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Drones alternative to boots on ground: US lawmaker

December 07, 2013

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— File photo
— File photo

WASHINGTON, Dec 6: Drones are an alternative to boots on the ground and will continue to be used in the war against terrorists, says Congressman Steve Chabot.

Mr Chabot, who heads the House Subcommittee for Asia and the Pacific, also believes that the United States and Pakistan should “maintain a long-term relationship” as it’s in the interest of both to do so. The Republican congressman was one of more than 20 US lawmakers who attended a daylong meeting on the Hill organised by an advocacy group of Pakistani-American physicians.

The main objective of the meeting was to support a reform bill that seeks to make it easier for foreign doctors to study, train and work in the United States.

Although the chief organiser, Dr Talha Siddiqui, discouraged political discussions, almost all American lawmakers spoke about the roller-coaster relationship between Pakistan and the United States.

Congressman Chabot agreed with the observation that drone strikes had strained relations between the US and Pakistan and urged both countries to improve their coordination to remove misunderstandings.

He urged both to “do all we can to control collateral damages’, i.e. civilian deaths in drone strikes. “But the terrorists, who hide among civilians, are also responsible for these deaths,” he said.

Congressman Ed Royce, who heads the powerful House Committee on Foreign Affairs, also supported a long-term and strong relationship with Pakistan and pledged to “encourage reforms” which would further strengthen democracy in that country.

Congressman Ami Bera, whose parents came from India, said the United States should continue to work for stability in South Asia, particularly after the withdrawal of American and Nato forces from Afghanistan after 2014.

The United States, he said, should encourage better trade relations among South Asian nations and should also help them meet their energy requirements.

“We should particularly help Pakistan overcome its energy problems and support economic progress in that country,” he said.

Congressman Bera also emphasised the need to “keep open the line of communication” for supplying US and Nato forces in Afghanistan.

Congressman Andre Carson, the second Muslim to be elected to the US Congress after Keith Ellison in 2006, said that the planned, partial withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan would further increase Pakistan’s importance for the United States.

Mr Carson noted that as the United States saw its war efforts in Afghanistan collapse, it should encourage the neighbouring nations to work for bringing stability to that war-ravaged country.

Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth, a former US Army pilot who was severely wounded in Iraq, said “the success or failure of US efforts in Afghanistan will also depend on its relations” with regional players.

If the United States was seem as “pushing for its interests too aggressively, we can endanger some of our key relationships.”

Congressman Chris Van Hollen, who was born in Karachi in 1959, said “it would be a serious mistake” if the United States abandoned the Pak-Afghan region now as it did after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.

He acknowledged that Pakistan and the United States had differences on various issues but said that “it’s important to continue this relationship” despite those differences. Almost all lawmakers who addressed the gathering also endorsed APPNA’s support for a bill to reform the US Physician Access Act.

APPNA, which represents physicians of Pakistani origin in North America, is lobbying for the reforms because they seek to remove immigration limitations on alien doctors.