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Foreign Policy

Why is Ilhan Omar in Pakistan?

ilhan omar pakistan kashmir Imran khan
U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar meets former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan at his Bani Gala residence on April 20, 2022. (Image Credit: Twitter)

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar arrived in Pakistan this week on a two-day visit that has included meetings with senior government and opposition figures as well as a tour of the Azad Jammu and Kashmir region along the Line of Control with India.

Omar has a knack for courting controversy and her visit to Pakistan is proving to be no exception. The Somali American congresswoman met with former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday. And politicians and commentators aligned with the government took the opportunity to criticize Khan for meeting an American official as he continues to accuse the United States of orchestrating his downfall.

Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah asked Khan whether his meeting with Omar was a “conspiracy or interference” — a sarcastic reference to the competing characterizations by Khan and the Pakistani military of a U.S. diplomat’s harsh statement in a meeting with his Pakistani counterparts. Khan claims were part of a regime change “conspiracy.” The military asserts that they were just “interference.”

Omar also met with senior officials of the new coalition government in Islamabad, including Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar. It’s likely that her visit was scheduled long before Khan’s removal from power in a vote of no confidence this month.

Ilhan Omar and Imran Khan Counter Islamophobia

Both Ilhan Omar and Imran Khan have been outspoken on the rise of Islamophobia in the United States, Europe, and other societies where Muslims are minorities, such as India. Omar, a Muslim woman who wears the hijab, is a frequent target of Islamophobic attacks by the political right in the United States.

In December, the House approved a bill introduced by Omar that would create the position of special envoy to monitor and combat Islamophobia globally. Similarly, Khan spearheaded efforts to get the United Nations to set March 15 as the International Day to Combat Islamophobia.

Ilhan Omar and Imran Khan on Kashmir and Hindutva Extremism

Ilhan Omar and Imran Khan have also been outspoken on the plight of Kashmiri and Indian Muslims under India’s Hindutva extremist government. After meeting with government and opposition figures on Wednesday, Omar visited Pakistan’s Azad Jammu and Kashmir region today, which is the Pakistan-administered portion of the broader Kashmir region disputed between India and Pakistan. The congresswoman stated her visit was aimed at learning more about human rights conditions in the region.

ilhan omar pakistan kashmir visit
U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar during a visit to Pakistan’s Azad Jammu and Kashmir region on April 21, 2022. (Image Credit: Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

India reacted to Omar’s visit with hyperbolic anger, condemning it as a violation of India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Khan’s critics have inaccurately portrayed Omar as a representative of the Biden administration. Omar is a member of Biden’s Democratic Party, she is part of the progressive wing known as the Justice Democrats. She’s much further to the left than Biden and a staunch critic of its domestic and foreign policies. Omar has also gone on the record to criticize alleged U.S. attempts at regime change in places like Venezuela.

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