Hopes her visit will help foreigners get over misgivings about Pakistan
LAHORE: US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar has said that meeting victims of Indian ceasefire violations and “seeing them suffer” had made it all the more necessary than before to raise the Kashmir issue at the US Congress.
“Having met the Kashmiri people in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), who nurse the bullet wounds, due to ceasefire violations by India, is an incredible experience,” she said when asked about her bold stance on the issues of Kashmir and Palestine.
She shared that the first-hand experience has put her under “an obligation to stand for human rights and human dignity”.
During her four-day visit at the invitation of the Pakistani government, the US Congresswoman visited the Line of Control (LoC) in AJK and held meetings with a number of key government officials, including the president, prime minister, and cabinet members as well as leaders of political parties.
She also visited the Walled City of Lahore.
Ilhan said she had always taken up the questions of Kashmir and Palestine in the Congress but, she added: “I had not had the opportunity to visit the place in person. It was incredibly awful to meet the people first hand and ask them how they want to be in a partnership with me as a lawmaker and advocate of (the) human rights.”
When asked if she would raise the issue at the Congress, she said having met the people in person and seeing them suffer made the necessity of raising the issue at the Congress more urgent than listening to it from others. About herself, Ilhan said her story was of “trial and triumph”.
“I was born in Somalia but had to flee the country due to civil war and lived for four years in generous Kenya before me and my family were sponsored to come to the United States of America (USA).
“Here I was able to continue my studies and live in a community of warm-hearted people, although Minnesota is very cold, for the past 20 years. I represent people of my community in the US Congress.
“I am someone who has experienced oppression and violation of human rights at a young age, and since I have been put into a position of power by the people, I deem it my duty to advocate for those who don’t have that power.”
Ilhan said living with the people disenfranchised and facing economic challenges, those who had not had full opportunity to educational opportunities, and those who were dealing with Islamophobia and racial discrimination, had prepared her to fight for the cause of the weak and the exploited, she affirmed.
The US congresswoman said the Pakistani diaspora provided a strong bond between Pakistan and the United States, noting that those relations had bolstered over the past 75 years.
She said the Americans had benefited from the entrepreneurial spirit of the Pakistanis, their innovation, and their focus on advancing technology and healthcare.
For many Americans, she said, their first interaction with Pakistanis was when they met them as their physicians and surgeons. The people-to-people contacts cemented equal and mutually beneficial diplomatic relations, she added.
The US congresswoman recalling the experience of her first visit to Pakistan, saying: “I have been humbled by the generosity of the political leaders in Pakistan, who put their differences aside and welcomed me with open arms during my visit to the federal capital.”
She dismissed the negative stories that the (foreign) people might have heard about Pakistan, saying that they would be pleasantly shocked to know how smooth and joyful her trip had been.
“I enjoyed every bit of my stay,” Ilhan said in response to a question about her visit to Pakistan.
‘Cultural Harmony’
On her experience in Lahore’s historical walled city, the US congresswoman said she was fascinated to find a church, a Sikh temple, and a Hindu temple in close proximity to a mosque when she visited the Walled City of Lahore, which was the best exponent of cultural harmony.
She pointed out that visiting Pakistan would help the (foreign) people get over their misgivings about the country.
Ilhan thanked the Pakistani government and the people for the warmth, generosity and hospitality, saying she had been treated as a family member during her maiden short visit to the country.
About her visit to Lahore, Ilhan fondly said, “I have seen Lahore in movies from the age of five but it has been an incredible experience to visit Lahore in person and see the Punjabi culture.” It was like the fulfilment of a wish list, she added.
“Once I share my experiences on social media, all those who come across my experiences will love to buy a ticket and fly to Lahore,” she said.
On climate change, the US congresswoman said it was a real issue and the US, as a global leader, “thinks it important to make investments in the global community to ward off the challenges of climate change. There have to be investments in renewable energy to ensure our younger generations inherit a planet that is liveable”.
Ilhan said she would fight the exploitative use of water of Punjab rivers by India as she had done in the case of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
About the Pakistani food, she said she enjoyed the spicy food. Her husband, Tim, was also fond of the spicy Pakistani food and his US-Pakistani friends provided it in plenty.
In her message to the Pakistani diaspora in the US, she said their participation in the civil society and electoral process was vital to make a niche on the political scene in the US. To the Pakistani girls and women, the US congresswoman said the youth had limitless potential.
The women needed to realise their inner potential to ensure their external liberation, they needed to believe in their powers, and the society would not change unless they were ready to fight for themselves and the rights of others.
She urged the women from the Pakistani minorities to take an active part in politics to be heard.

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