Independence Day Celebrations in Washington
By Aisha Chapra

Ambassador Karamat hoists the national flag

Washington, DC: The Embassy of Pakistan celebrated the 2005 Independence Day of Pakistan with innovation and fanfare. The celebrations, in addition to the usual flag hoisting on August 14, included a panel discussion, launching of two books and a music album, an unplugged concert, an exhibition of contemporary art from Pakistan, and a mehfil-e-mushaira.
On the evening of August 13, 2005 a large gathering of both Pakistanis and non-Pakistanis visited the Embassy to listen to a distinguished panel of speakers. Mrs. Zeenut Ziad, Professor Akbar S. Ahmed, Salman Ahmad, and Ambassador Jehangir Karamat spoke on the occasion. The panel’s topic was “Pakistan: Past, Present, and Future – A Pakistani-American Perspective after 9/11 and 7/7.”
Deputy Chief of Mission, Mohammad Sadiq, who was the organizer of the celebrations and master of ceremonies, introduced each panelist. Zeenut Ziad studied economics at the London School of Economics and had held a number of posts including Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of Karachi. The first woman executive in Pakistani banking, she also served as an economic consultant with the World Bank. Pursuing a long-standing interest in South Asian history, in particular the Mughal period, she organized a lecture series on the Mughal Empire at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC. The success of the series and the need for a comprehensive text covering major areas of Mughal history led to the compilation of the book, Magnificent Mughals.

Dr. Akbar S. Ahmed
Zeenat Ziad
Salman Ahmad
DCM Sadiq


Mrs. Ziad spoke about the importance of history, stating that “those who cannot look backwards into history can never look forward into the future”. She said history provides us with a base, a truth about what exists today that no other subject can. Specifically for Pakistanis, if we do not familiarize ourselves with the Mughal period then we cannot know what we were once and what we still can be. Also, because of the lack of knowledge of our own history, many young Pakistanis have started to lose pride in their heritage.
On Pakistani soil one of the oldest civilizations of the world (Indus) had existed along with one of the most magnificent empires that history had witnessed: the Mughals. Their pragmatic philosophy of multiculturalism and inclusiveness made it possible for their empire to succeed in a vast region of thousands of languages, customs and traditions. The Mughals succeeded, according to Mrs. Ziad, because of their ability to be pragmatic about a multicultural and multi-faith society. Something, she remarked, that we must revisit in Pakistan today.


Salman Ahmad performs unplugged

Mrs. Ziad compared the Mughal empire to the US position as a superpower today. For example, she said the Mughals were the largest manufacturing base in their time.
Professor Akber S. Ahmed is the Ibn-I-Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at the American University. The DCM introduced him as the most famous Pakistani living in the US. An anthropologist, author and scholar, civil servant and diplomat, Professor Ahmed has worked to facilitate inter-faith dialogue throughout his career. He has consistently stressed the importance of multi-faith dialogue. His new book After Terror, Promoting Dialogue Among Civilizations, is a product of such exercises that he has undertaken since 9/11. Also, he said the book is the first comprehensive rebuttal to Samuel P. Huntington’s “clash of civilizations”, a theory specifically discussing the inevitabilities of a clash between the Islamic world and the West. A theory that Professor Ahmed realized many would think proven on 9/11.
Professor Ahmed recalled the morning of 9/11; he watched the planes fly into the towers on TV. He said, “I realized at that moment, as an individual, that the work I had been doing for years to promote dialogue between faiths and cultures would have to increase hundred-fold. I knew that everything that I held dear would be under attack, that my own identity would be under attack.”
Dr. Akbar S. Ahmed said that we live in a “time of great challenge and opportunity.” He said that the US is a multi-cultural society which respects people of different faiths. “This is time to get involved…,” he emphasized.
The final panelist, a Pakistani-American, Salman Ahmad, is the lead guitarist of the most popular rock band of Asia, Junoon. Junoon’s music brings together people of all faiths and cultures to their concerts around the world. Salman spoke about the importance of human contact in dealing with the crisis of Muslim identity since 9/11. He spoke about his life in the US from the age of 10 until 14 and how he was the only Asian in his school. Younger members in the audience could relate to his story, many had attended schools in which they were the only Pakistani. Salman referred to the struggle he felt as a Pakistani American after 9/11 because he was judged to belong to a certain side because of his name, culture and religion, but he exclaimed “that I was on both sides.” Salman Ahmed said that on the 11th of September 2001, Islam was “hijacked” by terrorists. “Running away from reality is no more an option,” he stated. “Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance,” he added.
There was a short Q & A session, in which there were questions about Islam and its compatibility with democracy, and the role of madrassahs in religious extremism.
Ambassador Jehangir Karamat gave the concluding remarks for the evening, starting by thanking the distinguished speakers and continuing
on to a discussion about Pakistan’s future. “Pakistan has set a clear cut strategic direction for itself, which is based on moderation, democracy, stability, a viable economy, prosperity and rapid social uplift.” The Ambassador conceded that there are hurdles in the transition period for Pakistan, but as long as Pakistan is on course with a strategic plan, it is moving in the right direction.

DCM Sadiq introduces the panel
Naseem Farojg at Mehfil–e– Mushaira

Ambassador Karamat thanked the “ever growing number of enthusiastic supporters” who affirm the causes the Embassy is promoting, “which indicates the growing and sustained participation of the Pakistani-American community in the affairs of its motherland.”
He praised the Pakistani-American community for doing “extremely well” and expressed his desire to utilize this vast “resource” to build a stronger Pakistan. “You are a precious resource for us, whom Pakistan needs,” he said. He encouraged all Pakistani-Americans to actively engage in issues of national interest. “It is a question of survival and not choice,” he stated.
Lastly, the Ambassador addressed a theme that emerged with the panelists—that there is a large element of diversity in Pakistan and how important it is to truly understand what this means. One cannot pass judgment on Pakistan or Pakistanis based on a small segment of society with extremist beliefs, instead we must look towards Pakistan’s rich diversity.
Salman Ahmad also gave an unplugged concert with Junoon classics, such as “Bulleya”, “Jazba-Junoon” and “Azadi”. Salman announced the formal release of his solo album Infiniti on the occasion. The Washington Embassy became the first diplomatic mission where a popular music album was released. The authors Ms. Ziad and Professor Ahmed, signed copies of their books while Salman did the same for his solo album Infiniti.
The final event for the evening was the opening of an art exhibition of contemporary Pakistani artists. The exhibition was co-organized by Rising Leaders, an organization for second generation Pakistani Americans that works for the empowerment of the Pakistani youth in the mainstream of the US society. The exhibition included the works of twenty prominent artists from Pakistan. Gulgee, Wasi Haider, Mansure Aye, Nahid Raza, Mansoora Hassan, Hussain Tariq, Abrar Ahmed, Mashkoor Raza, Jamshaid Tahir, and Tapu Javeri were among some of the artists whose works remained on display at the Embassy till August 22. The exhibition was visited by hundreds of guests including art critics, journalists and other art enthusiasts who marveled at the wonderful artwork and diversity of expression from Pakistan.
Sunday morning, August 14, 2005, the Ambassador hoisted the flag to mark the Independence Day of Pakistan. He then read out the messages from the President and Prime Minister to members of the community and Embassy staff.

Guests at the Mehfil–e– Mushaira
Guests at the Art Exhibition

At night, the stage was set in Jamshed Marker Hall for the first ever Mehfil-e-Mushaira at the Embassy of Pakistan. The host of the Mehfil was Mr. Khurram Yousuf Zai. The event brought together poets on an evening that celebrated the beauty of the Urdu language. He began with the thought that poetry must have started not with the first poet but with the first word a human being ever spoke.
Mr. Khurram Yousuf Zai introduced DCM Mohammad Sadiq with an incredible exposition on the work, the vision and the love and commitment that he had brought to the Pakistani community living in the US. He especially talked about DCM Sadiq’s outreach with the youth and his work to engage them in the Embassy activities. He described DCM Sadiq as a man who refuses to sleep because his dreams can only become reality when he is awake.
DCM Sadiq took stage, not expecting such a lavish introduction. He attributed all the accomplishments to the support of the community, and said “because of your support there are ventures like Rising Leaders, National Pakistani Student Association (National PSA), Pakistani-American Liaison Charter (PAL-C), and the Congressional Pakistani Caucus.” He also emphasized the work that the interns at the Embassy did to make the Independence Day celebrations possible.
The evening was a spectacular display of vernacular ability by nine poets from the Pakistani community. The poets involved in the Mehfil were Mrs. Moona Shahab, the co-host, Syed Baqir Zaidi, Mr. Shakeel Azad, Mr. Naseem Fargh, Mr. Aziz Qureshi, Mrs. Shahida Kazmi, Ms. Tahira Rida, Mr. Naseer A. Aasi, Mian Shoaib Amjad, Dr. Saad Omar, and Dr. Zulfiqar Kazmi. The poets addressed many interesting dilemmas, such as a Pakistani immigrant who desires to return home but cannot because of his children who have grown up in the US, and another about the denial of equality to women as a witness.
It was a stimulating evening, reminding us that the traditions of our forefathers hold a worth that cannot be expressed in words. Urdu, when spoken in poetry, becomes even more beautiful and expressive of deep complexities.
The tradition to celebrate the Independence Day with extended and innovative activities and events at the Embassy, started by DCM Sadiq three years ago, has taken firm roots. Gone are the days when Independence Day was celebrated only with a mere flag-hoisting ceremony. The community, particularly in the DC area, now looks forward to these events and celebrations every year.

 

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

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