U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar traveled to the Pakistan-administered part of Kashmir on Thursday and promised to push Washington to pay more attention to the disputed region, drawing swift criticism from India.
“I don’t believe that [Kashmir] is being talked about to the extent it needs to in Congress but also with the [U.S.] administration,” Omar said after visiting the military Line of Control, or the de facto border separating Pakistani and Indian-ruled parts of the divided territory.
She spoke to reporters in Muzaffarabad, the administrative center of the Pakistani part of Kashmir, after making the rare visit for a U.S. lawmaker.
Omar, a member of President Joe Biden’s Democratic Party in the U.S. Congress, is a naturalized citizen who was born in Somalia. She traveled to Islamabad for meetings with Pakistani leaders before traveling to Kashmir.
“On the question of Kashmir, we held a hearing in the [Congressional] Foreign Affairs Committee to look at the reports of human rights violations,” she said.
India denies long-running allegations of rights abuses in its portion of the divided territory; it tightly controls access to Kashmir for foreign observers, including those from the United Nations.
New Delhi swiftly condemned Omar’s visit to the Pakistan-ruled part.
“We have noted that she has visited a part of the Indian union territory … that is currently illegally occupied by Pakistan,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi told a news conference in the Indian capital.
“Let me just say that if such a politician wishes to practice her narrow-minded politics at home, that’s her business,” he said. “But violating our territorial integrity and sovereignty in its pursuit makes this ours and we think the visit is condemnable.”
India controls two-thirds of the Muslim-majority Himalayan region and Pakistan the rest, with both countries claiming Kashmir in its entirety. India ended the decades-old semi-autonomous status of its part of Kashmir in 2019 and divided it into two territories to be directly controlled by the federal government.
Islamabad condemned the move and demanded New Delhi reverse it, saying a long-running United Nations resolution bars the countries from unilaterally altering the status of the region.
The territorial dispute has sparked two of the three wars between the nuclear-armed South Asian nations since they gained independence from Britain in 1947, and Kashmir remains the main source of military tensions between India and Pakistan.
Earlier this month while speaking in Congress, Rep. Omar questioned what she called the reluctance of the U.S. government to criticize Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government on human rights, warning he is “criminalizing the act of being a Muslim in India.”
Days later, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States was monitoring what he described as a rise in human rights abuses in India by some government, police and prison officials, in a rare direct rebuke by Washington of New Delhi’s rights record.
Critics say Modi’s Hindu nationalist ruling party has encouraged religious polarization since coming to power in 2014. Right-wing Hindu groups have assaulted minorities, claiming they are trying to prevent religious conversions, among other abuses.
Some information for this report comes from the Reuters news agency.