Pakistani communities dot the American map. From Chicago, Boston, and Ohio in the north, to New York and Florida on the east coast, to Houston and Dallas in the South, and Los Angeles or San Francisco in the west, a sizeable affluent Pakistani community exists in every large American town. Pakistani Americans – estimated to be between half a million to a million – are physicians, engineers, lawyers, businessmen, traders, academics, and students of all sorts, and wherever they exist they have created an impact through their contribution to the local community. In the process, they have developed relations with the local Congressmen (House Reps and Senators).
Till this day, it is believed that these local personal connections were easily utilized by the Pakistani embassy and consulates in lobbying for causes important to Pakistani governments. In 2019, after the abrogation of Art. 370 by the Indian government, Pakistani diasporas raised huge funds and lobbied against the visiting Indian PM, Narendra Modi disturbing the optics of Howdy Modi bonhomie! But things have changed since then.
Political developments since April 2022 – the way Imran Khan government was made to fall in an unnatural way and later the withdrawal of overseas vote and the series of brutal crackdowns against political workers and media across Pakistan and the trampling of legally enshrined rights – has transformed Pakistani American community into an angry political animal. American dream that encourages every man to rise to the top also breeds disgust against dynastic politics the kind which resurfaced in Pakistan with the coming back to the power of the Sharif and Zardari clans. Crisis creates leadership and for the first time, Pakistani Americans have realized the need of tapping into the US political system to improve things back in Pakistan. The way community leaders have ignored the revelations of Satya Pal Malik, ex-governor of Indian-occupied J&K, on Pulwama terrorism and how it was. exploited by the Modi government reflects changing moods.
PTI USA has been actively engaged in lobbying Congress – especially its Houston chapter. Atif Khan, Imran Khan’s adviser for overseas Pakistanis, Sajjad Burki, Focal person for USA to Chairman PTI Imran Khan & past President PTI USA, Dr. Asif Mehmood of the Democratic party California have been more visible in organizing meetings of the community with congressmen and senators. But the feeling has not remained restricted to PTI USA or its affiliates. PakPAC, Pakistani American Political Action Committee, which focuses on pushing policy issues of importance to Pakistani Americans and stays away from the divisions of Pakistani politics also ended up organizing a “Day on the Hill” to raise the issue of human rights abuse in Pakistan.
Feelings have remained so intense, that in mid-march a single physician created a WhatsApp Group “Friends of Imran Khan” and within a day more than a thousand physicians joined it from across the United States – now more than 1500 are members of this fast-growing community. This group ended up writing letters to President Biden and the Secretary General of the United Nations. Recently Dr. Saira Bilal, Dr. Malik Usman, and Dr. Hamid Jalal amongst others met Congresswoman, Abigail Spanberger and talked about the possibility of invoking the Magnitsky Law against the officials responsible for human rights abuses in Pakistan against journalists and political workers.
PTI USA led by Atif Khan and Sajjad Burki had raised funds to hire a PR firm to focus on issues in Pakistan. However, the overall interest and understanding of Pakistan in the US media are very limited. And whatever space exists for international issues has been consumed by the Ukraine war, Putin, and China – where there is huge bipartisan consensus. So, most work has been done by the Pakistani community itself which is giving a new self-confidence to this community.
According to PTI Chairman for Overseas Affairs Atif Khan, PTI has been utilizing “all three channels, the media, Congress and the administration, to convey its message: stop human rights violations in Pakistan, support rule of law and democratic values, and support the demand for elections”. During a rally outside the White House, that took place after the attack on Imran Khan’s house in Zaman Park, visibly agitated participants called upon the Biden administration to refrain from engaging with the current government of Pakistan, which they referred to as extremely ‘unpopular and lacking moral justification’ to continue ruling the country.
Dr Asif Mahmood, a congressional candidate from the Democratic party in California, has been playing a key role in the campaign to win over Americans. He argued while talking to the media that Pakistani Americans shall continue “efforts until free and fair elections happen and power is transferred to those elected by people.” Dr. Asif was instrumental in persuading Congressman Brad Sherman to write a letter to Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, voicing concerns over “democracy, human rights, and rule of law” violations in Pakistan.
The efforts of the Pakistani American community seem to be bearing fruit, as several members of Congress have taken up the issues of human rights and rule of law in Pakistan. Senators Chris Van Hollen, Congressman Mike Levin, Eric Michael Swalwell, Alexander N. Green and Congresswomen Debbie Dingell, Suzanne Marie Lee, and other elected officials have expressed concern about the crackdown on PTI.
While Pakistan’s ongoing political crisis has prompted the mobilization of the Pakistani community, its long-term effect will be greater integration of the community into the United States body politic which was much needed. Pakistani American community has finally embarked on an important journey!
Moeed Pirzada is Editor Global Village Space. He has contributed this article from Washington DC.