A Memorable Rising Leaders
By Aisha Chapra
General Pervez Musharraf addresses second generation
Pakistani Americans in New York
Washington, DC: Until July
2005, I was the Executive Director of Rising Leaders and
now I am the Executive Director of Pakistani American Leadership
Center (PAL-C). Attending this Youth Conference was an incredible
opportunity to witness the growth of Rising Leaders in the
past year from a small organization to one that hosts the
President of Pakistan. I also thought it appropriate to
share my experience of attending a Rising Leaders conference
as an “outsider” for the first time.
On September 17, 2005 a large group of Rising Leaders’
volunteers gathered in the Ballroom at the Roosevelt Hotel
for the Youth Conference with President General Pervez Musharraf.
The event was organized entirely by volunteers, distinguished
in the crowd because of their black suits and red shirts
or ties. The average age at the immensely large conference
was 24. I heard comments throughout the event, remarking
that never had people met nicer ushers or been through a
smoother registration process.
It is funny how certain attributes and expectations are
automatically attached to events that are Pakistani: delayed,
disorganized and problematic for the guests. Rising Leaders,
however, is setting the stage for a new age of Pakistani
organizations that are reliable, orderly and most importantly,
professional to the utmost level. Rising Leaders is an organization
that encourages young Pakistani Americans to pursue fields
of political science, journalism, media, and arts and humanities.
As the evening progressed, due to Rising Leaders efficient
and extremely organized registration process, the Secret
Service even allowed standing space in the hall so that
more people could be in the same room as President Musharraf.
For those left in the overflow room sincerest apologies
After the arrival of the President, Salman Ahmed, lead guitarist
of Junoon, played the national anthem on his electric guitar.
A perfect opening to an event for the Pakistani youth.
I was delighted to hear Ambassador Karamat’s opening
address in which he called the Pakistani American youth
the greatest asset that we have. Pakistanis living in the
US hold a position of significance, as bridges between the
East and West and as active representatives for a positive
image of Pakistan.
President Musharraf reiterated these statements and spoke
of our generations’ responsibility to the future of
Pakistan. He talked about how his generation had failed,
despite being handed a successful economy and state. Therefore,
this generation has to make up for lost time, carrying forward
a future with great speed and confidence about Pakistan
and all that it can achieve.
Moreover, the President remarked that many of us sitting
in the room may not realize that we will become leaders
one day— just like when he was young he never thought
he would have become the head of state. “Our fate
decides for us sometimes,” advising that we must carefully
prepare to become responsible and capable leaders of our
All in all, the President covered issues of vast importance
to the average Pakistani living either in the US or in Pakistan.
He assured us that he understands the ground reality in
Pakistan and that there are many problems still to resolve
and many obstacles still to overcome. Yet, the President
left us with the optimistic thought that in regard to Pakistan
the glass is half full, and that as representatives of Pakistan
we should have faith and hope in progress, in positive change
and in the future.
According to the President, the greatest menace facing Pakistan
now is terrorism and extremism, two very different yet interrelated
creatures of our time. He urged each of us to fight against
all the forms of extremism that are manifested in our lives.
This message, being central to the status of our Pakistani-American
community after 9/11, is one that we must embrace and take
seriously. Admitting that the problem of extremism lies
within us and not outside of us is the first step. Preaching
or tolerating hate towards minorities and other religions
must be stopped not only in Pakistan and mosques but in
the heart and mind of every Pakistani.
This is the message that as PAL-C Executive Director I take
to heart when I conduct outreach with all members of the
community, influential or not. As Pakistani-Americans we
must be proud of our heritage but also make an equal attempt
to truly understand it, both religiously and culturally.
To conclude, I hope everyone will recognize the immense
effort put forth by second generation Pakistani-Americans
in managing a professional and organized event. We must
shed this image of inefficiency, disorganization, and “Pakistani
Standard Time”. Instead, we should benefit from the
American culture’s lack of elitism and its guidance
to rules and procedure.