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Three Pakistani Americans discuss the upcoming elections in Pakistan while visiting ‘Gourmet Bakery and Sweets’ on Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn, New York City.— Photo by author.

“Assalamu-alaikum! Kya haal hay?”

This was the Urdu greeting that a customer gave a restaurant owner when he entered. The owner returned the salutation and invited him to take a seat. With nearly everyone in the venue wearing the traditional dress shalwar kameez and holding conversations in Urdu, the atmosphere of ‘Gourmet Bakery and Sweets’ on Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn, so closely resembles that of a restaurant in Pakistan that one feels momentarily transported back to the country.

The sound of a Pakistani private television channel blared, giving information about the prospects of different political parties in the upcoming general elections in the country. Everyone in the restaurant glanced at the television screen from time to time.

“I think Imran Khan should win but I don’t believe the elections will be fair because of the corruption in the country,” said Razia Khan, a 40-year-old mother of four sons who had come to Gourmet Bakery, an outlet of a well-known retail chain in Pakistan, to purchase some food items.

She was referring to Khan – the cricketer turned politician who is the chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) which is considered to be one of the two main contenders in the elections scheduled for May 11.The party is likely to face stiff competition from Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) of two-time former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Nevertheless, Imran Khan has emerged as the most popular politician of Pakistan in recent years, because PTI has never been elected to power before and analysts say the public has generally become weary of the allegedly inept policies of the two ‘tried and tested’ national political parties - Pakistan People’s Party(PPP) whose government just ended its tenure, and PML-N.

As the polls approach, the election fever is running high and the ‘Little Pakistan’ community in Flatbush, Brooklyn – home to an estimated 27 per cent of the more than 41,000 Pakistani Americans living in New York City, according to the 2010 census –- is also drawn to the excitement.

Sitting at a table with his two young daughters and wife, Muhammad Ali Khan said that “If Imran Khan wins, things will get better in Pakistan, otherwise the country will regress 100 years.” He also said that a lot of people were going to visit their homeland to cast their votes, but he couldn’t go because of his health problems.

Shoaib Awan, an under-graduate finance student at BrooklynCollege said, “I just want Pakistani leaders to be strong and not beg other countries for aid all the time.” Awan also said he believes the polls will be impartial this time, because the Pakistani courts are now keeping a check on politicians’ power and will not let them rig the elections.

Waseem Arif, 31, a business consultant, claimed that if overseas Pakistanis vote, 80 percent would vote for PTI. He also said Imran Khan’s party was the only hope for the country.

His friend Ali Adnan Syed, an engineer, took a more pessimistic view while eating-‘falooda’- a traditional sweet dish, at a restaurant called Mithas. “The elections in Pakistan will not be fair because of the involvement of big players in the politics of the country like Afghanistan, Dubai and India,” he claimed.

Syed’s pessimism was shared by Maham Nazeer, a part-time assistant at the restaurant, who said she did not care about the upcoming elections, because she did not think that any change will take place in Pakistan.

“No politician can win the elections without corruption. What can I say about a country in which Asif Ali Zardari spent so many years in jail and then became the president?” she said, although the charges were never proven.

Opinion in Brooklyn was also sharply divided about the arrest of former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on various charges. “Musharraf should be hanged for arresting Pakistani people and handing them over to other countries,” said 20-year-old computer science student Junaid Nawaz.  Ali Adnan Syed disagreed, saying the former army chief had instituted several positive measures and that people were now taking revenge from him due to their personal biases.

Mohammad Shabeer, a taxi driver who has been living on Coney Island Avenue for the past 23 years, predicted that Musharraf’s political party will perform poorly in the upcoming elections. Although he hoped that PTI would be given a chance, overall he felt upbeat about the difference of opinion prevalent in Pakistan, as far as the support for different political parties was concerned.

But another taxi driver, Zulfiqar Ahmed, 55, said he was confident that Nawaz Sharif was the right choice to lead Pakistan to prosperity. He believed that Imran Khan’s “personal history in marrying a non-Muslim woman did not make him a suitable leader.” Ahmed also said, “We (overseas Pakistanis) pray to God all the time that Pakistan is bestowed with an honest leadership.”

The computer science student Nawaz also voiced support for Sharif’s party. “Nawaz Sharif should win because he is better than Asif Ali Zardari and Imran Khan has no experience,” he said.

Perhaps the dominant view in ‘Little Pakistan’ about the elections was best summed up by Rukhsana Zahid, a housewife and mother of three children. She said she would have gone to Pakistan to cast her vote, if the situation in the country had been peaceful. Outlining her hopes for the nation’s upcoming elections she said, “I want Imran Khan to win so that the young generation of Pakistan can come forward and work for the betterment of the country.”

To read an in-depth feature about overseas Pakistanis' voting rights, click here.

Hira Nafees Shah is a student at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a Fulbright Scholar from Pakistan 2012 batch. She can be reached at @HiraShah05.

Comments (17) Closed

Ansar May 09, 2013 08:25pm
Imran khan will win inshaallah, he is only hope for Pakistan. Best wishes for him
My Pete May 09, 2013 08:27pm
I am amazed that nobody said that we really don't care because we are US Citizens! I don't understand the mindset of Imran married to non-muslims so he is impure, but I live in secular country and I have full right to judge other people.
concerned212 May 09, 2013 06:43pm
Imran Khan will win, Inshallah. People just shock me when saying that Imran has no experience, hence they will vote for Nawaz Sharif............the same Nawaz Shareef that was the prime minister twice in the recent past and have literally NO positive development to show during his reign.
Tari May 09, 2013 04:12pm
The country is at the verge of fall and desperately need honest and selfless leadership at all levels. The rallies and speeches of major competitors more frustrated me as they all making personal attacks rather than coming up with concrete vision and goals. Army as the key player is always being foregotten in elections and they are the one with concenterated powers and decide what to share. irrespective whoever wins. Need of the day is to do Army reforms to cut their powers and allott to elected government.May Allah bless us and our country.
Pradeep May 09, 2013 05:04pm
Why throw in India in everything about Pakistan:
Muneer Bhai May 09, 2013 04:58pm
These overseas Pakistanis contribute nothing to Pakistan except a lot of talk and visiting the country to attend marriages from time to time.
Irfan May 09, 2013 04:56pm
Here we still have people like Zulfiqar Ahmed, who have been living in a civilized society and still think that Nawaz Sharif will save the Pakistan. Senseless people are saying IK has no experience, can some tell these people that you have to give him a chance to get experience and ones with the experience brought Pakistan to verge of bankruptcy. Wake up and stop favoring your brathery and pinds ...
Good luck Pakistan May 10, 2013 02:29am
All the people who say that Imran Khan does not have any experience,I have a question for them,did Zardari have any experience when he took over the country????????????? not only that,he spent years in jail,had/have several corruption cases pending against him,you elected him.Imran Khan may not be the most experienced but what he has is vision,no cases pending against him,he is not perfect but he is the best and the fresh way forward.I'm saying all this and I'm not really even a PTI supporter and I live in the United States.All I know is that Imran couldn't possibly do any worse then PPP or PML-N,thats for sure.Even with PTI there may not be a big improvement or the improvement may be slow,but to make changes for 190 million Pakistanis is not going to be that easy,its going to take some time,a lot of changes,a lot of politicians and their little gangs are going to have to end up in jail.Everything will have to be built from ground up and from scratch.You want PPP ? just look back last 5 years,you want PML-N? just listen to Shahbaz Sharif and look at Nawaz Sharif,he dealings,their loan issues,their loan defaults,corruption cases pending against them.Now think long and hard,Good luck to Pakistani people,we are the overseas Pakistanis and we are not allowed to vote,so its in your hands,you will decide your own fate.
Faisal Bhai May 09, 2013 08:23pm
Dear Muneer Bhai, The amount of Remittance that the overseas Pakistani send to Pakistan is almost equal to the Income tax collected in Pakistan.
Lakhkar Khan May 09, 2013 08:09pm
The people who want Imran Khan to win don
Maya May 09, 2013 10:00pm
You must be a PML-N or PPP supporter as ignorance is their hall mark. Overseas Pakistanis send the remittances that keep Pakistan's Forex reserves at somewhat respectable levels.
John May 09, 2013 07:43pm
rana1 May 09, 2013 07:40pm
whether IK wins or not,Pakistan will be made to remian as it is because of the surrounding issues in midde east.Pakistanis fpr peace to prevail in Pakistan is just a dream.Pakistan has enemies since its inception.
Chumpo May 09, 2013 09:33pm
@ Muneer Bhai... I hope you are being sarcastic and those are not your real thoughts about Overseas Pakistanis. Becasue for your information, for the past 10 years the country is literally being run on money sent by overseas Pakistanis. If it wasnt for overseas Pakistanis, you guys in Pakistan would have been sold to China as slave labor.
Tahir May 10, 2013 05:43am
No one in the world is without an enemy sir.. be it hidden or open.. Face the truth..
AAA May 10, 2013 06:47am
I agree and disagree...its not only about sending money back to pakistan...because if thats the critaria then those who cant remitt should not talk..for most of the people outside pakistan, the country is nothing but a big resturant and a darzi ki dukan....all we talk about is good food and cheap cloths.... I think a better reason for overseas people to criticize the the govt is because we have seen both the sides...we know how comfortable life is when we have rules and good goverance...not because we send money back how many of us actually send money thinking it will help the economy...we do it for out own reasons...if sending money is bad for the economy (say)...we will still send it....
Alex Sal May 10, 2013 07:55am
Pakistan economy runs on remittance and foreign aid.