By Saima Afzal*
Ilhan Omar is an American politician serving as the U.S. representative for Minnesota’s 5th congressional district since 2019. She represents the Democratic Farmer Labor Party. She made her first ever visit to Pakistan on 20-24 April 2022 and held meetings with Pakistani politician/leadership and visited the cultural city of Lahore and also visited the Azad Jammu and Kashmir.
Kashmir the majority Muslim area has been a bone of contention between two South Asia nuclear-armed neighbours India and Pakistan, leading them to fight three wars since independence from the British Colonial Empire in 1947. Both countries claim on the disputed territory but rule it separately. However, the Congress women visit Azad Jammu and Kashmir was largely condemn by the Indian authorities as she stated that the issue should get more attention from the United States.
Therefore, Ilhan believes in an American foreign policy that centers on human rights. This has brought her to the region of Kashmir where gross human rights violations are being committed by the Indian government. Her interest stems from her objection to state sponsored Islamophobic violence and impunity. She has co-authored a bill to include such incidents in the US State Department’s annual human rights reports.
Her Stance on Kashmir
Subsequently, on visiting to Kashmir, she stated that she would brief US Congress and Biden administration about human rights violations being committed by the Narendra Modi’s government in IIOJK. She further said that “I do not believe that it (Kashmir) is being talked about to the extent it needs to the Congress but also with the administration”. In her stay at Capital of Pakistan she said on the question of Kashmir that we held a hearing in the foreign affairs committee (of congress) to look at the reports of human rights violations”. Previously, in the April 2022, she questioned the reluctance of the U.S government to criticize Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government on human rights violation in IIOJK.
At Congress and then on Twitter she said that How much does the Modi administration have to criminalize the act of being Muslim in India for us to say something? What will it for us to outwardly criticize the action that the Modi administration is taking against its Muslim minorities? She has staunchly supported Kashmiris in IIOK and has often tweeted her opinions. In 2019 after the annexation of Kashmir by Modi, Omar called for an immediate restoration of communication; respect for human rights, democratic norms, and religious freedom; and de-escalation in Kashmir, saying that the international organisations should be allowed to fully document what is happening on the ground. The Democrat leader also speaks out against Islamophobia and is a frequent target of extremist groups.
Access to Kashmir: Pakistan Policy vs. India Policy
Pakistan encourages and regularly facilities international and impartial observers to visit Azad Kashmir and LoC to see for themselves how peacefully Kashmiris are living on the side of the border. Therefore, the Congress women’s visit to Azad Kashmir was a part of this transparent and clear policy by Pakistan, which proved that Pakistan has nothing to hide and which showed who the Kashmiris want accession with.
On the other hand, India strictly disallows international observers to visit IIOJK. It has prohibited United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) and foreign media persons to visit the Indian part of LoC in Kashmir. In the past, India has also disallowed UN human rights chief from visiting IIOJK. The last high profile visit of foreigner to IIOJK was in 2019, that too by far-right members of European parliament who are known for their extremist views.
The US places high priority on human rights for its partners as well as rivals. But India is proving to be an unreliable American partner because of its human rights violations against minorities and especially Muslims in IIOJK. It is no more possible for US officials and to turn blind eye to India’s human rights Abuses in IIOJK. Secretary of State Antony Blinken gave a severe rebuke to India earlier in April saying, “We are monitoring some recent concerning developments in India including a rise in human rights abuses by some governments, police and prisoner officials. India has long faced allegations of rights abuses in its portion of the territory, but New Delhi always denies.
India’s Reaction to Visit
Hence, the undiplomatic language used by Indian Ministry of External Affairs against Ilhan Omar (after her visit to Azad Kashmir) has further stamped the fact that India is an unreliable partner of US. Despite being a strategic US partner, India is using undiplomatic language against a sitting US Congresswoman. Arindam Bagchi, spokesperson for India’s foreign ministry commented on her visit to Azad Kashmir. “Let me just say that if such a politician wishes to practice her narrow-minded politics at home, that’s her business.”
While Omar visited Pakistan’s Azad Jammu Kashmir territory, India considered it a violation of their territorial integrity and sovereignty. Whenever any impartial foreign observer or official has spoken truth about Azad Kashmir and IIOJK, India has resorted to their character assassination through smear campaigns. The same was observed against Ilhan Omar. By using undiplomatic language against Ilhan Omar once again India has approved that it is an unreliable ally of US that can embarrass it at any unexpected moment.
The easy access of foreigners to Azad Kashmir is testament to peaceful situation on Pakistani side of Kashmir. Whereas India’s refusal to allow foreign official visiting IIOJK is an attempt to hide its atrocities and rule by force from the world. India should took US Congresswoman visit to Pakistan’s Azad Kashmir in a realistic way and instead to criticizing should also invite impartial foreigners to visit IIOJK. Hiding the realities from the world cannot resolve the dispute, India should act rationally should sit together with Pakistan and resolve its difference and resolve Kashmir dispute through dialogue according to the UN resolution and wishes of Kashmiris.
*The author is an Islamabad based analyst and holds MPhil degree in Peace and Conflict Studies.