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How Pakistani Americans can give back

Published Oct 19, 2015 03:33pm
We are all Pakistan’s ambassadors-at-large. —AFP
We are all Pakistan’s ambassadors-at-large. —AFP

When I first moved to the United States to pursue my university level education, I was surprised to see the two extremes of Pakistanis living here.

On one hand were those who classified themselves as “South Asians”, so that they may shed their perceived baggage of the word 'Pakistan'; on the other hand were the excessively emotional defenders of Pakistan, who blamed the West for every challenge that Pakistan faces, even if the roots of certain problems might be totally internal.

However, amidst these two categories, were those responsible Pakistanis who have achieved a high level of success and respect in the West, yet their hearts continue to “bleed green”.

Such are the Pakistanis who have been a great connect between the two countries, and they have made immense contributions in all fields and professions across the United States.

Read through: A Punjabi in New York: Juggling multiple identities

On top of the numerous great physicians spread across the country, Dr Teepu Siddique is a prominent name in medicine. Since 1991, he has been serving as a Director of Neuromuscular Medicine and the Les Turner ALS Foundation Laboratory at Northwestern University; his colleagues firmly believe that “it’s not a question of ‘if’, rather, a question of ‘when’ he will be awarded the Nobel Prize”.

Michael Chowdry and Shahid Khan are famous names in business. Chowdry was the founder of $1.39 billion air cargo company known as Atlas Air and Khan now controls majority shares of the NFL team Jacksonville Jaguars.

In politics and governance, Sada Cumber served as the first US Ambassador to the OIC, Shirin Kheli served in various important posts at the White House and at the State Department, Ziad Alahdad served as the Director of Operations for the World Bank, while Pamela Leeming, a Christian Pakistani American, serves as a judge in Cook County, which happens to be the second largest county in the country.

In academia too, Pakistani professors are making a great mark and are teaching at prestigious American universities; the list includes Dr Hasan Abbas (National Defense University), Ambassador Touqir Husain (Johns Hopkins University), Professor Akbar Ahmed (American University), Dr Atif Mian (Princeton), Dr. Ayesha Jalal (Tufts University) and Dr Amir Sufi (University of Chicago) among others.

Apart from the above fields, many Pakistani names also appear in the arts, sports and entertainment industry in the US amongst others, Shazia Sikander of New York specialises in South Asian and Persian painting; Nadia Ali is a vocalist of electronic dance music and best known for her song Rapture; Kumail Nanjiani is a famous comedian, actor and podcast host; Farhan Zaidi is the general manager for the baseball team Los Angeles Dodgers; and, Nur Ali is a former two-time Southwest Formula Mazda Series Champion.

Also read: Ten Pakistanis doing great things for America

While most, if not all, known and responsible Pakistanis already pay back to their native Pakistan, there is a dire need to synergise and institutionalise the community’s efforts.

A great first step in the right direction is the Convention of Pakistani American Community (CPAC) – an initiative launched by Ambassador Jalil Abbas Jilani and his team of four forward-looking Consul Generals based in New York, Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles, to gather successful Pakistanis from across the US to convene for a daylong forum at the Pakistan Embassy in Washington, DC to discuss the direction that the community should be channelising its efforts toward.

Two weeks ago, I was a part of CPAC’s second annual meeting, where community members rightly discussed the need for Pakistani Americans to leverage their individual political contacts with members of the US Congress and others, to advance our collective national interests.

—Photo by author. —Photo by author.

There is no better time to pursue active personal and community-level diplomacy than the months leading up to the US presidential election. In a country where the political system is so prone to lobbying, such efforts are not optional, rather a must.

Statistics show that Pakistani Americans are already doing better than the average Americans. According to a report by Migration Policy Institute, 23 per cent of Pakistanis who live in the US and are at least 25 years old have an advanced degree (Master’s, PhD or a professional degree), as compared to only 11 per cent of the general US population.

Moreover, households headed by Pakistanis have a $10,000 higher income than the median of all US households.

But the question then is:

Despite having such an affluent and well-educated community, why is it that Pakistan’s national interests continue to suffer in the US?

In my interactions with Pakistani Americans over the past few years, I have seen the amount of differences, ego issues, and hatreds that exist between certain factions of the community. But the problem is not the differences – in fact, we can, and perhaps should, have healthy disagreements.

The thing we should be careful about is that these differences do not stop us from engaging with each other and should not hamper our ability to see broader, national objectives, which we can be jointly advanced despite disagreements.

And in doing this, let’s never forget how important it is to engage with those members of our community who work the hardest, earn the lowest, and still remain faithful in their love for Pakistan.

See: How affluent are the Pakistani-Americans?

An excellent initiative in this regard is the Pakistani Cab Drivers Association of Chicago, which aims to bring all Pakistani cab drivers under an umbrella of a single organisation to promote collective interests and instill institutional-mindedness in our community.

Ultimately, we have to realise that foreign policy is not purely about foreign office. Rather, it’s a derivative of various factors, including people-to-people, commercial and institutional relationships that we all have the responsibility to cultivate between the universities, entertainment centres, academic/literary societies and businesses of the two countries.

A successful example is the exchange program between NUST and George Mason University, which was made possible as a result of efforts by Siddique Sheikh, founder of the Pakistan American Business Association (PABA).

That said, we should be aware of the fact that we tend to lose momentum of great conventions and gatherings rather quickly. It is crucial that both the Pakistani diplomats and community members convert the optimism and momentum generated by CPAC ’15 into practical, on-the-ground changes.

In fact, it would be great if Pakistani embassies in other countries where our large diaspora communities are settled (such as the UK, Canada and UAE) were also to adopt this idea of the CPAC.

But when it comes to interacting with global audiences, we have to realise that we are all Pakistan’s ambassadors-at-large, and foremost, it is our conduct, values and character, that will speak larger than any words from our embassies.

As Rumi famously said, “We are not a drop in the ocean, we are the entire ocean in a drop.

I believe, we all have tremendous potential to make a difference. Let’s start thinking strategically and institutionally. Let’s all agree to contribute our fair share.

Let’s all put Pakistan first.

Author Image

Abdullah Khurram focuses on global security issues at Johns Hopkins University. Assertions and opinions are solely those of the writer and do not reflect the views of any institution(s) that he is affiliated with.

He can be contacted at

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Comments (53) Closed

Oct 19, 2015 04:17pm

Only the wealthy and well wducated can go to the US so its not surprising that they are well off then their American counterparts.

Another Indian
Oct 19, 2015 04:49pm

@Prashanth .. Not true. You come here if you are good at what you do or if you are a refugee. I have met a lot of Pakistanis here and one aspect about them is they don't mingle with no one else other than muslims. On the contrary, folks from Bangladesh and even Middle East are much more out going for that matter.

Oct 19, 2015 05:17pm

A good initiative to mobilize and integrate the community.The writer has rightly pointed out that more than the initiative what counts is the persistent persuasion or follow up which depends mainly on the dedication of the team....I hope a will integrated team has been shaped i the convention , if not it needs to be at the earliest.

Oct 19, 2015 05:25pm

Unless Pakistan puts itself on the right path, there is nothing these people can do.

Oct 19, 2015 05:46pm

America is a beautiful country with amazing people so it is no wonder immigrants from all over the world thrive in this lovely country. But just like Pakistani Americans enjoy equal rights in America, minorities in Pakistan should enjoy equal rights too. Pakistani Americans should advocate for equal rights for minorities in Pakistan. Persecution of minorities in Pakistan must end.

Oct 19, 2015 06:02pm

Well, if Pakistani continues to persecute expats then one day we will forget our mother country. The redicilous fees charged for visas, NICOP cards and airport taxes means that it is better to go on holiday elsewhere. The PK govt has always seen us expats as cash-cows and stripped us of every penny/cent. Guess what? A lot of young Pakistani expats are now taking holidays in Turkey, Carribean, Morroco etc. The tale of the golden goose comes to mind.

East Indian
Oct 19, 2015 06:08pm

I had met only one pakistani (From Lahore) american at my work place. had lunch in one pakistani restaurant, which named as Indian and pakistani restaurant and "Made in Pakistan" groceries under the banner of India (Taste of India Banner) at Kroger grocery store. Overall what i felt is Pakistanis and Brand Pakistan is seen rarely inside USA compared to indians. The only thing i like about pakistan in USA is Shan biryani Masala

Oct 19, 2015 06:25pm

Most Pakistanis in the US are proud of being from Pakistan I have lived there for over 30 years and have not heard anyone call themselves South Asian? In fact Asian in the US means Chinese or Korean.

Our communities are growing and no one goes to bed hungry. I do have to admit that many Pakistanis in the US are ironically anti US - in a lot of gatherings I sit in the first half hour is spent bad mouthing the US and mind you a lot of folks doing the bad mouthing are making $200,000 or more per year so it is not education or socioeconomic status Many still believe the Pakistani press - apology to them.

We have a ton of Pakistanis making less than median income in the US - they are working hard and one day will reach higher income inshallah

Oct 19, 2015 06:30pm

What's the use if you live in ghettos ? Average income of indians in US is 30,000 higher than pakistanis. How did this happen ? After all people were same in 1947.

Oct 19, 2015 06:50pm

Pakistani-American community is mostly well-off but is anti-US, . They don't just dislike US foreign policy they dislike US itself, yet choose to immigrate and live there.

Oct 19, 2015 06:56pm

@Prashanth I disagree. If you are in IT you might have a chance to go to the US for free. In fact you will get paid.

Oct 19, 2015 06:57pm

@Another Indian . True. Indians too have a herd mentality. They only mingle with people from the same state/community.

Oct 19, 2015 07:18pm

I think successful Pakistani American's first duty is towards their new homeland where they got opportunities to flourish. They need to pay back. Then they should also pay back to Pakistan if and when corrupt politicians are weeded out. By contributing to the local causes here they will pave the way for more pakistani to come here which may be a good service to Pakistan.

Oct 19, 2015 07:19pm

Most Pakistanis who migrate to the US do so for economic reasons. They are unable to have good careers at home so they move abroad.

imtiaz faruqui
Oct 19, 2015 08:06pm

I can speak for New York city ,a large numbers are driving Taxis and are living hand to mouth, not many of their children are doing good in schools, usually one person is working in their house hold, but in families where the husband and wife are both working they are better off. Hispanics are less educated but doing better in odd jobs. Bengali children are good in studies and doing much better .so are Indian, Our next generation wiill certainly do much better. Another important thing since some Pakistanis do not mix with locals and wear Shalwar Kameez will get them in trouble some day.

Oct 19, 2015 08:54pm

The Pakistani families I have met in the US in the past 26 years have all become very good, solid and sincere friends. I think that is because the challenges we faced while studying were all the same. And as we have aged, we all agree that for whatever reason, Pakistani families have stayed out of the mainstream by and large. And it is by choice in most cases. Their belief in how different they are is so strong that it keeps them away from having social interactions with other Americans. Regardless, I have a lot of respect and affection for our friendship and wish them all well.

M Khan
Oct 19, 2015 08:55pm

The author has put out some interesting thoughts in this article but failed to mention what Pakistani establishments needs to do by changing its domestic and external policies. This India centric Pakistan foreign policy is not liked by many Pakistan.

imtiaz faruqui
Oct 19, 2015 09:00pm

I have lived in New York city since 1970, and I work for the City of New York, Things are getting tougher for immigrants, The whites are favouring the whites and the blacks favours the blacks. Its like who you know not what you know. Favouritism has become global.

Oct 19, 2015 09:04pm


That is not true, majority of Pakistanis are cab drivers.

Oct 19, 2015 09:04pm

You guys are American and stay American, embrace your country with open hearts.

Rehana Sultana
Oct 19, 2015 09:11pm

@GS "What's the use if you live in ghettos ? Average income of indians in US is 30,000 higher than pakistanis. How did this happen ? After all people were same in 1947."

The main reason is that Indians who migrated to USA are mostly upper class well educated Indians, where as Pakistani population constitute of a large population of lower income Pakistani who have managed to migrate to USA. Most in this category drive cab for living.

Think of it this way, if only poor Indians were allowed to migrate to USA then collective income of Indians will be lower than Pakistanis, no rocket science involved in the logic.

Asghar Shah
Oct 19, 2015 09:18pm

What what will Pakistan give us in return ?

Gurpreet Singh Sabharwal (USA)
Oct 19, 2015 10:27pm

I feel that just 10% of the Pakistani population in the US, assimilates in main stream America & 90% choose to stay within their communities. That's the reason of the strong anti Americanism among Pakistanis living in the US.

Oct 19, 2015 10:52pm

@Prashanth Absolutely not true. I came here with just a few dollars and have done considerably well for myself. I know Pakistanis who were well of in Pakistan but are living paycheck to paycheck here in the US.

Oct 19, 2015 11:08pm

"why is it that Pakistan’s national interests continue to suffer in the US?" IMHO No amount of marketing will help if the product you are selling is not good. Rid the country of the fundoos and everything good will naturally follow.

Sara Khan
Oct 19, 2015 11:23pm

@Another Indian

you are 100% correct. Pakistanis live in this shell and only people they mingle with are Pakistanis. Indians, Bangladeshi's are much more open.

Sharif Ahmad
Oct 19, 2015 11:27pm

@GS Average Indian household is $30,00 more. The reason is most of the Pakistani women are homemakers. There may be very few Indian women who don't work.

Oct 20, 2015 12:41am

This article is all about gathering a few bunch of wealthy overseas Pakistanis and start a lobby group to buy the loyalties of a few American Senators and Congressmen. But you can't change your country's image and perceptions in the western world with these lobbyists.

Oct 20, 2015 01:10am

The Pakistanis in America fall into two groups; those who came here for higher education or training and then decided to live here permanently. This group has done exceedingly well. The second group comprises of cabbies and others holding low income jobs; they barely can keep their heads above water and their lives are a never ending struggle. It is true that not only the religious zealots but well educated and well adjusted Pakistani American also show little appreciation of how lucky they are to be living in a country where they are free to practice their religion, speak their mind, get to the highest possible positions in their fields based on their ability and deal with ordinary people who are by and large courteous and friendly. I think Pakistanis living in America, even those struggling are truly blessed.

Roxana R.
Oct 20, 2015 01:38am

I believe that if a person becomes a citizen of another country, then their first loyalty must be to the country which has adopted them. That is how, historically, citizens of other nations became American, which is why it was called the great melting pot. To have first allegiance to the country of birth teeters on treason, the most despicable of crimes. Of course people have emotional ties to their land of birth, but their actions and words MUST support their adoptive country. There is deep trouble when that does not occur, and that leads to deeper distrust among other citizens. It is a dangerous thing.

Mohammad Ali Khan
Oct 20, 2015 02:27am

May be the Pakistanis in Pakistan will organize to spread honesty,discipline and tolerance in Pakistan.

Oct 20, 2015 02:43am

@East Indian ...I see all Pakistani brands in Indian restaurants in USA.

W G Sheikh
Oct 20, 2015 02:58am

I firmly believe that both countries carry their unique edges; make the best of both worlds; help who ever you can, whether in US or in Pakistan; lots of people need care and compassion in both nations. Wherever you live, mold your surroundings in to a place of peace, and love, and giving.

Akil Akhtar
Oct 20, 2015 03:36am

Everyone else in the US is called an African American or Hispanic American or Pakistani american no matter how long they have been living there but why are the whites not called European America....? Even the true natives are not treated as pure Americans...The white race thinks it is the standard and everyone else is a deviation ....or ethnic

Oct 20, 2015 03:48am

I live in Australia and I know a few Pakistani families of different economic and social background.Something which is common to all is that they are very careful in whom they are mingling with.They even chose who their children should be friends with.They try to be westernised in their outfits and choosing cars.But avoid mingling with anybody other than Pakistanis(first choice) Indian or Bangladeshis (second choice) and then middle eastern muslims.They are vfery concious about the difference they have with others.Religion in case of comparison with India,language and looks in comparison with Bengalis and attitude compared to ME muslims.Where as Bengali Muslims are much more integrating and open minded.

common sense
Oct 20, 2015 04:18am

the path a country is on is usually determined by the actions of its people.

Satyameva Jayate
Oct 20, 2015 04:56am

Favourable Statistics and Anecdotes are Fools Dream if not viewed along with the Unfavourable figures. So, to get a realistic picture add the following to the figures this young debater. 1. 15% of Pakistani-Americans fall below the poverty line – which happens to be the rate for the American population on the whole. 2.Unemployment rates for the diaspora – 8 per cent (for those aged 16 and older) – reflect the rate for the total US population. 3. Only 55 per cent own homes, compared to the nationwide figure of 66 per cent. 4. Pakistani-Americans per capita income is about $24,700, compared to $27,100 for the total population. 5. 23 % of Pakistani-Americans have no health insurance – which ties them with Bangladeshi-Americans for the highest percentage of any Asian-American ethnic group. This is significantly worse than the 15 per cent national figure.

Oct 20, 2015 05:14am

America is indeed a land of opportunity,if you work hard and honestly,you can achieve your goals no mater where you are from.

Oct 20, 2015 05:48am

I agree with the author on many things, but disagree on staying united and form Pakistani based organization, if you are in the US and a citizen here, you must assimilate and be like an American. Don't stick out like a sore thump. I came here with nothing like most Pakistanis do but made money doing odd jobs and now I own a great Corner store like every other Pakistanis do.

Oct 20, 2015 06:06am

@Hanif totally agree with u bro im done with pakistan

Dr Mohd Imran
Oct 20, 2015 06:08am

Among the noted Pakistanis in USA you have omitted the name of pioneering Attorney K. Tausif Kamal, ex General Counsel of an oil company and the first licensed attorney in USA (Ohio State Bar, 1975) and a community leader, author.

Harinder Singh
Oct 20, 2015 06:51am

@Rehana Sultana, Indians in the US are not "high class" or rich. Indians there became rich after they educated themselves. There is a huge disparity in incomes between Indians and Pakistanis and that difference is due to the difference in their education levels - nothing else. Perhaps, Indians are more ambitious. Most Pakistanis are quite happy doing menial jobs while the Indians aim very high.

Oct 20, 2015 06:54am

I came to the United States with almost nothing. I have worked hard and have assimilated in the american culture. 13 years later i am successful and respected by all.

The lesson to be learnt is if you go to a different country, learn their culture and try to mix in. Respect others and they will give you respect. Thanks!

Oct 20, 2015 08:45am

Where all this rich Indians in north America is coming from??????? I live in Canada and only Indians that I see here are low level and despicable no matter how you look at thwm!!!!!!!!!

Bye Bye
Oct 20, 2015 08:58am


So true. The contributions of expats are gobbled up by bureaucrats and so called leaders and they live lavishly at the expense of hardworking patriotic Pakistanis who have a yearning to see a better Pakistan.

Harinder Singh
Oct 20, 2015 09:30am

@Aamir, hehehe... They must be doing something right for you to make a comment like that. Good luck, buddy.

Oct 20, 2015 10:49am

@Asghar Shah What have you done for Pakistan? Pakistan obviously give you a solid enough base so you could run off to the US.

Raza Naqvi
Oct 20, 2015 12:04pm

@Prashanth I take great exception to your statement. USA is the land of immigrants and opportunities. USA only care, how you use your acumen to be productive. I have seen many examples, when they landed here, with few dollars in their pocket, from pauper to prince. My personal perspective, honesty, integrity and hard work with result orient ambition, can open the doors of prosperity.

Oct 20, 2015 12:42pm

I am a JHU alum and I am embarrassed by this narrative. Cliche and red herring all the way.

Oct 20, 2015 01:37pm

Just like India, most the people who CAN, SHALL migrate to the US or other developed nation. Let us hope that the brain drain stops soon and ppl start building their own country. It is us, why blame America for all the unrest or what not?

Satyameva Jayate
Oct 20, 2015 02:00pm

@Zeeshan - Rightly said.

Syed Ali
Oct 21, 2015 12:30pm

I will like to bring following to the notice of Pakistan government and Think Tanks in Pakistan. China, Korea and India are greatly benefited by their citizens living in advance countries. They have been engine of industrialization. They brought back technical expertise and capital to their countries and successfully established high tech companies. This encouraged other countries to invest in these countries. This has not been the case with Pakistan.Main reason being poor law and order conditions and corruption. Because of law and order Pakistani families have reduced trips to Pakistan.Due to fewer connections with relatives in Pakistan their children can hardly speak native language. Their mother tongue is now English(although mother is Pakistani). A new generation of children born in America are studying in colleges and universities. These are the real jewel who can help Pakistan in technical fields if they have motivation to go to Pakistan.Unfortunately not.

Syed Ali
Oct 21, 2015 02:25pm

@Syed Ali Let me adsd to your view. The new Pakistani generation not knowing Urdu or regional language are completely cut of from Pakistan. If they visit Pakistan in spite of law and order condition and load shedding they don't enjoy trip. On the contrary Indians teach their children their language and visit India almost every year. Most of them like to go back and start business there. They have one or maximum two children. They take keen interest in their studies and ready to spend any amount on their carrier. Most of Indians save sixty percent of their income to carry to India. Pakistanis have two to four children and not very serious about children carrier. They hardly save thirty percent of their income.Majority of Pakistan are not in high tech jobs(because of less attention on good education). It is our wishful thinking that Pakistanis will return to their country.

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