Making Pakistan (un)proud: Too consumed by domestic issues to care about overseas Pakistanis, Khwaja Asif?

Published: October 1, 2017
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Pakistan Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif. PHOTO: AP

Blunt and evasive are two adjectives that best describe Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif’s recent conversation with the Asia Society. It was held in union with the 72nd United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

Asif, a vocal critic of Donald Trump’s version of American foreign policy, admitted that Trump’s position on the Afghanistan-Pakistan (AfPak) region was an “utter disappointment”. However, I personally felt that his elusive response to the question regarding Pakistani-Americans was an utter disappointment.

The interviewer, a world-renowned journalist and author, Steve Coll, mentioned the increasingly polarising nature of the American society, which the foreign minister sharply labelled as a bad sign for the future.

Coll also referred to the rising bigotry and bias towards American Muslims and questioned how the Pakistani diaspora weave into this thread. The foreign minister gave a general and non-committal response, saying that Muslims are faced with oppression all over world and that Pakistan has too many domestic issues going on right now to focus on overseas Pakistanis.

Rather than dealing with the issue head on, which he should have, he brushed aside the issue in a nonchalant manner. Does Asif not realise that Islamophobia and xenophobia in the US have been on the rise since Trump’s election? Hate groups are emerging all around the country, leading to a rise in anti-immigrant sentiment. According to a recent report, “the sharpest increase was among anti-Muslim groups, which grew from 37 to 101 during that period – a 197% increase in just one year”.

As an ethnic and religious minority, Pakistani-Americans are increasingly facing discrimination in the wake of more hate crimes. Thus, the fact that the foreign minister fails to even acknowledge their predicament makes the situation all the more disappointing.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, there are over 453,000 Pakistani immigrants in the US. They form the third highest majority when it comes to sending remittances back to their home country, as revealed by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP).

Additionally, the Pakistani diaspora in North America largely comprises of individuals with higher incomes and education levels, ranging from doctors, bankers, engineers, lawyers, business owners and taxi drivers.

report by the Asian American Centre for Advancing Justice, which regarded data collected by US government sources, stated that the median household income of Pakistani-American families is nearly $63,000.

Broadly speaking, these Pakistani-Americans are economically secure, but under the recent wave of Islamophobia, they have drowned under the anti-immigrant narrative, which the foreign minister of Pakistan neglected to recognise in his answer.

Moreover, the suggestion that we need to sort out our own issues on an international platform is further shaming Pakistan. Whose interests was Khwaja promoting, Pakistan’s or America’s? His comments not only portrayed Pakistan in a negative light but also disregarded the ardent efforts being made by our law enforcement agencies who sacrifice their lives to keep us safe.

Such irresponsible comments by a foreign minister should make our prime minister and president rethink their selection.   

On another note, the foreign minister mentioned the 2018 elections during his interview, yet one cannot help observe that Pakistanis living abroad are still unable to vote. This has been a long-standing issue for millions of overseas Pakistanis.

He went on to discuss domestic issues and local politics in his answer, which is interesting because a rise in the number of chapters of Pakistani political parties abroad has been witnessed. In New York alone, numerous chapters of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) have sprung up.

Thousands of international members of each party participate in meetings and events all year around. New York also has a wide readership for the Pakistan Post, a popular local Urdu newspaper. It features the latest news from Pakistan, covering politics and social issues as well as local business advertisements catering to the Pakistani diaspora.

Additionally, PTI even has a webpage that directs individuals to sign up online to become a member, covering all the major regions and countries of the world. It is simply ironic that none of these “would-be” party members have the opportunity to vote even if they register to be a party member from their respective country.

It goes without saying how disheartening it is for Pakistanis that are ardent political followers of their respective parties that when election time comes around, they are side-lined by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A petition started by a Pakistani in New York states,

“According to the Constitution of Pakistan, Overseas Pakistanis (OP) have the right to cast their vote.”

This also serves as a blow for the parties as well, since they’re losing out on a considerable number of voters, who could be detrimental in their victory.

Although there are rumours about overseas Pakistanis casting their votes online for the 2018 general elections, the ECP has not laid out any concrete plans as yet. Despite numerous futile attempts at filing constitutional petitions for this purpose, all efforts have clearly been in vain so far. Observing the recent rhetoric of the foreign minister, it is arguably safe to say that overseas Pakistanis should not get their hopes up for voting in the upcoming elections either.

Khwaja had an established forum on which he could address and rectify issues and misunderstandings, yet he chose to remain quiet. If a foreign minister overlooks such imperative issues, the future of our country and international relations seems bleak.

Haneya Hasan Zuberi

Haneya Hasan Zuberi

The author is a freelance journalist based in New York. She is currently an M.S. Candidate at the University of Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. She tweets at @HaneyaHZuberi (twitter.com/HaneyaHZuberi).

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • wb

    “Does Asif not realise that Islamophobia and xenophobia in the US have been on the rise since Trump’s election? Hate groups are emerging all around the country, leading to a rise in anti-immigrant sentiment.”

    Islamophobia does not exist. There is simply no such thing. It’s a lie, a propaganda spread by Islamofascists and Islamofascist-apologists.

    And you cannot fool us anymore because we have shed the charade of Political Correctness.

    Only Islamofascism exist. Recommend

  • SRK

    Why promote this endless attachment to Pakistan? Should these half a million folks of Pakistan origin not be ‘Americans’? Fully immersed in US/West and looking forward to meshing in with American/local culture and becoming full members of the society there. Why keep looking in the rear view mirror and go through life anchored to a past life/country? This way you keep yourself isolated. No wonder this gives rise to us vs them mentality and outlook. I hardly ever see folks of Pakistan origin write in US/Canadian/UK newspapers and that too talking about local issues. Somehow life always seems to revolve with issues back home. Only when they are targets of some discomfort due to discrimination or abuse do they realize they live in the west. Almost zero articles about why they live in the West and what they find beneficial or good about the society there. All articles seem to smack of victimization. Very poor way to show appreciation to a society/country which has agreed to give them opportunities and a new life. All taking and no giving. Suck out all the goodies and contribute nothing back. Not good. This even applies to the students and young folks who may not yet be citizens but are angling to become one some day.Recommend

  • Argon

    Pakistani labourers in the gulf are living in far worse conditions than the Pakistani Americans. I wonder if the writer has ever wrote any article for those category of overseas Pakistanis. In my opinion Mr Khwaja Asif’s response was okay. There are more than enough issues to be handled at home.Recommend

  • Sid

    For muslims, asking them not to block traffic in parking lot by doing namaz right in middle of road is considered “islamaphobeic”. How about for a change upgrading your religion and cone out of medieval practices. If you cannot make it to your prayer hall in time it is not other’s fault. And that you start being dogmatic in practicing your religious rights irrespective of whether it bothers all and if someone raises concern then you call it “Islamaphobia”. Even if that exists you guys are reason for it to happen. How about being in tune with current century and for a change be considerate towards others rather than always thinking about your religious freedom. You have all your eligious freedom in Islamic countries, cant demand the same in non islamic nations.
    Also for your knowledge miss author, more blacks and non muslims have died in past 10 years in USA than muslims. So keep your hoax of Islamaphobia with yourself.Recommend

  • Rahul

    Nobody in the western countries cares about your religion in general. It is not a topic of conversation. The average American does not know the difference between Hindu, Muslim or Buddhist. The problem with Muslims is that they do not practice their religion in privacy. When you live in a multicultural, multiethnic, multi religious society, there are norms of public behavior to follow such as dressing professionally, not expecting your workmates to do your work during Ramadan because you are fasting or using the conference room to pray 5 times a day. Many Muslims have large families in tiny houses with multiple cars parked on public property. Don’t behave as if you have some special insight into religious truth because you are Muslim. Muslim countries teach this to their residents and many find it difficult to shed.Recommend

  • gp65

    As far as I understand, even domestic Pakistanis can only vote in their own constituency. If they are traveling outside the constituency on the day of the vote, they cannot vote. The situation with overseas Pakistanis is the same. They have the right to vote but they have to do so in the constituency where they are registered. If they are not present in the constituency, they are unable to vote. In this regards, the rIghts of overseas Pakistanis are no different from resident Pakistanis.

    It is unclear what exactly you wanted Khwaja Asif to say or do about any generic discrimination that Pakistani Americans may face on a person to personal level in US.

    Mind you I am neither a supporter of PML-N or Khwaja Asif. I just did not get the point of your blog.Recommend

  • Abdul moiz

    Pakistan actually has too many domestic issues going on right now to focus on overseas Pakistanis
    The overseas pakistanis are there (In oppressive Amreeka and hot Qatar,Saudi,Dubai) because the situation in Pakistan is not too good in the first placeRecommend

  • Veer Singh

    “Moreover, the suggestion that we need to sort out our own issues on an international platform is further shaming Pakistan. Whose interests was Khwaja promoting, Pakistan’s or America’s?”

    What’s so “shaming” about what Mr. Asif said? It it such a big secret that many terrorist groups continue to freely operate from Pakistan’s soil? Instead of being ashamed at Asif’s statement, as a Pakistani, you should be ashamed that internationally designated terrorists like Haafiz Saeed are in the process of becoming “state actors” from “non state actors”. Looks like Pakistan is officially in the process of becoming “terroristan”Recommend

  • tkm

    List of ethnic groups in the United States by household income
    INDIA #1,PAKISTAN #66

    Indian American : $107,390[2]
    Jewish American : $97,500[3]
    Taiwanese American : $85,566[4]
    Filipino American : $82,389[4]
    Australian American : $81,452[2Recommend

  • Patwari

    Er…well,…see, hmm,…these figures look like you grinded them out
    in your cubicle, or better still, handed to you by Right Honorable
    Amit Shah, himself,…rather,…hizself.
    Could be, if you work in a 7-11 you make out like bandits. Could be.Recommend

  • wb

    Dear Patwari. I understand why you say that. Most Pakistanis do not know how to use google. You see, just like Maleeha Lodi. But, it’s okay. Recommend

  • Patwari

    Banarsi Brahmini, you moved to Madras yet? Keep moving
    every 6 months. This way no chance of meeting a fellow
    villager from Banaras. Plant, the winter vegetables. Onions
    and palak.
    Wear janeo thread correctly. Right shoulder, always.Recommend