FOR those who doubt Pakistan’s continued relevance to the US, the bipartisan passage of HR 901 through a divided House of Representatives showcases just how important Pakistani Americans are becoming in the context of US politics.

The resolution, which was originally introduced in the House on Nov 30, 2023, was pushed by — among others — the lobby of Pakistani physicians who exercise a great deal of influence in Washington, as well as PTI USA activists.

Diplomatic sources told Dawn that PTI and its supporters capitalised on the frenzy in the run-up to the US elections and used it to their advantage.

“This is when American lawmakers need every possible vote and legitimate financial support,” one diplomat said, adding that Pakistani Americans represent a legitimate source of such support.

Analysts say Congressional resolution non-binding for White House, won’t affect ties with Islamabad

“The resolution was crafted in a way that made it easy to garner votes,” another diplomat noted, adding that it also highlighted positive aspects of Pakistan; as a key ally and partner the US needs to collaborate with.

According to one source, at least four points potentially damaging for the Pakistan government were removed from the text, at the embassy’s request.

“The real success lies in the lobbying and groundwork that preceded the vote. PTI executed it effectively,” another diplomat said.

Impact on Pakistan-US ties

The resolution’s call for a probe into what it called “claims of interference or irregularities in Pakistan’s 2024 elections”, particularly incensed Islamabad, where the National Assembly came up with a counter-resolution slamming the US ‘interference’ in Pakistan’s political process.

The Foreign Office was more measured in its appraisal, saying that the Congressional resolution was “detrimental” to bilateral ties and “misinformed” about the political and electoral process in Pakistan.

But analysts suggest that while it may not affect Pakistan’s relationship with Washington directly, it will intensify pressure on the US to advocate for greater democracy in Pakistan.

Shuja Nawaz, a Pakistani American scholar affiliated with the Atlantic Council in Washington, clarified that the US would “maintain its engagement with Pakistan on anti-terrorism efforts and Ukraine, and the resolution will not impact that”.

“Terrorist groups, especially those operating in Afghanistan, continue to be a significant concern for the US,” he added.

Hassan Abbas, distinguished professor of International Relations at the US National Defence University, noted that the Pakistani diaspora in the US, especially PTI supporters, had been very active lately, but that only partly explains the congressional initiative.

“While the current US administration is distancing itself from this resolution, it cannot remain aloof to it for long given the massive bipartisan support demanding a probe into election irregularities,” he added.

Taking to Dawn, a former US diplomat said there was “no need to overreact to this non-binding resolution”, but pointed out that downplaying its significance would also be incorrect.

The diplomat, who has a keen interest in Pakistan, clarified that since it was not a piece of legislation and did not mandate action from the administration, the White House would continue engaging with Pakistan.

Regarding perceptions in both countries about the February elections being massively rigged, the diplomat noted that US lawmakers voted for the resolution considering the importance of supporting democracy and human rights, which was a major part of its language.

Lobbying

One Western diplomat Dawn spoke to noted how the Israelis were masters of lobbying, followed by the Indians. “Pakistani Americans are also learning to harness their influence effectively.”

According to official circles, PTI USA and their supporters, particularly Pakistani physicians, launched a vigourous campaign in the aftermath of the ouster of Imran Khan’s government in 2022.

They conducted numerous individual and group meetings with US lawmakers, organised hearings, including with Donald Lu, the State Department official Mr Khan accused of destabilising his government.

They also arranged seminars, public meetings and hosted numerous fundraisers for congressional leaders and senators.

One recent event held in Bradbury, California last week for Vice President Kamala Harris was hosted by Pakistani physician Dr Asif Mahmood and business tycoon Tanweer Ahmad. At the event, VP Harris encouraged voter awareness among Pakistani Americans.

The Pakistani community often has a low voter turnout, but PTI USA aims to change this by encouraging them to vote. If successful, this effort could significantly enhance the political influence of the Pakistani American community.

PTI leaders have already set a new goal for their lobbyists, who are now advocating for a congressional delegation to visit Pakistan to investigate alleged irregularities in the February elections.

They are also planning a major rally in Washington on August 5, marking the first anniversary of Imran Khan’s arrest.

“We are organizing worldwide protests, and we hope the rally in Washington will be the largest,” said Atif Khan, a senior leader of PTI USA.

PTI USA attributes their success to Pakistani physicians, especially groups like Physicians for Imran Khan and Friends of Democracy in Pakistan. “This wouldn’t have been possible without their support,” said Atif Khan.

Dr Rizwan Ali, a physician based in Virginia, explained that in rural areas, “a physician is often the most influential person after local lawmakers.” Therefore, a doctor can easily influence opinion-makers.

Published in Dawn, July 2nd, 2024

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