Members of a U.S. congressional delegation visiting Pakistan say the use of drone missile strikes against suspected al-Qaida and Taliban extremists in the country's tribal regions bordering Afghanistan is proving to be an effective weapon in the anti-terror war. The U.S. lawmakers, however, have ruled out the possibility of giving the technology to Pakistan.
After a brief stop in neighboring Afghanistan early this week, the four-member U.S congressional delegation arrived in Islamabad late Thursday to meet with Pakistan's civilian and military leaders.
The leader of the delegation, Republican Senator John McCain, told reporters Friday the United States is determined to work with Pakistan to eliminate militant forces to ensure economic, social and political progress in the region.
"I am confident that the American people who are showing by significant majority support for President [Barack] Obama's very well articulated strategy in Afghanistan. But all of us are aware that we cannot succeed in Afghanistan unless we succeed in Pakistan," he said.
While U.S-led international forces are battling al-Qaida and Taliban militants in Afghanistan, unmanned U.S spy planes known as drones are also launching missile strikes against extremist bases on the Pakistani side of the border. American military commanders believe the bases are being used for cross-border attacks on foreign and local forces.
However, civilian deaths in drone attacks are being widely criticized in Pakistan and have provoked demands that Washington halt such strikes because they undermine the country's anti-terrorism efforts and its territorial sovereignty.
Senator McCain responded to the criticism.
"I understand very well that there are elements operating in Pakistan that if allowed to do so would go to Afghanistan and kill Americans and destroy that government, and re-establish Afghanistan as base for attacks on the United States and our allies. So we have to take measures in order to prevent those attacks from happening and many times that is to go to the source of where those attacks are being planed and orchestrated," said McCain.
Pakistani leaders have repeatedly demanded the United States give drone technology to Islamabad so its own forces can use them against militants instead of foreign troops,
But Senator McCain said there are differences between the two countries over the issue of transferring the drone technology.
"We don't agree on every issue," he said. "We believe that it is one of many tools that we must use to try to defeat a very determined and terrible enemy. We intend and to continue to do everything possible to make sure that not a single innocent person would be injured if these attacks were to take place. We think that there has been dramatic improvement in the whole decision making process involved in one of these attacks if they are necessary."
Last year, U.S. spy planes carried out more than 50 missile strikes against militants in Pakistani tribal areas. The attacks are reported to have killed hundreds of people, including civilians. Similar strikes early this week killed at least 13 people in the North Waziristan tribal region, the main base of the al-Qaida-linked Haqqani network, blamed for deadly attacks on American forces.
The U.S congressional delegation visited Pakistan at a time when the American Embassy in the country has expressed concern about alleged ongoing harassment involving U.S diplomatic vehicles. U.S officials have demanded the Pakistani government address what they say are "continued provocative actions" by local law enforcing authorities.
Senator McCain also urged Pakistani authorities to resolve the differences
"It is a point of friction. We would like to see it resolved," he said. "We would like to see the visas granted that are necessary for our embassy to do our job including carrying out and implementing the aid programs that are part of recent legislation that provides aid and assistance to the Pakistani government and people. So we think it is important that we have a properly staffed embassy in order to make sure that the American taxpayers' dollars are adequately and appropriately used as they were intended to."
Pakistan authorities, however, maintain that vehicles belonging to foreign diplomatic missions are being searched as part of enhanced security steps in the wake of rising militant attacks in the country.