ISLAMABAD: US Ambassador to Pakistan Donald Blome, during his visit to Muzaffarabad, referred to the territory as ‘AJK,’ short for “Azad Jammu and Kashmir.” While the Indian Ministry of External Affairs has not commented, many Indians, including a former Indian foreign secretary, have taken to social media to express their shock and protested against the United States calling Muzaffarabad as Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and asked whether Washington no longer considers Kashmir as disputed.
The US Ambassador in Islamabad, Donald Blome, recently visited Azad Kashmir and on October 4, the US Embassy in Islamabad issued a statement which included a photograph of Blome with some Kashmiris, saying, “Ambassador Blome hosted a reception to meet with members of the Muzaffarabad chapter of @PakUSAlumni, the world’s largest US alumni program. There are 950 #PUAN members in AJK”.
Was this a major shift in the US policy, asked some Indians where in the past, the Western capitals have tried to be politically correct by calling Jammu and Kashmir Pakistani-administered Kashmir on this side, and Indian-administered Kashmir across the Line of Control.
Former Indian Secretary Kanwal Sibal was at least having none of this and angrily tweeted, “Persisting in calling it AJK. India has repeatedly said PoK is Indian territory, and we oppose CPEC because it violates our sovereignty. The US is aware. The visit could have been quiet without publicity. Is (US) Ambassador ill-briefed or is to convey the US no longer considers it ‘disputed’ territory?”.
So far there has been no reaction from the United States Embassy in Islamabad to the Indian public reaction. US Ambassador Donald Blome visited Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) to promote the US-Pakistan partnership and highlight the deep economic and cultural ties between the two countries as well as the people-to-people contact.
The ambassador met with AJK Prime Minister Tanveer Ilyas besides academic, business, cultural, and civil society representatives during his visit from October 2 to 4. According to a statement issued by the US Embassy in Muzaffarabad, the US envoy laid a wreath to honour the victims of the 2005 earthquake and said, “During the 75 years of our partnership, the United States has always stood by Pakistan, particularly when it’s needed most.
“Following the earthquake, the US government and the private sector provided significant humanitarian relief. The US military delivered relief supplies.”
In his meetings, Blome emphasized that the US was continuing this strong tradition of supporting Pakistan during times of great need, having thus far contributed more than $66 million in cash, food, shelter, and health assistance in response to the devastating flooding. The American support included a US military airbridge that delivered lifesaving supplies to the people of Pakistan.
While at the University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, the ambassador visited the Lincoln Corner Muzaffarabad, which was celebrating its 15th anniversary. “The space provides students and local community with a multimedia resource centre to listen to expert speakers, participate in STEM activities, practice English language skills and learn about the US.” The ambassador also joined the university leadership to see previous US government-funded projects on campus, including a building completed in 2017, which features laboratories, classrooms, conference rooms, and energy-efficient and green-building concepts.
He also visited the Quaid-i-Azam Memorial Dak Bungalow, the Red Fort, and Jalalabad Garden, symbols of Pakistan’s cultural and historical richness. Meeting with members of the 950-person strong Muzaffarabad chapter of the Pakistan-US Alumni Network, the ambassador praised them for the passion they brought to their communities. He also discussed the 60 recent projects they had completed on topics as varied as climate change, women empowerment and entrepreneurship.
During his visit, the US ambassador also met with officers from the Pakistan Army 12th Infantry Division to discuss assistance activities for local communities. In Bagh, he joined representatives from the US healthcare IT services company MTBC/CareCloud to inaugurate the Headstart School, which enrolled more than 750 students. This purpose-built campus would strengthen the quality of education available to residents in Bagh and provide additional opportunities to the community. The MTBC/CareCloud has offices throughout Pakistan, but its Bagh facility is the largest in Pakistan, with 2,525 employees almost 20 percent of them are women.
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