The visit of US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) in April this year has created political upheaval in India, with the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) condemning her for trying to legitimise the demands of Pakistan.
Omar is the first member of the US Congress to visit the country after a new coalition government came into power in Islamabad. The Somalia-born Islamist politician had received a red-carpet welcome in Gilgit Baltistan, which is an Indian territory occupied by Pakistan.
On this occasion, US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar assured President Barrister Sultan Mehmood Chaudhry that she would join hands with other members of Congress in the US Congress to show solidarity with Kashmiris and will raise the plight of Kashmiris in Biden Administration.— Govt of Azad Jammu & Kashmir (@GovtofAJK) April 21, 2022
India took strong objection to the visit of the US Parliamentarian, given that it violated the territorial integrity of the country. “She visited a part of Jammu and Kashmir currently illegally occupied by Pakistan. If such a politician wishes to practice her narrow-minded politics at home that may be her business, but violating our territorial integrity in its pursuit makes this ours. Condemnable”, MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said without mincing any words.
This prompted the United States to quickly distance itself from the actions of Ilhan Omar. Derek Chollet, Counselor to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated on April 22 that Omar’s visit was unofficial and personal and it did not represent any policy change on behalf of the US Government.
Given the strong response of the Modi government over the visit of Ilhan Omar to Gilgit Baltistan, one would anticipate that this must have been the policy of India at all times. However, in 2011, when USAID funded the construction of Satpara Dam in PoK, the response of the Congress-led-UPA government was largely muted. This is despite the fact that the dam construction undermined the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country.
US funding of Satpara Dam
On January 6, 2011, the United States announced that it would provide 66 million dollars to support the construction of two dams to help Pakistan meet its energy needs. One of the dams included the Satpara dam, which is located in Skardu town of Gilgit-Baltistan (territory under illegal occupation of Pakistan).
While speaking about the matter, that then-Acting Special Representative for Pakistan frank Ruggiero remarked, “Last year’s devastating floods demonstrated the need for flood control infrastructure. These two multipurpose dams will control floodwaters, provide electricity and store water for irrigation and household use for downstream villages.”
He had even assured that the US would continue to help Pakistan in projects that bring about economic development in ‘critical areas.’ While Powerhouse Units No. 1 and 2 of the Satpara dam were operational by 2008, the US helped fund Power House Units No. 3 and 4 (which became operational by June 2013) and major canals of the irrigation system.
The Underrepresented Nations & Peoples Organisation (UNPO) had noted that the US support for the dam was controversial, given that Gilgit Baltistan is an internationally recognised disputed territory. It had pointed out that the dam construction could destroy ancient rock carvings and displace the local population.
“The completion of the Satpara Dam aims to add 17.6 megawatts of power generating capacity to the local power gridenough power to supply electricity to about 40,000 households,” the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) said in its report [pdf].
It further added, “The dam will also mitigate flooding in the region, store water to irrigate downstream land, and provide 3.1 million gallons per day of water for domestic use.”
The agreement was signed between Aga Khan Foundation and USAID on March 12, 2012, for the Satpara Development Project (SDP). Power House Unit No.3 became operational in May 2013 while Power House Unit No. 4 became operational in June 2013.
Contrary to the current response of the Modi government to Ilhan Omar’s visit, there was a negligible condemnation of US adventure in India’s territory between 2011 and 2013. By helping construct dams and developing the region without India’s consent, the United States violated the territorial integrity of the nation. However, the response of the then UPA government was meek and muted.