the Editor: Akhtar
March 21 , 2008
March 23rd and Pakistani Americans
In the life of expatriate Pakistanis, March 23rd is like any other day characterized by trifling annoyances of work-a-day life: the frenzied scramble to reach the workplace on time, the exasperating rush on the tortuous freeways, the usual exchange of pleasantries with colleagues who don’t have the slightest inkling of the Lahore Resolution, the monotonous tedium of the “job,” not to mention the worrisome proposition of paying the monthly mortgage and car loans on time.
The spectacle of the armed forces marching to lilting martial tunes and the colorful pageant of floats winding their way on Aiwan-e-Sadr in Islamabad are a thing of the past. The heart seems to miss a beat. There is a lump in the throat and nostalgia in the air as one hums ‘Ham zinda qom haen, Painda qom haen, Ham sab ki hae pehcan, Ham sab ka Pakistan, Pakistan, Pakistan, Ham sab ka Pakistan ...’
The privations are many. Yet, the evening presents a different setting. Huddled around dinner tables, the expatriates avoid the formalistic exercise of delineating the train of events that led to the creation of Pakistan. Instead, the debate is lively, frank and absorbing. They talk matter-of-factly. The arguments are not merely conjectural. For some, the winter of despair continues to linger, for others a spring of hope has arrived.
The pessimists express unfeigned reservations about Sir Syed’s two-nation theory; Iqbal’s dream of Pakistan; Quaid’s decision to part ways with the Congress; Muslim-minority provinces’ wisdom to form the vanguard in the struggle for Pakistan; and the role of the Muslim-majority states, including the belated but decisive 1946 vote for Pakistan, which paved the way for the partition of the subcontinent.
Prefatory explanations over, the optimists furnish telling proof of Pakistan being a country on the march: Professor Abdus Salam winning the coveted Nobel Prize; Pakistani scientists taming the atom in gleaming reactors with KANUPP and CHASHNUPP lighting up homes and sustaining industries; Dr. A.Q. Khan and PAEC teaming up and their zestful strivings and spectacular successes; Dawn, The News, Herald, Daily Times, and Newsline conforming to the quintessential standards of English journalism; the growing fraternity of Geo and ARY TV channels; women on the march in the role of prime ministers, vice chancellors, ambassadors, judges, editors, airline pilots; and Kakul Military Academy commissioned officers. Pakistanis’ dynamism and creative impulse have been demonstrably in evidence.
What then is the malaise that plagues the Pakistani society? The much bemoaned ethnic divide? Adventurism of the armed forces and erosion of democratic rule at quick intervals? Empty rhetoric and insipid platitudes religiously orchestrated by political leaders? Apathy to science and high-tech? Lack of accountability? Rampant corruption? Poor literacy? A slavish and cringing judiciary? The detestable, well-entrenched feudal system?
The irritants that blight the national scene are identified and debated.
Conflicting views soon give way to consensus on many an issue. To be sure, the involvement of the Pakistani expatriates with the mother country extends beyond emotional debates and academic discourses.
Quite a few purposive groups have supported Pakistan’s efforts to alleviate the scourge compounded by illiteracy, poor health, and poverty. One of the world’s most successful human development program has been launched by an enterprising group of Pakistani Americans - Najeeb Ghauri, Pervaiz Lodhie, Shoaib Kothawala, Salim Adaya, Dr Raza Bokhari and Dr Rafiq Rehman. Called the Pakistan Human Development Fund (PHDF), the program has made a tangible difference in the education and poverty index of the country. The UNDP has testified to the phenomenal PHDF successes:
Enrolling 8.235 million 5-7 years old out-of-school children,
Training and deployment of over 20,000 feeder primary school teachers,
Establishment of 20,000 Community-Based Feeder Schools,
Opening of 121,187 Adult Literacy Centers created.
The Association of Pakistani Physicians of North America (APPNA), the third largest medical association in the US, has demonstrated operational mastery in executing well-meaning schemes in various parts of Pakistan to strengthen the health and education sectors. With the passage of time, the schemes have multiplied almost with a chain reaction effect. APPNA SEHAT, PAK-PAC, winter CME meetings in Pakistan, APPNA/KEPGE program and the Human Development Foundation are some of the initiatives that need special mention. “As APPNA celebrates its 25th anniversary, it continues its projects to empower the poor of Pakistan through increased literacy, enhanced education, grass-roots economic development, and improved health care. Through such progress it is hoped that the social unrest that fosters terrorism in much of the Muslim world can be obliterated in Pakistan,” APPNA Qissa reported. Signs of a wholesome change.
The Human Development Foundation of North America (HDFNA) alone raised one million dollars in one single year to finance various schemes in Pakistan. During the last few years of its existence, the Foundation has succeeded in establishing holistic human development initiatives amongst underprivileged communities in all the four provinces of Pakistan. The Foundation has also been able to mobilize the Pakistani-American community and establish supporting networks in all major cities of the USA. More recently, HDF initiated the establishment of a virtual community among the Pakistani diaspora through its website ‘YesPakistan.com.’
“It is a movement, not a charity organization,” says Dr Atiya Khan, General Secretary of HDFNA, as she peruses Pakistan Link during an HDFNA team’s visit to the newspaper offices sometime back. The organization has set up 180 schools in Pakistan where girls outnumber boys. The effort is like a drop in the ocean but could be instrumental in bringing about a change, given the promise of its “butterfly effect.” HDFNA’s successes served as the inspiration for the establishment of the Pakistan Human Development Fund (PHDF) in Pakistan.
The Safi Qureshey Foundation (SQF) also actively promotes basic education for financially and socially disadvantaged children in Pakistan. It runs an educational TV program ‘Khul Ja Sim Sim’, Urdu adaptation of world renowned children show Sesame Street. SQF also functions as a grant-making organization in the areas of health and education. Humble, and modest, Safi Qureshey has made a name in the United States: his contribution in the field of information technology was lauded by several speakers, including Congressmen Rohrabacher and Ed Royce, at a dinner hosted in honor of Foreign Minister Kasuri in California a few years back. The Congressmen expressed gratitude to Pakistan for sending its “talented sons and daughters to us” for ushering a wholesome change. “Safi is a good example of a Muslim. You have done an excellent job,” complimented Congressman Ed Royce.
Another organization that renders services in the education field is ‘Development in Literacy’ (DIL). It is the brainchild of Fiza Shah, an enterprising lady who enjoys close affinity with all parts of Pakistan, including the remotest areas where her father was posted as an army officer. “We (a group of women from the Pakistan-American community) wanted to give back to Pakistan and do something that would make a difference,” she says as she elaborates on the goals of DIL. Fiza visits Pakistan twice a year. “When you really are doing hands-on work, you have to go there yourself and see it to understand,” she says. DIL has established over 200 schools in the four provinces of Pakistan. The schools are focused on improving the quality of teachers, which understandably, would help in improving the standard of education. Thanks to the efforts of its zestful team, DIL has received grants and support from quite a few multinational organizations. A laudable undertaking, one that needs to be supported, as other ventures in the education sector.
ENTERPRISING INDIVIDUALS: A number of enterprising individuals - Zia Chishti, Najeeb Ghauri, Pervaiz Lodhie, Riaz Ahmad, Shoaib Kothawala, Aitezzaz Din, et al. - too have established manufacturing units and call centers to boost job opportunities in Pakistan. They provide employment to a large number of young men and thus contribute to the diffusion of higher technical skills in the country. Pervaiz Lodhie is a vocal exponent of the expatriate community’s support to Pakistan. “The miracle of Pakistan has begun,” he claims. The next few years would see a complete transformation - a turn about - in the economy. Pakistan’s unique blend of resources - manpower, intellect, land, oil, gas - would stand in good stead when the country embarks on a sustained industrialization program. The development of the Gwadar port would have a catalytic role in this transformation, Lodhie firmly believes.
Lodhie runs Ledtronics, an expanding high-tech company with many innovations to its credit. September 11, he feels, has impacted Pakistan’s economy adversely, yet it could prove a blessing in disguise as a large number of qualified Pakistanis return home and establish high-tech businesses. The process has already begun and would gain momentum in the not too distant future. The results would show in a few years time.
Lodhie et al. deserve the best superlatives for their strivings yet the expatriate community has to respond more energetically to overcome the challenges faced by Pakistan. Professor Stephen Cohen, an eminent scholar on South Asia and fellow of the Brookings Institution, specified four tasks for the Pakistani-American community while talking to this scribe sometime back.
First and foremost, it is imperative to have a learned Pakistani, an eminent academic like Professor Khalid bin Sayeed (Professor Emeritus, Queens University, Canada) associated with the Georgetown University in Washington. He could interact with various think tanks, Congressmen, State Department officials, and researchers engaged in the study of South Asia. He could address symposia held in the US capital and present “not a Pakistani view but a view about Pakistan.”
The second task for Pakistani Americans is to sponsor the visit of American academics to Pakistan. The visits could offer the researchers an opportunity to share the Pakistani perception on various issues as well as to know the country and the people more intimately. Professor Cohen, a friend of Pakistan who has written several insightful books, visited the country after fifteen years of regular sojourn to India. He found the country much different from the impressions he had formed in India. The views of other academics could likewise be corrected if Pakistani Americans were to take the initiative and offer financial support to prospective visitors.
A third task for Pakistani Americans is to support the country’s education sector in a big way. The efforts of HDFNA, APPNA, SQF, DIL and others need to be multiplied and boosted on a massive scale.
Another fitting role for the Pakistani Americans is to serve as a bridge between the US and Pakistan, lobby for Islamabad and project the national point of view on crucial issues like Kashmir.
The four tasks have already found expression, though to an imperceptible degree, in some of the initiatives of Pakistani Americans. A lot more needs to be done.
There are quite a few shining examples of expatriate communities rising to the occasion and rescuing their country of origin. They have acted like mini-multinationals by gainfully employing cheap and abundant labor at home and diffusing, in return, higher technical skills by way of manufacture of value-added products. The goals have been well defined and the blueprints drawn up to the minutest details. The results have been spontaneous with many rewarding spin-offs.
As we strive to overcome the elephantine problems confronting Pakistan let us on this day - March 23rd - seek inspiration from the English poet who exhorted his countrymen thus:
Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem…
Act, act in the living present,
Heart within and God o’erhead!
Let us, then, be up and doing;
With a heart for any fate,
Still achieving, still pursuing
Learn to labor and to wait…