National PSA & Rising Leaders Fall 2004 Conference
By Adnan Tahir

Washington, DC: The Pakistani-American youth organizations - Rising Leaders and the National Pakistani Students Association - organized their Fall 2004 Conference at the Embassy of Pakistan, Washington DC, on November 20-21, 2004.

Rising Leaders is a professionally managed organization that operates at Capitol Hill and is a joint venture of the Pakistani-American youth and the Embassy. The National PSA was also established by the Embassy and brought together on one platform chapters of the Pakistani Students Association operating in major university campuses across the US.

L to R:Ambassodor Jehangir Karamat,DCM Sadiq and Dr.Akbar Ahmad

The theme of the conference was “Preparing Today’s Youth for Tomorrow’s Challenges.” It featured panel discussions, presentations, leadership workshops, etc. Prominent Pakistani professionals such as Mr. Shahid Javed Burki, former Finance Minister of Pakistan; Ms. Bapsi Sidwa, renowned novelist and author; Dr. Akbar S. Ahmad, Ibn Khaldum Chair of Islamic Studies, American University; Mr. Shahid Hussain, former Advisor on Finance to the Government of Pakistan; and Mr. Mowahid Hussain Shah, Advisor to Chief Minister Punjab, author and political analyst were among the speakers at the conference.

The main highlight of the day was a banquet hosted by Ambassador Jehangir Keramat for the delegates during which he also delivered his first address in the US as Ambassador of Pakistan.

After the inauguration of the conference and a brief ice-breaking session, a Professionals Panel began its deliberations. The theme was “Politics is not just for Politicians.” The participants included Dr. Akbar S. Ahmad, (academic), Ms. Bapsi Sidwa (author), Mr. Shahid Hussain (economist), Dr. Rafiq Rahman (physician), Mr. Tariq Khan (engineer) and Mr. Haroon Khan (lobbyist). The speakers called upon the young audience to become more involved in the American political system because the present was a time of great challenges and great opportunities. They called upon them to learn m ore about their faith, their religion and cultural heritage in order to build a bridge between the East and the West. Ms. Bapsi Sidhwa stated that politics came naturally to all Pakistanis and in Pakistan they had a strong tradition of dissent, particularly among the poets. The panelists emphasized that it was the age of ideas and young Pakistani-Americans could only become more effective by being more aware of their rights and by participating in the politics of the country.

Mr.Bapsi Sidhwa and Akbar Ahmad at the book signing

Another important presentation of the day was “Kashmir: Paradise Lost.” Three young Kashmiri Americans and former interns at DCM Sadiq’s Office - Mr. Osman Ashai, Mr. Hyder Syed and Ms. Hafsa Kanjwal - highlighted the plight of Kashmiris in the Indian Held Kashmir. They had visited Indian Held Kashmir in summer this year. Ms. Hafsa Kanjwal in her narrative focused on the psychological and mental trauma endured by the courageous women of Kashmir who have been the long suffering victims of unending t ragedies unleashed upon them in the form of rape, torture and murder. She, however, said that people had pinned their hopes in the ongoing Pakistan-India dialogue, and hoped that a solution to the problem would soon be found so that the energies and resources of the people could be diverted to their socio-economic uplift. Mr. Hyder Syed dwelt at length on the harder political and factual side of the issue, and highlighted the record of crackdowns, checkpoints, curfews, human rights abuses and use of rape as a weapon of war, torture and murder in Indian Held Kashmir.

Mr. Osman Ashai’s presentation included screening of strikingly beautiful pictures he took during his visit to Kashmir. The keynote speaker, Mr. Mowahid Husain Shah (a regular columnist of Pakistan Link) said as a result of his frequent interaction with the American academia he felt that there was a “hunger” to know more about Kashmir, to find out the causes of the dispute, and to explore possibilities of a lasting solution. He called upon the Pakistani-American community to seize the moment, to be vigilant and to respond to the challenge in order to educate the people of the true nature of the issue. He emphasized that “facts, principles and law” were all on the side of Kashmiris and it was imperative for the Pakistani-American community to reach out and play a positive role in the resolution of this dispute.

Audience at the conference

The presentation on Kashmir was followed by a debate on “Pakistani-Americans: Leaning Left or Right.” The participants included Mr. Faizan Haq, Secretary General of the Pakistani-American Congress; Mr. Nasim Ansari, elected Kalamazoo County Commissioner; Mr. Umair Khan, Congressional Staffer from “Muslims for Kerry;” and Mr. Akir Khan Congressional Staffer from “Muslims for Bush.” The participants debated the policies of the Republican the Democratic parties.
Day one of the conference also featured readings by Ms. Bapsi Sidwa and Dr. Akbar S. Ahmad form their books followed by book signing.
In the evening, the Ambassador hosted a banquet for the delegates. DCM Mr. Mohammad Sadiq introduced the Ambassador. He referred to the Ambassador as a “distinguished soldier”, “great scholar” and a “fine human being”. Ambassador Keramat paid rich tributes to the initiatives launched by the Embassy to benefit the Pakistani community and particularly praised the DCM for providing leadership to various community projects. He also commended the Deputy Chief of Mission’s efforts in involving the second generation Pakistani-Americans in various initiatives launched by the Embassy.

Ambassador Karamat praised the leadership qualities of the Pakistani-American community and emphasized that in the globalized world countries flourished because of the strength of their diasporas, and added that "Pakistani-Americans could do a lot for Pakistan by being proud of their Pakistani heritage.” He also praised the young generation for their flexibility of thinking, energy, and analytical perspective, and most importantly, their leadership skills. He noted that the second generation Pakistani-Americans were incredibly educated and talented, and had the skills required to interact with and to integrate in the American society. He stated that they represented the balance between the East and the West and referred to the young generation as a bridge between two different sets of tradition, history, culture and societies.

He hoped that the young generation would one day become a part of the mainstream US political system as Governors, Judges, Senators and Congressmen. Ambassador Keramat said the United States needed people like the young Pakistani Americans to be active in civil society and politics, and stated that they should plan their future accordingly.

He stated that the Embassy of Pakistan had taken several initiatives to help the community achieve its ambitions. In the end, however, the Embassy could only be a catalyst and the success or failure of these initiatives depended on the involvement of the community.

Audience at the banquet

Day two of the conference started with a number of Leadership Workshops which took place simultaneously at the Embassy on topics such as Pubic Speaking, Networking, and the Role of Literature in Politics. This session was followed by a presentation on Pakistan’s economy, “Issues of Economic Disparity in Pakistan”. The keynote speaker was Mr. Shahid Javed Burki who spoke at length about the challenges faced by Pakistan in the field of economy. The presentation was followed by a lively Q&A session.

DCM Mohammad Sadiq delivered a lecture on Pakistan-US relations. He pointed out that relations between states were always based in national interest. The relations could transform with a change in national interest. Coincidence of national interests provided an opportunity to establish the relationship between Pakistan and the US on firmer foundation. He said Pakistan was an import ant country for both the Democrats and the Republicans. Talking about the war on terror, he emphasized that the US needed to pay attention to dealing with the root causes of terrorism that included disputes of Kashmir and Palestine. Resolution of these disputes will bring about a major change in the situation.

Commenting on the domestic situation in Pakistan, Mr. Sadiq stated that five important developments had taken place in Pakistan in recent years: women had gained unprecedented representation in electoral politics at all levels; Pakistan’s economy had been transformed; defense expenditure had been reduced as a percentage of GDP; a media explosion had brought about a new awareness in the society; and Pakistan’s relations with all its neighbors and major powers had improved. He acknowledged that the system was not perfect; however, a start had been made and now needed to keep up the momentum and to concentrate on improving the lot of common people.

Mr. Sadiq’s lecture was followed by the last panel discussion of the two-day conference. The Professional Pakistani Women’s panel comprised Ms. Bapsi Sidwa, Ms. Alfreda Gill, an educationist and Ms. Nayyera Haq, a Congressional staffer. The topic was “Breaking the Glass Ceiling of Culture and Society.” The panelists spoke at length about their varied experiences in their field of professional expertise and underlined the need for a greater participation of women in all walks of life.
The conference ended with a debriefing session by Mr. Sadiq. The next Youth conference is scheduled to be held in Los Angeles in January 2005 that will be followed by a conferences in Houston and New York.


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.