US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price on Friday said that Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who is currently on her maiden visit to Pakistan, was not visiting the country on US government-sponsored travel.
The senior official made the statement during a press briefing today in response to a question from a journalist.
"As you are well aware that Imran Khan is still blaming US for his ouster from PM’s office while he’s also asking his supporters to keep protesting outside the White House. But yesterday Congresswoman Ilhan Omar met with Mr. Khan in Islamabad. It was kind of an hour-long meeting. Close associates of Mr. Khan claim that United States trying to clear the air with Mr. Khan. Is it true that Ilhan Omar is representing Biden government there in Islamabad," the journalist had asked.
"Well, as I understand it, Representative Omar is not visiting Pakistan on US government-sponsored travel, so I’d need to refer you to her office for questions on her travel," Price replied.
Omar, who made history as one of the first two Muslim women elected to the US Congress, arrived in Islamabad earlier this week on a visit to Pakistan. The Congresswoman will stay in Pakistan till April 24.
During her stay, she has met several important figures, including President Dr Arif Alvi, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, National Assembly Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf and Foreign Office officials, as well as PTI Chairman Imran Khan.
Omar's first day in Pakistan was dominated by a controversy over her meeting with ex-premier Khan who claims a Washington-backed conspiracy was behind his government's ouster. Washington has denied the claims.
Besides taking a hardline on the private interactions between politicians and US officials, Khan has in his speeches at public rallies vowed no subservience to the US while accusing his opponents of toeing Washington’s line.
According to PTI's Shireen Mazari, Omar had discussed Islamophobia and other related issues in the meeting with Khan at the PTI chairman's Bani Gala residence.
Politicians and social media users immediately questioned the PTI chairman about the meeting with the American legislator and reminded him of his criticism of US officials meeting opposition figures. Newly elected Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah led the charge by asking Khan if his meeting with Omar was “a conspiracy or interference”.
Mazari, subsequently, fired back at the critics by saying that Omar was not a part of the US administration.
Omar's visit to AJK
Price's statement on Omar's visit has come a day after she visited Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), where she acknowledged that the Kashmir dispute was not being talked about in the power centres of the US at the required level.
“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,” she said while speaking to local journalists in Azad Kashmir.
“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.
She, however, expressed the hope that her visit would pave the way for “many more conversations” on the Kashmir issue.
Omar further told the journalists that 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".
Separately during a meeting with AJK President Barrister Sultan Mahmood, Omar voiced serious concern over human rights violations in India and occupied Kashmir and said she 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 issued by the latter’s office.
For his party, the AJK president highlighted the "dire need for the international community, particularly the US, to come forward and help resolve this (Kashmir) dispute between the two nuclear powers".
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.
Meanwhile, Omar's visit to Azad Kashmir did not sit well with India and New Delhi condemned it in a strongly-worded statement.
Indian media quoted Arindam Bagchi, spokesperson for India's external affairs ministry, as saying: “Let me just say that if such a politician (Omar) 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.”