MUZAFFARABAD: US Congresswoman Ilhan Abdullahi Omar on Thursday acknowledged that Kashmir dispute was not being talked about in the power centres of the United States of America at the required level, but expressed the hope that the situation would change.
At an interaction with local media at the President House, Rep. Omar said, “On the question of Kashmir, we held a committee hearing on the foreign affairs committee to look at the reports of human rights violations and to talk about the bigger issue with the [Narendra] Modi administration’s anti-Muslim rhetoric and how that’s leading to human rights violations as well.”
On the occasion, Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK) President Barrister Sultan Mahmood was present.
In the same breath, she added: “I don’t believe that it [Kashmir] is being talked about to the extent it needs to be, not only in Congress but also with the [US] administration.”
India reacts strongly to US Congresswoman’s visit to AJK
She, however, expressed the hope that her visit would pave the way for “many more conversations” on the Kashmir issue.
“And that the condemnations and concerns of those who fight for human rights and the question of the Kashmir issue will be included in those [hearings],” she said.
Local reporters had asked questions about anti-minorities legislation and state-sponsored assaults on religious minorities, mainly Muslims, in India, as well as the worsening human rights situation in occupied Jammu and Kashmir, particularly after it was stripped of its special status in August 2019.
One of them also asked if former prime minister and PTI chief Imran Khan, who blames the US for regime change in Pakistan, had also complained about it during their meeting the other day and if yes, what was her reply? However, Ms Omar avoided replying to it.
She thanked journalists for their “very spirited questions” and said she would address a formal press conference at the end of her trip and “probably answer some of the questions you all asked [here].”
Earlier, during her meeting with President Mahmood, she said she had voiced serious concern over the human rights violations in India and Kashmir and would [again] take up the issue with the US Congress as well as the Biden administration.
“We are deeply worried about India’s August 5, 2019 move,” she told the AJK president, according to a press release by the latter’s office.
She said she was delighted to be given this opportunity to be in meetings [with officials in Pakistan and AJK] and looked forward to seeing different parts of it and learning more first-hand.
“For me, human rights have been the priority of my work, and you can’t fight for the rights of others if you are not doing it in partnership with them,” she said.
On his part, Mr Mahmood said India’s traditional intransigence was the stumbling block in the way of resolving the longstanding Kashmir issue that had now assumed dangerous proportions.
Due to India’s obduracy, no progress whatsoever has been made on the issue since 1947. Instead of resolving the dispute peacefully, India has deployed over 900,000 troops in the disputed territory, who are engaged in the systematic genocide of Kashmiris. “
The AJK president also drew her attention to demographic engineering in occupied Kashmir and said India had issued fake domiciles to 4.2 million Indian Hindus to change the proportion of the population in occupied Kashmir.
“Under the prevailing circumstances, there is a dire need for the international community, particularly the US, to come forward and help resolve this dispute between the two nuclear powers.”
He expressed gratitude to Ms Omar for taking a strong stance on human rights violations and underscoring the importance of dialogue.
“The manner in which you have condemned the human rights violations in occupied Kashmir by India is a source of strength for us,” he said.
According to official sources, the Congresswoman was also flown to the Line of Control (LoC) in the Chakothi sector, where she was briefed on the situation before and after the fresh understanding between the Pakistani and Indian armies to respect the 2003 ceasefire agreement.
Some residents, who had been affected by Indian shelling prior to the ceasefire, had also gathered there and shared their tales of horror with the visitors.
The Chakothi sector was home to one of the three active crossing points along the LoC, which had been opened in 2005 as a Kashmir specific confidence-building measure (CBM). Three years later, barter trade between the divided parts of Kashmir was also started as another CBM to increase people-to-people contact.
However, India unilaterally discontinued both travel and trade on flimsy grounds in April 2019 – just four months after scrapping the special status of occupied Jammu and Kashmir in a blatant disregard of the UN Security Council resolutions.
It’s not the first time that Ms Omar, a Somali-American who belongs to President Joe Biden’s Democratic Party, has drawn attention to India’s poor human rights record.
In early April, she questioned the alleged reluctance of the US government to criticise Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government on human rights.
Days later, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that Washington was monitoring the rise in human rights abuses in India by some government, police, and prison officials.
On Thursday, while Rep Omar was still in AJK, India issued a strongly-worded reaction to condemn her visit.
According to Indian media reports, Arindam Bagchi, spokesperson for India’s ministry of external affairs, said: “Let me just say that if such a politician wishes to practice her narrow-minded politics at home, that’s her business.
“But violating our territorial integrity and sovereignty... makes this ours, and we think the visit is condemnable.”
Published in Dawn, April 22nd, 2022