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article imageOp-Ed: Pakistani lawyer for victims denied visa to drone conference

By Ken Hanly     Oct 13, 2013 in Politics
New York - At a conference on drones this weekend, there were many industry representatives. However, a Pakistani lawyer who represents victims of the strikes did not receive a visa in time to attend the conference.
The lawyer, Shahzad Akbar, said that the State Department has yet to issue him a visa enabling him to enter the country, after he began publicly speaking about the drone issue.
Akbar was scheduled to be on a panel on Friday at the " Life Under Drones" discussion that was part of the Drones and Aerial Robotics Conference at New York University. At the start of the conference Madina Tahir, an independent journalist said: "The United States government will not allow him to speak to you".
The main purpose of Akbar's visit this month is for him to serve as an interpreter before Congress for a client who says a drone strike killed his grandmother.
Representative Al Grayson called the State Department to gain approval of his visa but the agency did not act in time for the conference presentation. Tahir noted that the drone conference was populated by drone geeks and Air Force representatives with no organized lobby for the victims of drone attacks. She pointed out that there are defense contractors on the board of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.
Some drone producers were irritated with panelists such as Tahir. One even suggested that there is racism against drones rather than in drone attacks. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that 99 to 160 people have been killed this year by drone attacks in Pakistan with up to 4 being civilians.
When one participant asked: "How do we get away from this idea that drones are evil?" Tahir responded: "I think that's part of your responsibility. Military drones should not be an acceptable form and that is part of your responsibility."
US drone attack opponents received support from a somewhat surprising source, Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen and almost died as a result. Malala had criticized the banning of education for girls under the Taliban as well as other features of the Taliban rule.
She met with President Obama and Michelle Obama at the White House. In a statement after the meeting Malala said: "I thanked President Obama for the United States' work in supporting education in Pakistan and Afghanistan and for Syrian refugees. I also expressed my concerns that drone attacks are fueling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people. If we refocus efforts on education it will make a big impact."
A later White House statement did not mention the criticism of drones. As the appended video shows, Akbar's visa problems are not new. He had precisely the same problem back in April of 2012.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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