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Ten Pakistanis doing great things for America

Published Feb 28, 2013 10:08am

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Recently, I profiled 10 Americans doing admirable things for Pakistan.

Today, I present a sequel of sorts: 10 Pakistanis doing admirable things for America.

One caveat is in order: Pakistani-Americans are not the chief focus. Certainly there’s plenty to say about this community, which seemingly produces new success stories every day (consider Ashar Aziz, whose FireEye cyber security firm earned the #1 ranking for Silicon Valley venture capital deals last month). Yet, much of this story has already been told.

Instead, my intent is to spotlight less-heralded Pakistanis who do their good deeds as visitors in America, or during otherwise relatively brief periods of time in the country.

We rarely hear their inspiring stories. Here they are, in alphabetical order:

1.    Danish Ali

This Aaj TV comedian, along with fellow funnyman Ali Gul Pir, recently barnstormed across America to build goodwill through laughter. “It’s so nice when you get that first joke out and suddenly you’re best friends,” Ali observed. After witnessing the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, he quipped that as a Pakistani he could teach Americans some things about coping with energy shortages.

2.    Fatima Ali

This rising culinary star has attained a rare feat for non-American women — she’s become a top chef at a prestigious New York restaurant. Ali’s specialty is Pakistan-spiced Western fare — a combination that won her first prize on the American cooking show “Chopped.” Currently sous-chef at Café Centro, she plans to return to Pakistan to establish subsidised kitchens with cheap and organic food for the poor.

3.    Arfa Karim

Her accomplishments in Pakistan are well known. Less so is how the late child prodigy touched the hearts of Americans during her 2005 trip to Microsoft headquarters near Seattle. A local academic applauded her for presenting “another side” of Pakistan, while a Seattle journalist raved about her “combination of charm, flattery, and boldness.” She also made a powerful impression on Microsoft staff, including Bill Gates.

4.    Falak Sher Marri

Scores of Pakistanis flock to America for college and graduate school; fewer go as high school exchange students. Marri, of Quetta, arrived in Minnesota with a “curiosity to learn about new cultures.” In 2010, he wrote an account of his time in America. It included disabusing Americans of the notion that Pakistani children ride camels to school, visiting the famous Mall of America, and, above all, recognising the shared values of Pakistanis and Americans.

5.    Fawad Ahmed Mukhtar

It’s brave enough for a Pakistani industrialist to launch a project in America, where high tariffs are often imposed on exports from Pakistan. Even more gutsy is that Mukhtar’s Fatima Group was planning to construct a fertilizer plant — an ingredient that happens to be found in IEDs assembled in Pakistan and used to kill US troops in Afghanistan. Sadly, this month, caving to political pressure, Indiana state officials suspended the project — despite the fact that it promises 300-plus new jobs in recession-ravaged Indiana.

6.    Adil Najam

The prominent LUMS academic spent numerous years teaching at Boston-area universities, including my alma mater, Tufts University, where he captivated students with his compelling lectures and wit. He made scholarly contributions on climate change and development, yet still had the time to produce a seminal study on the Pakistani-American diaspora.

7.    Muhammad Najmuddin

Through a nonprofit cultural exchange called Caravanserai, the celebrated qawwali performer and his Qawal Najmuddin Saifuddin & Brothers group travelled across America to introduce the long-time Sufi tradition to small-town Americans. Several performances occurred at schools for very young children; one show in a Montana classroom is especially worth a look (judging by audience reactions, the music clearly resonated).

8.    Sobia Nosheen

Less than a week after Navy Seals fulfilled their mission to take out Osama Bin Laden, and with anti-Pakistan sentiment soaring in America, this NGO worker from KP arrived in New England with a very different mission in mind: “Make friends with the American people.” She travelled across Vermont and New Hampshire, sharing photos of Pashtun children and spreading messages of peace about Pakistan.

9.    Tabish Shaikh

This undergraduate exchange student at Pennsylvania’s Gannon University didn’t come to America just to study. In the last few weeks alone, she’s joined classmates for a march in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.; attended a Christian prayer service; and given a university presentation about Pakistan. Like Marri and Nosheen, her motivations for visiting the United State were simple: “I wanted to see a new side of the world.”

10.     Muzaffar Siddiqi

Unlike most others mentioned here, this Texas-based police officer has lived in America for a number of years. But his story begs to be told. After 9/11, Siddiqi worked with the Houston police department to strengthen ties with the city’s sizable Muslim community. His work attracted the attention of President Obama, whom he eventually met, and it’s also inspired other area Pakistanis to join the Houston police force.

It’s tempting to repeat what I said in my post about Americans in Pakistan: These portraits demonstrate how unofficial US-Pakistan ties are strong, even as official ones are suffering.

But in fact, the official relationship helps the unofficial one thrive. After all, several of the above individuals visited America on US government exchanges.

And these exchanges have remarkable consequences. One day in 2010, I had the good fortune to meet 18 teenage students from Fata (and their chaperones — two female IT teachers) visiting Washington on a USAID grant. As they performed a dance for a small American audience, the man seated next to me — a tough-talking businessman — was moved to tears.

These Fata children — and the other Pakistanis discussed here — are unsung ambassadors for the US-Pakistan relationship.

 


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The author is the Senior Program Associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. You can reach him at michael.kugelman@wilsoncenter.org

 


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