Mr Prime Minister, I Would Have Liked To Serve Pakistan
Dear Prime Minister Imran Khan,
I’m one of those overseas Pakistanis you often refer to in your speeches. One, among the hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis born in Pakistan – but at some point a decision was made, by either them or their families (in my case, my family) that it would better off finding refuge somewhere else. I was roughly six years old when my family and I immigrated to America.
I recall the transition. We arrived into an airport in New York and it was my first time ever seeing an escalator. Naturally I gave my mother a fit, cried like a baby and refused to go on. Who knows maybe deep inside I was missing Pakistan – after all, it was the country of my birth and the only home I had known since the six years I had been on Earth. But then all of a sudden I recall this random woman (a complete stranger) approached, smiled, and gently grabbed my little hand to help me step foot on the escalator. Everything w
as going to be OK. America had just welcomed me in with open arms, and mind you with no prejudice.
But today at the age of 37, the only country I have really ever known is America. From my education, to business, family and so on, my entire life has been America. My love for my America was so strong that I even decided to serve in the United States Marines. I was honorably discharged in 2008.
Throughout it all, somewhere deep inside I’ve always remained connected to my Pakistani roots. Whether because of family and friends, my ability to speak Urdu and Punjabi or simply because of the preferred choice of food in our home (I’m referring to Pakistani food of course) – remnants of Pakistan have always continued to be a part of everyday life. But that doesn’t mean I’ve always been proud.
It’s actually been so bad that practically every time I’ve traveled overseas, it’s the “country of birth” part in my US Passport – Pakistan, that I’ve often despised and wished wasn’t there. I’m sure, as someone who’s lived abroad, you can fully understand. Because although Pakistan may have a rich cultural history, the terrorism and unfixed prevailing religious extremist ideology often fueling everything has continued to remain.
But keeping things honest, for once, I was pretty excited when you became Prime Minister. And as a Term Member on the Council on Foreign Relations, I even decided to especially make my way to New York to participate in the meeting at the Council where you were chief guest. In fact I remember, I sat only a few feet away from where you were. And since your visit to the US I’ve tried my best to continue to keep myself attuned to what’s taking place in Pakistan.
For example, I recently tuned in to listen in an event titled “Digital Pakistan”. Two overseas Pakistanis, one a Google executive and the other a senior office holder in the IMF, had both left their respective jobs overseas to come contribute to the betterment of Pakistan. You took their sacrifice as an opportunity to address overseas Pakistani’s worldwide, encouraging them to take similar steps. In other words, to make that selfless sacrifice to leave whatever they had achieved behind to come back and contribute towards the betterment of Pakistan.
But then, just as I began reflecting and thinking what part I could possibly play towards the betterment of Pakistan, reality hit me. I had forgotten for a moment that I was someone that didn’t count. I was not one of the hundreds of thousands of overseas Pakistanis that you were referring to.
You must now be wondering what I’m talking about. Well, you see, I happen to belong to that minority known as the Ahmadiyya community. I could be a Chaudhry Zafrullah Khan, who served as the first foreign minister of Pakistan appointed by the very Quaid-e-Azam you often boast about, a Nobel Prize winner like Abdus Salaam, a worldwide renowned economist like Atif Mian, or in my case, a Muslim Marine at the forefront fighting Islamaphobia (one of your priorities by the way per your UN speech).
But because we happen to have chosen Ahmadiyya teachings as our faith, to you and the millions of others there in Pakistan, we are considered second-grade citizens that just don’t make the cut.
Although I constantly hear you making reference to the Charter of Medina in your speeches and your desire to make Pakistan a living example as such, it seems to come across as just a bunch of talk. As you probably know, the Charter of Medina as laid out by the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) sought to end bitter tribal rivalries, worked to maintain peace and order among various groups, and most importantly provide for the freedom of religion for everyone irrespective of their personally held beliefs.
But just last week in the spirit of human rights, at a human rights conference, an unchecked odd episode took place. I’m referring to Jannat Hussain Nekokara when she rightly stated, “We should give due rights to Non-Muslim Pakistanis, we should give them there due regard, we have unfortunately gotten stuck in religious divisions, someone identifies as Shia, someone as Sunni, someone as Ahmadi, someone as a Wahabi, we should dissolve these differences[….]” But it wasn’t long before she was brought into a room with a bunch of protesting students forcing her to retract her words. The main point being, why she had dared to utter the word “Ahmadi” in her statement. But I honestly couldn’t blame her response because the environment in the room felt as though it was a life-or-death moment.
I was pretty optimistic when you got elected – and why wouldn’t I be?
After all, you call your party the “party of justice.” But I guess fate for Pakistani-born Ahmadi believers abroad, no matter how much they may desire to earnestly contribute to the betterment of Pakistan, will have to continue to be prayers and good wishes and an affinity from afar. What a loss for Pakistan!
In the meantime, my family and I will forever remain grateful to our America who never saw us as a sect, but rather, just as good old human beings. Hopefully, one day Pakistan can do the same.