DR Mohammad Khalid
DR Mohammad Khalid

WITH February 8 drawing closer, Pakistani Ame­ricans find themselves entangled in a complex web of anticipation and trepidation. Beyond the surface of casual gatherings and earnest discussions among senior citizens lies a prevailing sentiment — a palpable disenchantment with the electoral process.

From questioning the scheduling uncertainty to advocating for voting rights, the community’s diverse opinions converge on a shared skepticism, painting a nuanced portrait of their attitudes towards the upcoming elections.

In a series of interviews with Dawn, some Pakistani Americans also voiced concerns over the lack of voting rights for overseas communities, urging the Election Commission to set up an inclusive system for their participation in the electoral process.

A tiny minority — such as Naveed Chela of Frederick, VA, and Sajjad Baloch of Prince George’s County, Maryland — is certain that elections will be held as scheduled. Chela supports PML-N, and Baloch believes that overseas Pakistanis should never disagree with the government in Islamabad.

Views of the diaspora offer a range of perspectives, revealing a shared skepticism and palpable disenchantment with the fairness of the upcoming electoral process. There are also some confident ones, particularly among PML-N supporters, showing how the community is divided along political lines

Khalid Tanveer of Springfield, Virginia, asserts, “If Pakistan allows dual citizenship, it should also extend voting rights to its overseas citizens. Denying us this basic right is unfair.”

Considering the previous PTI administration’s endorsement of electronic voting machines (EVMs) to enhance election transparency, many advocating for voting rights express their willingness to support PTI, if given the chance.

 Johnny Bashir
Johnny Bashir

Johnny Bashir, a PTI leader in the US, asserts that Imran Khan garnered support among Pakistani Americans due to his honesty and commitment to ordinary Pakistanis. “In fair elections, PTI would be unbeatable.”

Mohsin Zahir, a community activist in New York, notes that the support for PTI isn’t limited to those advocating for community rights.

“A significant number of Pakistanis in the US continue to view Imran Khan as a hero. Despite disappointment with the current situation in Pakistan, they believe Mr Khan can bring about positive changes and, as a result, they favour him.”

Zaheer clarifies, however, that he is not a PTI supporter.

Many Pakistani Americans are hopeful for stability in the wake of elections, yet there’s a notable undercurrent of skepticism regarding the transparency of these polls. Tanveer, for instance, questions the likelihood of a free and fair election, highlighting concerns such as the financial crisis and the alleged denial of voting rights to PTI supporters.

Kamran Rizvi, a former adviser to Benazir’s government now residing in the US, underscores the importance of the electoral process.

“Regardless of your opinion on the election arrangement, voting is crucial. Rejecting the electoral process can lead to violence, and violence is detrimental for everyone,” he says.

Dr Aftab Hussain, an agricultural scientist affiliated with PTI, emphasises the importance of voting, stating, “It’s a fundamental right, and voters should choose candidates prioritizing people’s interests.”

Dr Mohammad Khalid, who leads the Washington chapter of the International Physicians for the Preven­tion of Nuclear War, expresses concern about potential rigging, noting: “Many Pakistani Americans fear manipulation, but they continue to urge those in Pakistan to vote, as it’s their fundamental right to do so.”

Dr Khalid adds that during the 2018 elections, several Pakistani Americans visited the country to cast their votes, but observes that “This year, there’s a noticeable decline among my acquaintances planning such trips.”

Bashir too, acknowledges this apprehension, stating, “PTI supporters may be afraid to go, but their love for Imran Khan and continued support remain unwavering.”

Rana, a PTI activist hesitant to disclose his full name, asserts, “Many PTI supporters, including myself, fear going to Pakistan as we’ve seen how our relatives were harassed because we supported PTI in the US. This fear has deterred us from visiting during the election season.”

Two other PTI activists, a transport company owner and a physician, share concerns about their business interests in Pakistan, with one saying, “I avoid going to prevent potential imprisonment due to my political affiliation.”

But Pakistan’s US Ambassador Masood Khan dismisses their fears as ‘baseless’.

“No one has been arrested solely for political activities, and such arrests are not anticipated in the future.”

Views expressed by Pak­istani Americans display a nuanced range of perspectives on the upcoming elections, revealing a shared skepticism and palpable disenchantment.

There are also some confident ones, particularly among PML-N supporters, showing how the community is divided along political lines.

Published in Dawn, January 31st, 2024

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