Rising Leaders in Washington
Spotlight Kashmir Struggle & Quake Havoc
Dr. Fai (above left)
and other speakers at the Rising Leader’s meeting
Washington, DC: On October
27, 2005, Rising Leaders marked the 58th Anniversary of Kashmir
Black Day in Rayburn House Office Building. Students, legislative
staffers, and young professionals, Pakistanis and non-Pakistanis
alike, attended the event to promote understanding and awareness
about an issue that is too often neglected by the international
community. Although October 27 is traditionally a day of recognition
for the Kashmiri struggle and the plight of a people divided,
Kashmir Day 2005 also focused on the devastation of the October
8 earthquake that literally shook northern Pakistan and Kashmir.
Fauzia Tariq, Executive Director of Rising Leaders, opened
up the program by welcoming the guests and speakers and reminiscing
over the beginnings of this now rapidly growing organization.
She spoke of the concept of a politically informed and active
Pakistani-American community as a dream for a few exceptional
students and young professionals based in Washington and how
this dream has manifested into a nationwide reality in merely
a year with the birth of Rising Leaders. Furhan Shah and Azmat
Khan, who are currently interning with Rising Leaders, also
expanded on the mission of the organization and its current
fundraising activities, which have raised over $175,000 dollars
for the President’s Earthquake Relief Fund. This is
the largest amount raised by any community organization for
the President’s Relief Fund.
The first speaker for the evening was Osman Ashai, a sophomore
at Georgetown University who was born in Srinagar, Kashmir.
Through a collection of pictures taken from a recent trip
to Kashmir, Osman was able to carry the audience across the
Atlantic to the land that will forever be known as “Paradise
on Earth”. By relating personal accounts and encounters,
he was able to tell the story of a peace-loving people in
a land of turmoil. Osman emphasized that although the people
appeared simple and humble, Kashmir boasts one of the highest
literacy rates in South Asia.
Osman really brought the Kashmiri struggle home when he told
the audience that his own family is divided between Azad Kashmir
and Indian Occupied Kashmir. Osman’s candid presentation
left the audience with the image of a beautiful land and humble
people that is rarely portrayed in mainstream media.
The second presentation was by Sadia Sindhu, who is currently
a freshman at Georgetown University. Sadia spoke on the recent
quake that shook her hometown of Muzaffarabad and left behind
over 50,000 dead and millions homeless. Sadia’s photographic
montage displayed images of the destruction, pain, and helplessness
that were experienced by people all over Kashmir and Pakistan.
The images provided the visuals that were needed to close
the gap of understanding and realize the gravity of this tragedy.
Sadia also spoke of her own family’s devastating experience
with the earthquake.
The keynote speaker, Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai, President of the
Kashmiri-American Council, closed the evening with remarks
on the historical struggle of Kashmir and the most recent
adversity it has had to face. Dr. Fai stated that although
the damage caused by the earthquake is unimaginable, the Government
of Pakistan, with the support of Pakistanis worldwide, has
been a blessing for the people of Kashmir.
Dr. Fai reminded the audience that Kashmir Black Day, October
27, is the day that marks the start of the Kashmiri struggle;
it is the day that the Indian forces invaded Kashmir. He spoke
of UN resolutions that recognize that Kashmir was a disputed
territory and should be resolved according to the wishes of
the Kashmiri people. Dr. Fai stated that although the peace
process and bus service from Muzaffarabad to Srinagar is “a
dream come true” for many divided Kashmiri families,
it should not mask the fact that thousands have already lost
their lives and are still dying because the Kashmir issue
has yet to be resolved.
Dr. Fai concluded the evening by thanking Rising Leaders and
all those in attendance. He encouraged the audience to donate
to earthquake relief efforts and to advocate for a more aggressive
peace process in Kashmir.