Imran Khan at Northern California Fundraisers
By Ras H. Siddiqui
Imran Khan Niazi is no stranger to both Pakistanis and the fans of the game of cricket worldwide. One of the finest all-rounders to have ever played the game, Imran also happens to be a hospital and college builder. Once married to Jemima Goldsmith (now Khan), a friend of the late Lady Diana Spencer and the honorable Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones, our Pakistani king of the social scene from Mumbai to London gave up his membership to the international jetset and started getting serious about life after the death of his mother Shaukat Khanum, in whose name he built a charity cancer hospital in Lahore.
Imran is a hero in many ways. His popularity transcends the societal stratification of Pakistani life. Rich or poor, old or young, Imran Khan since leading the Pakistani cricket team to its World Cup victory in 1992 has developed and retained quite a following. He has also entered politics as the head of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice) political party.
But besides all that, any time there is a need for a humanitarian effort in Pakistan Imran Khan is there to help. This scribe recalls that the most productive fundraiser ever held in Northern California after the devastating earthquake in Kashmir-Pakistan in 2005 was led by him. Imran has this unique ability to motivate Pakistanis and their friends wherever they may be. His brand name is one that remains untarnished. No corruption charges go against him. In politics his well-deserved reputation as a blunt straight shooter has actually hurt him.
On December 4 th the Imran Khan Foundation ( www.imrankhanfoundation.com) was present at two fundraisers in Northern California to aid flood victims in Pakistan . The recent floods there are possibly the worst natural calamity to have hit the country in its entire history, with millions homeless, livestock, cropland and storage facilities destroyed, it is no wonder that many organizations have come forward to help. Understandably, the Imran Khan Flood Relief effort stands at the forefront once again.
The two events held on December 4 th were a luncheon in Sacramento and dinner in Pleasanton, both sold out. One wonders if that would have been the case if Imran Khan was not himself present. For the purpose of this report, both events are being highlighted separately.
SACRAMENTO : This event was held at the Hyatt Regency opposite the State Capitol building in California’s capital city. It was Imran Khan’s first ever visit to meet the community in Sacramento, California and one is not sure if he was aware of the fact that the people here represent the oldest Pakistani ethnic presence in the United States . The event was put together by a group led by Dr. Aslam Godil, assisted by Naeem Syed, Sohail Shahzad, Talat S. Siddiqui, Farrukh Saeed, Khalid Siddiqui, Dr. Tehseen Jamal, Dr. Fouzia Godil and Bashir Choudhry of the local Pakistani-American Association.
The area is well-known for high-quality Muslim community events. Under the Pakistani domain, this was possibly one of the best large programs ever put together by the community here.
Local dignitaries including recently elected Insurance Commissioner & Assembly Member Dave Jones and another elected Assembly Member Roger Dickinson were in attendance. Basim Elkarra of CAIR along with the local “Who’s Who” of the Pakistani community were present. Kudos to all whoever put together the lunch menu.
Imam Mumtaz Qasmi from the Downtown Sacramento Muslim Mosque (founded by Pakistanis in 1947) started the formal program with the customary invocation. Dr. Aslam Godil made the introductions as a video on the need for relief for flood victims in Pakistan put together by David Washburn was shown. Pakistani-American Association of Sacramento President Bashir Choudhry said a few words before the audience stood up for the national anthems of the United States and Pakistan . Dr. Godil returned to recognize Americans from the area for their unique contributions to Pakistan and its people. They were Greg Zeller and his wife Laurie. Greg is operating women schools in Pakistan ( LWCO.org), Darcy Donovan of the PAKSBAB organization ( www.paksbab.org/), and Gary Bielman a male nurse who went to Pakistan for earthquake relief in 2005.
Faraaz Godil and Tanya Syed representing Pakistani-American kids and youth respectively set the pace but Bob Quance, an American who spent a part of his childhood in Pakistan really touched everyone as he donated a Pakistani flag that has been in his family since 1948 and asked that it be auctioned to raise funds for flood relief at this event.
Fauzia Kasuri of the Imran Khan Foundation set the tone for the fundraising segment. She said that the organization was teaming with other NGOs in Pakitan and was looking for a sustained relationship with the affected people there and that the Imran Khan brand name which was highlighted in a video titled “Transforming Lives” was shown. The high point of the fundraiser in Sacramento came when Mr. Sarfraz, President of the Downtown Muslim Mosque presented Imran Khan a sum close to $35,000 and invited him to come to the Mosque during his next visit. As the highest dollar donors, the Muslim Mosque was presented with the 1948 Pakistani flag. In total just over $160,000 was raised at this event.
PLEASANTON : The dinner at The Castlewood Country Club was an elegant sold out affair with just about the same number of people as earlier in Sacramento . Imran Khan has been coming to the San Francisco Bay area for almost two decades now and is no stranger to various cities around here. A new group of young people with the name of “Buddies Without Borders” ( www.buddieswithoutborders.org) put together this fundraiser with and for the Imran Khan Foundation. “ Buddies Without Borders (BWB) is an initiative by Concerned Pakistani Americans to spread awareness about the dire flood disaster in Pakistan and the need to continue to help the needy through the collective power of children.”
Led by Nabeela Khan and Sadaf Afzal along with the dedicated team at BWB, the older buddies of Indian and Pakistani descent were present here too. Maneshwar Judge was the emcee of the evening and did a fine job here too. This scribe remembers his introduction of former President Bill Clinton many years ago for an India-Gujarat earthquake fundraiser. It just goes to show that tragedies know no borders either.
A short and very moving video put together by BWB pretty much explained the whole purpose of the evening. Readers are requested to watch this beautiful video at ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lOEvAPZH-Rs) and experience it for themselves.
A speaker at the event, Sue Ackerman, commented, "When the awareness is raised about the plight of other children who are less fortunate than themselves the children respond in amazing ways and they want to give back without concern of who their helping." Emma C. Smith Elementary School in Livermore has been selected as the pilot program for the BWB service learning project.
A Pakistani kid carrying an American flag and an American kid carrying a Pakistani flag started the formalities at Pleasanton as the national anthems of both countries were played. It would be fair to report that the kids pretty much stole the show here.
The video shown earlier in Sacramento from the Imran Khan Foundation was shown at this event too, but the Pleasanton organizers added the ESPN’s Legends of Cricket program on Imran Khan, which certainly brought good memories for many in attendance. Both BWB and the Imran Khan Foundation were presented with Congressional Certificates for their flood relief activities from the office of local Congressman Jerry McNerney. Ayesha Sheikh represented his office at this event.
Entertainment was provided by a regrouping of the Pakistani musical band “Legend” just for this event. After several years and dispersed members moving on in life, Imtiaz Ahmad, Asim Wali and Noor Lodhi returned, joined this time by Maneshwar Judge (percussion) and Michael Anand on guitar. And by the end of the evening just over $120,000 were raised at this fundraiser. Buddies Without Borders need to be congratulated for their fine effort here.
And now to the ‘Lion of Pakistan” himself, Imran Khan Niazi. The Niazi family name is being added here just to differentiate him from others, possibly due to to the success and popularity of this particular legend, there are just too many people named Imran Khan all over the world, particularly in Pakistan and India. Khan Sahib was his usual self at both these events and appeared quite relaxed when seated in the company of his many admirers and friends. But when he got up and started speaking, things were not always calm. But people listened intently. He spoke in English as requested at both events and often broke into Urdu upon request, since the jokes were better in Pakistan’s national language.
He was critical of the current government and certain Pak-US policies but wanted to maintain good relations with all. In his motivational address he said that he had come to the San Francisco area for the first time when many in the audience were children, bringing with him a little known singer by the name of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. He said that what was seen in the video does not tell the full extent of the flood tragedy. “As Pakistanis we have no other choice but to play our part,” he said. He added that food inflation had hit the country due to the floods and many more people have suddenly found themselves under the poverty line. He added that his organization was helping to bring help to people so that they can stand back up on their feet, by getting seeds to farmers so that they can plant crops as soon as possible. He said that the adminitrative costs in his organization were amongs the lowest and that it has a good track record of delivery to those in need.
It would not be off the mark to add that Imran took many moments during his speeches at both events to promote his political party along with his charitable foundation. And whether one agrees with him or not on the political front, it is hard to argue on some of the points that he raised. As one person said to this scribe at the Sacramento event, Imran Khan has delivered something back to his country in the shape of a hospital and a college and for that he has the respect of people from all over Pakistan. Whether he is a good politician or not is immaterial. He is a person who has shown that he cares.