“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.
to R: Ambassador Jehangir Karamat, Congresswoman Sheila
Jackson Lee, Ken Ballen, Sardar Abdul Hameed and Aisha
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
Muhammad Aslam, Ambassador Jehangir Karamat and Mr.
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,"
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 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
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.