Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience


How can Pakistani Americans increase Pakistan expertise?

Published May 10, 2012 08:53am


Your Name:

Recipient Email:

I have received numerous responses to my recent post on Washington’s lack of Pakistan experts. Thankfully, I’m not the only one lamenting this deficiency.

I heard from frustrated Washington-based professionals who focus on the so-called “soft” issues of Pakistan: education, civil society, and small and medium business development. They regret how their work is repeatedly overshadowed by Washington’s debates about security in Pakistan and the Afghanistan War, and how the city’s “experts” lack the knowledge to inform this work.

This is a great loss, because these issues are so critically important to understanding Pakistan. Take business development. Nearly 90 per cent of Pakistan’s non-agricultural jobs come from small and medium business enterprises (SMEs). In rapidly urbanising Pakistan, ignoring SMEs effectively amounts to ignoring a chief driver of the country’s economy.

Several readers offered historical explanations for the Pakistan knowledge gap. A long-time South Asia scholar traced this story back to the 1960s, when the South Asian Studies field was enjoying popularity in the United States. At a time when America was enmeshed in the unpopular Vietnam War, he told me, budding US scholars found the nation of Gandhi more appealing than the one mired in military dictatorship. The US counterculture’s affinity for India was a factor as well, he adds. Today, America still has nothing like the Centre for the Study of Pakistan at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.

In more recent times, many aspiring scholars have shied away from visiting and doing research in Pakistan because of visa problems or security concerns. And as several people mentioned to me, one cannot truly become an expert unless you visit the country — particularly because portrayals of Pakistan in the United States are so often at odds with actual realities on the ground. An American who consults in Pakistan wrote this to me: “Learning about Pakistan involves becoming immersed, living among the people, traveling with them, seeing their country through their eyes. In fact, what I thought I ‘knew’ about Pakistan pales in comparison to my real-life experience.”

That said, it’s unrealistic to expect wide-eyed Americans to flock en masse to Pakistan to learn what makes the nation tick. Fortunately, the next best resource to help reduce the Pakistan expertise gap can be found right at home: the Pakistani American community. Several members of the diaspora wrote to me with a simple message: We’re here to help.

While exact figures are elusive, estimates suggest there are several hundred thousand people of Pakistani origin in the United States. On the whole, they tend to be relatively prosperous; a New York Times study finds that their most highly represented professions include doctors and accountants. Not surprisingly — and as explained in an invaluable book by Adil Najam — this diaspora is highly philanthropic and contributes generously to Pakistan.

One sees this connection to Pakistan in other ways as well. Last Saturday I was interviewed on Radio Hot Pepper, a Dallas, Texas-based station that caters to the diaspora population. I marveled at the passion with which callers debated host Parvez Malik on various matters of Pakistani politics; the phone lines were so jammed with callers that it took me multiple attempts to get through to the studio line.

The diaspora remainsso connected to Pakistan, in fact, that its members sometimes decide to resettle there after many years in America. Ijaz Nabi and Najam — both now at LUMS — are two prominent examples.

Pakistani-American organisations abound in the United States. The American Pakistan Foundation seeks to aid in Pakistan’s economic development, while the Pakistan American Leadership Center aims to help shape Washington policymaking. Yet there is so much more that the diaspora can do on more fundamental levels. How about visiting elementary schools to talk to children about Pakistan’s food, art, and music? Or serving as adjunct instructors and teaching evening classes about the country at universities or community colleges? (Incidentally, 54 per cent of Pakistani Americans 25 and older hold at least a bachelor’s degree). Or facilitating Skype-powered discussions between American businesspeople and their counterparts in Pakistan?

I acknowledge this outreach won’t interest everybody. I sometimes meet jaded Pakistani Americans so disgusted with their country of origin that they want nothing to do with it. Several years ago I hosted a screening of the documentary film Made in Pakistan — which follows the lives of four young, middle-class Pakistanis. The audience was quite satisfied — except for some angry Pakistani Americans who accused the filmmakers of sugarcoating the realities of poverty-ravaged Pakistan.

Still, these outliers don’t detract from the broader diaspora’s strong affinities for Pakistan. So even if Pakistani Americans can’t do much about America’s designation of Pakistan as the world’s most dangerous country, they can humanise Pakistan by equipping their fellow Americans with a better understanding of it — and in doing so help reduce that yawning expertise gap.

Michael Kugelman is the program associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @michaelkugelman

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


Your Name:

Recipient Email:

Author Image

Michael Kugelman is deputy director of the Asia Program and senior associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. He can be reached at or on Twitter @michaelkugelman

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

Comments (32) Closed

Ghazal May 10, 2012 02:00pm
So here is a a Pakistani living in the US I decided that my phd thesis would have to be about poverty, economic development and Pakistan. I tried to apply to the American Institute of Pakistan Studies for funding for travel to and within Pakistan but was told I was not eligible. Why? Because I was not an American citizen and because the Institute would fund travel to any other country but Pakistan!
Amir May 11, 2012 07:21am
Great...keep it up..I used to do it too when I was in England
Ahmed May 10, 2012 11:45am
Well, of course, many of us living in America portray ourself to be Indians. And, might agree to a Pakistani label only in private. Nothing wrong with that. I can take my grandfathers and grand grandfathers nationality instead of my fathers, can't I? Ahmed Ps we do of course send back money to motherland.
aaaa May 11, 2012 06:06pm
Quite difficult to get an experitise on any other land. It is even difficult to get expertise on ones own country let alone other country. But what i can always think of is to work with some sincere organization like ''edhi'' or go to any big institute like govt. hospital and do certain work there. I personally was working in govt. hospitals and the needy people and charity work both were done there but the need was so huge that i dont think any amount could help everyone. There were thought certain very nice charitable things being done in those 3 hospitals in rawalpindi 1)A private person used to give food 3 times a day to all patients and food was good. This was something he did on permanent basis, which was a great relief for patients as they were quite poor. 2)Secondly in one of the hospitals one specific treatment for heart attack (thrombolysis treatment) was paid by one senior doctor for the ones who couldnt afford. Im sure if one gets hold of some sincere person in such institutes one could do good work.
Andy fr DC May 10, 2012 03:28pm
The author is wrong, Americans have come to understand Pakistan very well indeed. Being stabbed in the back concentrates the mind wonderfully. It would take a generation and a complete reversal of policy for Pakistan to shed it's existing image. That's not going to happen , is it?
javed Qamer May 10, 2012 03:34pm
Good article Michael. Amongst all the organizations that you mentioned that are working for better interaction between Pakistan and America you forgot to mention OPEN (organization of Pakistani entrepreneurs). This organization has several chapters in America. They have also recently opened a chapter in Karachi and are working on one in Lahore and Islamabad Javed Virginia
A.Bajwa May 10, 2012 12:01pm
Both the Pakistani and American experts have failed to address the hard issues facing Pakistan. There is the general unfamiliarity with the Afghan history and society, failure to recognize the fundamental and tactical blunders and fear of the religious groups who have acquired an ascendancy they may never abandon. Even the articles by former diplomats are so inconclusive.
Kazigee May 10, 2012 11:59am
Michael, you ask: "How can Pakistani Americans increase Pakistan expertise?" The answer is: they cannot! Pakistanis in private sector consider themselves to be "great experts" in whatever they undertake. This mal-placed confidence is justified for two reasons; one, that they are more familiar with the ground realities and second, they have been let down by the experts in the past due to their unfamiliarity of our bureaucratic system and the work ethics of our people. The government is not interested in doing any good. They are too busy usurping the lands bounties. I can sight you many well wishers who went to Pakistan to contribute what they had learned in the west and had to return with their dreams shattered.
Noman May 10, 2012 02:09pm
I am not sure what you do but I clearly identify myself as a Pakistani American. I have beard the stories of your likes though. Pathetic indeed.
aaaa May 11, 2012 06:00pm
Really low self esteem. I always tell with my head held high that im from Pakistan. And yes i have to answer certain qs because of that which i answer honestly. If your mother is uneducated or ugly you dont say that neighbour is your mother. You just tell ''yes she is ugly and uneducated and still she is my mother.''
Naveed Lotia May 10, 2012 03:09pm
I live in Canada but never hide the fact that I am from Pakistan. If educated people pretend to be Indians, then we are benefiting India and doing a disservice to Pakistan. Whenever I get a chance, I try and present the positive side of the country to local Canadians. Pointing them to websites focused on Pakistani art, fashion, architecture etc. does help a lot.
M. Ali May 11, 2012 02:45pm
Isn't it terrible to be stabbed in the back? People like Al Capone and People like Mother Terressa do work in slums. Mother Terressa devots her life for the destitutes and Al Capone installs his gangsters to profit from the miseries of the slums. USA has not exactly been Mother Terressa for Pakistan.
Cyrus Howell May 10, 2012 05:26pm
Nawab Khan May 10, 2012 05:42pm
I feel pride in calling myself a Pakistani and would cringe at the idea of being called an Indian. You Mr. Ahmed are like a tree without roots.....quite pathetic...... Nawab Khan
Asad Qureshi May 11, 2012 11:53am
Having lived in USA for 14 years and now working in Pakistan for the last 8 year, my experience with Pakistani Americans is that they are not supporters of democracy in Pakistan.
Ahmad May 10, 2012 08:39pm
General political knowledge ( acedemic and acurate ) is lacking among Pakistanis.
Altaf May 10, 2012 08:49pm
Lotia sahab - Canadians do not bother looking at art, fashion etc of Pakistan after hearing about daily beheadings, blasts, killings, terrorists, acid attacks, voilence etc etc from Pakistan. For postive image - these things have to stop first.
tahir May 10, 2012 08:53pm
Why in my right mind i would do that?..........fix your corrupt system first then ask us to help!
Muhammad Ahmed Mufti May 10, 2012 09:55pm
Do people in Pakistan identify themselves as Pakistanis? Last I visited Pakistan I did not find any Pakistani there. In US, I identify myself as Kashmiri as my father was from Kashmir. I will identify myself proudly as Pakistani when people of Pakistan start doing the same.
Yawar May 10, 2012 10:35pm
This is very shocking. I live in the US. My parents were born in India. A lot of my relatives are still in India. But I can never imagine calling myself an Indian even by mistake. Mr. Ahmed, I hope you belong to a very small minority.
ken bryant May 11, 2012 12:42am
What will change the image of Pakistan is for Pakistan to change.
Yawar May 11, 2012 02:00am
Under the current system, Pakistani expats can not do much for Pakistan. Only if the rule of law is established in every walk of life, i.e. no free services or passes to anyone. In addition there needs to be mutual respect between Pakistanis and expats. Only then can things change. Lets hope the next administration can achieve this.
Mohammad Ali Khan May 11, 2012 02:15am
After 12yrs. of hard work I found out that Pakistanis don't want to be accountable, and can't play equal role in sustaining any project.Pakistanis first need to help themselves.
Sriram May 11, 2012 08:43am
Can't blame you for doing that really, as my experience is that at least one third of educated Pakistanis living in the UK, for example, are quite bigoted(religion wise) and fixated on their (read Islam's) victimhood. They also hold quite regressive opinions on women's rights etc. Of course my comments might seem self-serving as I am Indian, but with all respect, I have just stated my personal opinion.
Jawwad May 11, 2012 06:36am
Pakistan is sick and tired of experts, knowledge and science it self. Pakistan has zero capability in every field and the Govt. there is least interested in getting any. Kickbacks, corruption, mismanagement and the like is what they excel in. The Gillani Govt. has handed over all its important offices to illiterate, ignorant and corrupt. The criteria is buy the post, mint money bring back part of it to me, I will buy voters for the next election and win again. Its a country where dishonesty is cherished and honesty and self steam ridiculed. The nation is put to believe in all sorts of absurd conspiracy theories, every body out there is an enemy, bound to destroy us, is the message given. Experts are simply not wanted. Go away if u have a passion for science, music, art and culture.
Moeena May 11, 2012 07:35am
you have very rightly mentioned that the diaspora can play a very active role in improving this knowledge gap.
aftabkazi May 11, 2012 05:23am
Whatsoever Michael has said, some Americans of Pakistan origin with highest level specialization shy away from participating as Pakistan experts. Their ethnic composition and related intra-Pakistan-ethnic conflicts in America constitutes the problem. Majority of Pakistani-Americans from different ethnic background do not socialize together. Also, "Newspaper" oriented experts often do not like the highly trained and nuanced Pakistan experts of Pakistan origin. I have personal reasons to state this.
Capricorn May 11, 2012 09:39pm
I left Pakistan because I am a Ahmadiyya....I will never return neither will I have anything to do with country anymore.
M.F.K. May 14, 2012 02:57am
Although there are a couple "habitual" misrepresentations here from Non-Pak Nationals in the posts still over all the posts do not represent a true cross-section of the opinions of Pakistani Americans. The article's writer has done more thorough study than the superficial responders here it seems. It's true then if a genuine reporter interview the subjects s/he can get more out of them due to his questioning technique than if they write themselves.
pete May 13, 2012 01:47am
well said! and that is really the fact of life here in US vis-a-vis a pakistani, table have turned it isn't the way it was in 70's & 80's.
Saghir Ahmed Qureshi May 25, 2012 07:36pm
I am pakistani and live overseas for 45 years. My My parents immigrated to pakistan when I was 7 year old. I am grateful to them for the right judgement at the time. They died in pakistan. I have told every one that I am from pakistan. I go local mosque in Canada in Shalwar Khameez with my children in same clothes so that every one should know our origin as pakistanis. We are all proud of it. Why should we hide it. If some one does not like me,it is not my problem.I am grateful to pakisan to give me educaton at tax payer's expense otherwise I would not be where I am to day. Most people in my shoes should remember this. Half of my relatives still live in India in misery. My cousins there did not prosper inspite of education simply because of their religion. Some have been killed and are still being killed for being muslims. I support pakistand and poor people in pakistan financially and otherwise and will doing so. I am 72 years old now but I tell my children and grand children to do so. Signed: Dr. Saghir Qureshi
Dr.Saghir Qureshi May 25, 2012 08:09pm
I am a pakistani by naturalisation/immigration. I was 7 years old when my parents brought me to pakistan from India. I am a devoet paksitani. What a correct judgement. My uncle who was a doctor and practiced as a GP in Kanpur, major city in India. He visited us in 1951 in pakistan. My father asked to move to pakistan. He said that he was an Indian and settled there and refused. Sadly his hinsu patients one day requested a house call. They killed him and brought his body and threw it at my aunt's door. I still live with this grim memory, a very painful one. I hope that you would allow and publish this. My aunt wrote me this soon after he died. It is a lesson for pakistanis who call themselves as Indians.