“Spirit of Kashmir” Photo Exhibition in Washington

 

Washington DC: A large number of people hailing from different walks of life, particularly, diplomats, media, staffers of the Senate and Congress, took keen interest in the photo display about Kashmir and the October 8th, 2005 earthquake.
Ms. Aisha Chapra, Executive Director of the PAL-C, gave a welcome address, stating that the purpose of the exhibition was “to give a message of hope through the stories of courage and resilience of the victims of the earthquake.” This event marked the first of many to bring awareness and attention to the plight of the survivors of the earthquake in Pakistan and Pakistani-administered Kashmir.


L to R: Ambassador Jehangir Karamat, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Ken Ballen, Sardar Abdul Hameed and Aisha Chapra

Sadia Sindhu, the Executive Director of Rising Leaders, welcomed the speakers to address the audience. Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai, the Executive Director of the Kashmiri American Council (KAC), spoke of the generosity of the people of Pakistan for the earthquake victims, and quoted UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on Pakistan’s role in the past during the Afghan crisis. “Pakistan took in close to 6 million Afghan refugees”.
Next, President of Terror Free Tomorrow, Ken Ballen, stressed the urgency and necessity of continued US support to Pakistan through humanitarian assistance. He said that to win the hearts and minds of the people of Pakistan, the US must act as a leader in the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the earthquake-ravaged region. In November 2005, a Terror Free Tomorrow poll in Pakistan, showed that 78% of Pakistanis said that they had a more favorable opinion of the United States because of its assistance to Pakistan since the earthquake.

Ambassador Karamat with a Congressional Staffer
DCM Muhammad Aslam, Ambassador Jehangir Karamat and Mr. Rehman Jinnah

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, co-chair of the Congressional Pakistan Caucus, agreed with the message displayed in the photo exhibit: that the story of the earthquake survivors will be told by the children (Oxford University Press, Introduction by Fatima Bhutto in book: October 8, 2005 - 8:50 a.m. Stories of Hope and Resilience from Survivors of the Earthquake in Pakistan).
In lieu of the recent controversy on the cartoons, Ms. Jackson Lee also called for respect of religious feelings and the appreciation of religious diversity. Instead of focusing on the negative, it is important that we focus on the goodness of religion, and religious beliefs. The Congresswoman said while it was "appropriate not to talk to the fundamentalists, it is imperative to have dialogue with moderate Muslims. "Respect for religious feelings”, she stated was a must. She deplored the publication of the cartoons and its implications, which hurt the feelings of Muslims.
In his remarks later, Ambassador Jehangir Karamat said that he "totally agreed" with the observation of Congresswoman Lee in the matter of religious diversity. "There are consequences" for any expression "based on irresponsibility," he added.
Ambassador Karamat said the visit of President George Bush to the region "provides a unique opportunity" to focus on the resolution of the Kashmir issue "to allow the Kashmiris exercise their right to freely choose their destiny." The Pakistan Ambassador said Kashmiris have been victims of state persecution "for decades." Their difficulties have been compounded by the recent earthquake. "However, as this exhibition makes amply clear, the will of the Kashmiri people remains as strong as ever and the spirit of Kashmir remains full of faith and hope, as ever."


The audience

The Ambassador added that the tragic earthquake struck a people who were already suffering from atrocities which were man-made. He said it has been four months since the earthquake disaster struck Kashmir leaving behind a trail of destruction and woe. Over 80,000 perished and millions were forced to seek shelter away from their homes. Material losses in the form of destroyed schools, hospitals and infrastructure, are huge.
He said, "We are overwhelmed by the outpouring of sympathy and support by the international community." The people of Kashmir and Pakistan, he added "are deeply touched by the whole-hearted, generous and timely assistance from the United States at this hour of trial." The generosity exhibited by the American people, including the vibrant community of Pakistani Americans, will never be forgotten. "U.S. helicopters, paramedics and relief teams played a critical role in saving lives." He appreciated the US role in the relief phase and added, the "US is playing an equally crucial role in the reconstruction phase." Resolutions passed in Congress “are a source of strength for the earthquake victims. Legislators from both houses have visited the affected areas to see for themselves the scale of devastation caused by the earthquake. We value their sympathy. We applaud their efforts."
The Ambassador praised the organizers for their superb effort in displaying befitting photos on Kashmir and the earthquake tragedy. He particularly named Ms. Aisha Chapra and Ms. Sadia Sindhu for their untiring efforts - and added PAL-C and Rising Leaders were doing a great service.
The Pakistani American Leadership Center and Rising Leaders would not have been able to bring such a unique display of photos and stories without the contributions of: Sara Sywulka, Ray Buchanan, Osman Ashai, Sadia Sindhu, and the Oxford University Press (OUP). The stories of survivors featured in the exhibition are being published by OUP, Pakistan in a book titled, October 8, 2005 - 8:50 a.m. Stories of Hope and Resilience from Survivors of the Earthquake in Pakistan. The book will be released in early June and is being compiled by Fatima Bhutto and edited by Nida Jafar.


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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