A Memorable Rising Leaders Youth Conference
By Aisha Chapra

 

President 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 were expressed.
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 generation.
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.

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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