Ilhan Omar, the Congresswoman from Minnesota, is currently in Pakistan on a four-day visit. Her trip to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir drew condemnation from New Delhi, which said that it ‘violated India’s territorial integrity and sovereignty’
“If such a politician wishes to practice her narrow-minded politics at home, that may be her business. But violating our territorial integrity and sovereignty in its pursuit makes it ours. This visit is condemnable.”
The spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs Arindam Bagchi wasn’t mincing words on Thursday when he condemned the visit of United States Congresswoman Ilhan Omar to Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK).
The US Congresswoman visited the disputed area as part of her four-day visit to India’s neighbour — Pakistan. During her trip, she also met ousted Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan at his residence in Bani Gala in Islamabad.
US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar called on Chairman PTI in Bani Gala. They discussed Islamophobia & related issues. @Ilhan expressed her admiration for @ImranKhanPTI & his position on & work against Islamophobia globally. IK appreciated her courageous & principled position on issues. pic.twitter.com/m3kPa2poYx
— Shireen Mazari (@ShireenMazari1) April 20, 2022
Ilhan, who represents the state of Minnesota in Congress, arrived in Pakistan on Wednesday and is the first American lawmaker to visit Pakistan after the ouster of Imran Khan as prime minister of the country.
We take a look at who Ilhan Omar is, her rise in American politics and her past brushes with the Indian government.
Who is Ilhan Omar?
Born in Somalia, Ilhan and her family fled the country’s civil war when she was eight. The family spent four years in a refugee camp in Kenya before coming to the United States in the 1990s. In 1997, she moved to Minneapolis with her family.
Ilhan’s grandfather is her inspiration to join politics. Before her political career, Ilhan worked as a community educator at the University of Minnesota, was a Policy Fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and served as a Senior Policy Aide for the Minneapolis City Council.
Ilhan made history in January 2019 when she became the first African refugee to become a Member of Congress, the first woman of colour to represent Minnesota, and one of the first two Muslim-American women elected to Congress.
Ilhan’s presence in politics has been characterised by her hijab. In fact, she has faced a lot of brickbats for her hijab-wearing practice, which she spoke of in her book This is What America Looks Like. “I need to cover pieces of myself to preserve who I am and feel whole. … [The hijab] connects me to a whole set of internally held beliefs,” she said in the book. The hijab remained a constant factor in her public life, culminating in Congress having to repeal a law from 1837 banning headgear from the chamber to enable her to take her seat.
Today, Ilhan supports policies like greater healthcare coverage, more background checks for gun buyers, and abolishing the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.
She has been a vocal proponent for immigration. When former United States president Donald Trump signed an executive order to block and ban visitors, refugees and immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries, including Somalia, she had said, “The White House has tried to wrap their hateful policy up in a false story about national security. But we know the truth…”
Ilhan’s political career hasn’t been without criticism, though.
In 2019, when the United States House of Representatives voted to recognise the systemic extermination and expulsion of ethnic Armenians by the Ottoman Empire during World War I as genocide, Ilhan abstained from it, inviting ire from people.
Defending her decision, she was quoted as saying, “I believe accountability for human rights violations – especially ethnic cleansing and genocide – is paramount. But accountability and recognition of genocide should not be used as a cudgel in a political fight. It should be done based on academic consensus outside the push and pull of geopolitics. A true acknowledgement of historical crimes against humanity must include both the heinous genocides of the 20th century, along with earlier mass slaughters like the transatlantic slave trade and Native American genocide, which took the lives of hundreds of millions of people in this country. For this reason, I voted ‘present’ on the final passage of H.Res 296, the resolution affirming the United States record on the Armenian Genocide.”
The US Congresswoman has many a controversy because of her incessant attacks directed at Israel and her “anti-Semitic” views.
In 2021, she faced a barrage of attacks when she tweeted that “we have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the US, Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban”.
“We must have the same level of accountability and justice for all victims of crimes against humanity,” she wrote, including a video of her questioning Secretary of State Antony Blinken during a committee hearing in the House of Representatives.
We must have the same level of accountability and justice for all victims of crimes against humanity.
We have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the U.S., Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban.
— Rep. Ilhan Omar (@Ilhan) June 7, 2021
Omar’s mention of militant Islamist groups Hamas and the Taliban in the same breath as the US and Israel rankled her colleagues in the House.
“Equating the United States and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban is as offensive as it is misguided,” wrote New York Democrat Jerry Nadler, in a statement.
Stance on India
Ilhan has been very vocal about her criticism of India, and the Narendra Modi administration.
In 2019, she has been overtly critical of the Modi government’s decision to abrogate Article 370. Following the lockdown and communications blackout in the region imposed in Kashmir, she had slammed the government and demanded for “immediate restoration of communication.”
We should be calling for an immediate restoration of communication; respect for human rights, democratic norms, and religious freedom; and de-escalation in Kashmir.
International organizations should be allowed to fully document what is happening on the ground.
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) August 26, 2019
At a US Congressional hearing on human rights in South Asia on human rights in the same year, she went after Indian journalist Aarti Tikoo Singh on the matter.
Ilhan attacked her personally during the hearing and accused the Indian journalist of being partisan.
On the matter of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam too, Ilhan has voiced her opposition.
During the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearings on human rights in South Asia, she had said that US’ partnership with India “based on values” had been threatened due to the Modi government’s “Hindu nationalism project”.
Kashmiris have been restricted from communicating outside their country for 50+ days.
In Assam, almost 2 million people are being asked to prove their citizenship. This is how the Rohingya genocide started.
At what point do we question whether PM Modi shares our values? pic.twitter.com/xazzwfiR61
— Rep. Ilhan Omar (@Ilhan) October 22, 2019
She told the hearing then: “In Assam almost two million people are being asked to formally prove their citizenship… There’ve been official statements to the effect that no Buddhist, Christian, Sikh or Jain refugees need to worry about their status, so this is clearly an anti-Muslim program.
“I’m sure you’ve seen the reports that the Indian government is starting to build camps in Assam to hold those who are unable to prove their citizenship. This is how the Rohingya genocide started. At what point do we no longer share values with India? Are we waiting for Muslims to be put in those camps in Assam?”
The United States also categorically stated that Ilhan’s visit to Pakistan was not sponsored by the United States government.
“As I understand it, Representative Omar is not visiting Pakistan on US government sponsored travel, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price was quoted as saying.
His remark comes on the heels of the MEA’s sharp criticism of Ilhan’s visit to PoK, which was called ‘condemnable.’
With inputs from agencies
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