani government officials must have known of Bin Laden’s whereabouts — not far from their country’s top military academy — Rohrabacher said the United States should cut off the $3 billion slated for Pakistan for the next two years.

Rohrabacher opposed legislation approved in 2009 that sends $1.5 billion in aid to Pakistan annually through 2014. Even back then, he warned that Pakistan was playing a double-game.

H.R. 1790 is now before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, on which Rohrabacher sits. As of Monday, no further action had been taken, according to the online bill tracker on the congressional website.

For their part, LeVine and Lynch argued that more harm than good would come if the United States distanced itself from Pakistan. Lynch said the military needs to stop doing unmanned drone strikes and reduce aid, but not eliminate it altogether.

“What does [Rohrabacher] plan to do if we turn Pakistan, an ally however problematic, into an adversary?” LeVine asked.

“The Pakistanis will happily turn to China. Then you’ll have their nuclear weapons out of our reach … at least we have some access. It’s one thing to take out Bin Laden, but you can’t take out their whole nuclear arsenal.”