APPNA in a Perspective
By Syed Mansoor Hussain
During the last week of June, APPNA (Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America) held its annual meeting in Washington DC. Daily Times has reported that meeting and what happened there vis-à-vis Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan and Ambassador Hussain Haqqani. Barrister Ahsan was lionized and PMLN and JI representatives were welcomed while Ambassador Haqqani was booed. Why? Let me try and put things in a perspective.
I am a life member of this organization and served as the editor of its journal for five years. I count many of its members as well as its elected representatives as good friends, though over the last few years, I have had great differences with how this organization is being run.
Almost thirty years ago, Pakistani physicians in the US got together and formed an association. They called it the Association of Pakistani Physicians of North America leading to the whimsical acronym, APPNA. Recently, the association renamed itself, replacing ‘Pakistani’ to ‘Pakistani descent’.
APPNA consists of close to two thousand doctors living in North America who voluntarily pay a substantial sum of money to become members. It has yearly elections to determine its leadership. As such it is perhaps the only organization made up of Pakistanis anywhere in the world that actually elects its leaders annually in free, fair and open elections.
It is not a monolithic organization and has no chairpersons or leaders for life. Besides its primary membership, it has component societies. These include alumni associations of virtually every medical college in Pakistan and local chapters in many states and geographical areas. The leadership of all these components is also elected in accordance with APPNA by-laws.
The Association is governed by its executive committee which comprises its president, president-elect for the next year, ex-president, the secretary and the treasurer, all elected. There is a council above them that includes the above as well as elected representatives of component societies. Finally, there is an elected board of trustees that oversees all.
What does APPNA do? It provides a great networking platform for physicians that come from Pakistan. It has also been involved in charitable activities, most prominently during the earthquake that hit Pakistan in 2005. Its members also provide considerable support to public and charitable hospitals in Pakistan.
Can it do more? Of course.
Now to more interesting things about APPNA. It is made up of reasonably well-to-do physicians who, like their compatriots in the US, are more often than not conservative both in political as well as social matters. As such they are mostly supporters of the Republican Party in the US, the GWB interregnum aside. In Pakistan they would tend to support the PML-N (in its latest incarnation) and, that most of them do.
Over the last few years some of its newer members have brought in an activist or ‘progressive’ point of view. But when it comes to Pakistani politics, there are few in APPNA that can be thought of as supporters of the PPP. It is clear that both the members from the conservative as well as the progressive sides find common ground for their support of the restoration of the judiciary.
It is for this reason that Barrister Ahsan is their hero. He straddles the divide and is acceptable to the conservatives as well as the progressives within APPNA. Anybody who represents the PPP government is not acceptable. And that is Ambassador Haqqani’s problem, not anything that he might have intrinsically done.
The fact that Ambassador Haqqani has established his academic and political credentials over the last few years is undeniable. But the problem is that during my decades of involvement with APPNA, I have never seen PPP representatives welcomed to any APPNA meeting.
APPNA since last year has been focused on the judiciary and other such issues. During the recent convention, there were no forums devoted to the economic problems that beset Pakistan today. And there was no discussion about the creeping Talibanisation either. All APPNA progressives and activists were concerned with, it seemed, was the restoration of the judiciary.
Moreover, as an organization of doctors, it is ironic that the problems of health care delivery in Pakistan were entirely ignored; a sad omission if one might say so. That brings me to my major problem with this organization. Over its three decades, it has made little impact on medical issues in Pakistan.
At the same time as the largest and arguably the most well-organized group of affluent Pakistanis living in the US, it has made little if any difference to how Pakistanis are seen in the US.
After 9/11, some of us felt that APPNA should have taken a lead role in the US to counter the general anti-Muslim fever that swept the country. It had the financial wherewithal as well as connections in the US establishment to have made a difference but its leadership was too involved in internecine turf battles, not unlike members of the Pakistani establishment today.
Most members of APPNA still behave as Pakistanis that happen to be living in the US rather than Americans who happen to be from Pakistan.
(Syed Mansoor Hussain has practiced and taught medicine in the US. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Courtesy Daily Times. )