US ambassador to Pakistan Donald Blome recently undertook a secret six-day trip to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir as well as the port city of Gwadar. Experts say the Gwadar visit is a significant move that could signal ‘silent diplomacy’

A top US diplomat’s visit to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir has created a row.

Donald Blome, the US ambassador to Pakistan, recently paid a secret six-day visit to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. India has repeatedly dismissed Pakistan’s claims over the region and stated that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of the country.

This is Blome’s second trip to the region in less than a year.

Prior to that, high-profile US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar visited PoK in 2022.

On Thursday, Eric Garcetti, US Ambassador to India, brushed off any disapproval of the American envoy in Islamabad visiting PoK.

Garcetti made mention of the fact that a US delegation visited Jammu and Kashmir during the third G20 Tourism Working Group meeting in Srinagar in May.

Let’s take a closer look:

What Happened?

As per Dawn, Blome recently paid a six-day visit to Gilgit-Baltistan during which he visited different areas and met local representatives and government officials.

As per the Pakistan-based news daily, the Ambassador’s tour was kept secret by both the embassy and local government as no details about the visit were provided to the media. The only official information about the envoy’s visit came in a statement issued by the Gilgit Baltistan deputy speaker’s office.

Blome also met Food and Tourism Minister Ghulam Muhammad in Gilgit.

Blome also visited the port city of Gwadar days before his visit to Gilgit Baltistan, where China is executing infrastructure projects as part of CPEC.

Why US Diplomats Visit To PoK Has Raised Eyebrows

Donald Blome also visited the port city of Gwadar. Reuters

The Opposition leader in Gilgit-Baltistan, Kazim Mesum, however, questioned Blome’s visit to Gilgit-Baltistan.

Speaking in the Assembly on Friday, Mesum said “the mysterious activities” of the US ambassador in the region have raised questions.

Mesum added that the GB government was not aware of the visit, as per Dawn.

“There is a set procedure for any country’s ambassador to visit the region,” he said.

He called Blome’s arrival in Gilgit after visiting Gwadar “suspicious”.

The Opposition leader said visits to the two most vital areas of CPEC were part of “the US’ CPEC containment policy”.

“The ambassador visited areas from which the CPEC route will pass,” Mesum was quoted as saying by Dawn.

“There are many under construction mega projects in GB including CPEC, Diamer Bhasha Dam, while threats of insurgency from Afghanistan and local security issues also exist” Messum added

During this time, the “undisclosed visit” was alarming, he said.

According to Pakistan-based news outlet The News International, Blome visited various recreational places as well as ongoing projects of UNDP with the help of the local government.

The American ambassador visited Attabad Lake after reaching Hunza and also went to the Karakoram International University.

The American ambassador also visited the Hunza royal palace, along with the American delegation, as per the outlet.

What Do Experts Say?

Blome’s visit to Gwadar has raised eyebrows in many quarters.

The Print noted that this is the first time a US ambassador to Pakistan has visited the port in nearly two decades.

“It’s a significant move because Gwadar port is a heavily barricaded area, access to which is closely monitored,” the piece stated.

Senior journalist Hamid Mir, speaking to The Print, said Blome’s visit indicates a ‘silent diplomacy’ between Washington and Islamabad.

Mir participated in one of the meetings between Blome and the Baloch authorities.

A political analyst from India, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the trip could Islamabad’s “all-weather relations” with Beijing.

“It signifies the start of [US’] amenable diplomacy with Pakistan,” the analyst added.

Garcetti, asked about Blome’s PoK visit, said, “I know he has been there before, but our delegation has also visited Jammu and Kashmir during the G20 meeting.”

Garcetti on Tuesday said Blome’s visit to Gilgit-Baltistan is a matter which should be “resolved between India and Pakistan, not by any third party including the US.”

Earlier Visits To PoK

But this isn’t the first time Blome has visited Pok.

Hindustan Times quoted a statement from the US embassy in Islamabad as saying Blome made the trip to “promote the bilateral partnership and highlight people-to-people ties”.

The statement referred to the region as AJK.

The envoy in October 2022, visiting PoK, also called the region “Azad Jammu and Kashmir.”

His handle tweeted:

India in 1994 had passed a resolution saying PoK is part of India and Pakistan must vacate and end its illegal occupation Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi at the time said, “Our objections to the visit and meetings in PoK by the US envoy have been conveyed to the US side.”

Omar, the controversial Democratic Congresswoman, earlier visited Pakistan and PoK in 2022.

In August, an annual House financial disclosure report revealed that Omar’s trip was funded by the Pakistani government.

Islamabad had paid for Omar’s visit from 18 to 24 April including food and lodging.

“I don’t believe that it (Kashmir) is being talked about to the extent it needs to in Congress but also with the administration,” Omar told reporters at the time.

India had at the time taken strong exception to Omar visiting PoK.

The MEA in a strongly-worded statement said: “She visited a part of Jammu and Kashmir 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 it ours.”

Derek Chollet, counsellor to Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the time said, “It’s an unofficial personal visit and it does not represent any policy change on behalf of the United States government.”