REMARKS BY AMBASSADOR SHERRY REHMAN

The following is a transcript of the speech made by Ambassador Sherry Rehman at her first public event at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, DC on 15th February 2012.

Sherry RehmanDick Solomon, Tara Sonenshine, Steven Hadley, the Board at USIP, Moeed Yusuf, and the Pakistan Program Team at USIP Good morning and thank you for giving me the opportunity to address key members of the American policy community assembled here in Washington.

Pakistan’s commitment to the empowerment of women and minorities, and all vulnerable communities is the first place to start any conversation as well as initiative against extremism, because it is a defining contest, among so many others in any plural, diverse society. It is also really rooted in two fundamentals: One, there can be no prosperous, plural, progressive Pakistan at peace with itself and its neighbours if our policies don’t privilege the protection and empowerment of vulnerable groups. Second, this is the stated roadmap laid out by the founder of Pakistan, Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah at his most important policy address to the new constituent assembly of Pakistan. It is also a core value of the PPP policy agenda, important to President Zardari, who appointed me to this post, and Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Shaheed. She embraced her death fighting for the politics of inclusion, which in our current context, includes taking on the full spectrum of extremists, militants and terrorists, often in one continuum. When it comes to advancing an extremist agenda, this blurring of lines between all three categories, and a multiplication of their strength, often at tactical, political and strategic levels, is a dynamic that often dilutes the force of political as well as state responses.

But this is not an existential or state identity crisis, in my view, neither is this a permanent condition. No government, or even military, can take on such a toxic and lethal combination in one go. The extremists find succor among terrorists to advance their agenda, and civil society and political majorities of the kind that Islamabad votes in need time and capacity to turn back this tide. Pakistan votes in progressive political parties by and large, which if empowered over time, can and must reverse the advances that the extremist idiom and militant muscle has made since Pakistan allied with the US against the war against Communism in Afghanistan.

You will hear me say this again and again in Washington: Pakistan has no shortage of commitment on the effort against extremism, militancy or terrorism today. It is impossible to open all fronts at one time, especially given the conflict in Afghanistan constantly spilling over into Pakistan both twenty years ago, and once again today. So this is a capacity issue as much as a sequencing challenge, and we often feel we are fighting this long battle with one hand tied behind our backs.

At the same time, I am happy to say that we are seeing the first democratic government in Pakistan in over three decades coming close to completing its tenure. This is no small achievement. The Pakistan parliament was able to pass its 20th amendment with near unanimity. This amendment is a singular milestone in our advance towards democracy, as it will set the ground-rules for a truly independent election commission. A level playing field in any electoral contest will add substantial weight and legitimacy to the vote now, and we hope it will draw more citizens in as stakeholders in reform and accountability. An lRl poll tells me that 59% of people now feel that voting gives them the chance to influence decision-making in Pakistan. This is a vital statistic, a bellwether for the path Pakistan is headed on. At this point let me also add, that Pakistan is on course to conduct its Senate polls on March 2nd, 2012, and general elections in its first peaceful and constitutional transfer of power since the 1970s.

After long non-democratic interludes, all institutions of government are seeking a difficult but crucial equilibrium. We see this as a pivotal and often painful transition to sustainable democracy, where the civilian government stands committed to the rule of law and respect for the court. For the first time in the history of Pakistan, the Prime Minister has appeared in the Supreme Court twice, with exemplary confidence with a view to upholding the supremacy of the law.

We are aware that, in the final analysis, a nation’s strength stems from the strength of its institutions and the stake its citizens have in its prosperity. While fighting a full-fledged war against the forces of terrorism and extremism, and coping with millions of dislocated persons, both from disasters as well as operations within Pakistan and from Afghanistan, we have made significant strides in strengthening our federation. Despite critical infrastructure and resource deficits we have invested in deepening fundamental freedoms for the media and judiciary. We have re-allocated long contested resources by  consensus in a National Finance Commission award, and are in the process of building the capacity of our provinces which have seen power devolved to them in great historic constitutional strides through our 18th Amendment. Governance remains a challenge with capacity and resource deficits. So does the provision of jobs and skilled human capital in the absence of new opportunities that have not replaced losses in an economy hit by conflict, losses worth 78 billion dollars (not to mention road infrastructure losses worth 122 billion dollars). We realize that we need to strive harder and work faster to deliver on reform promises made by our iconic leader, the late Benazir Bhutto, who gave her life fighting against terrorism.

But Pakistan today is not just about bombs and bullets. Far from it. We are the sixth most populous country in the world, with the largest youth cohort anywhere. Every fortieth person in the world is a Pakistani, in the most urbanized country in South Asia, but all are not intolerant, as tolerance and respect for plural identities is the norm. The outliers have captured street space and militant resource, not to mention media attention. Today the Pakistan story is also about its vast multiplicity of young musicians in the largest pop franchises in South Asia, its resilience in the face of natural calamity, its creativity in art, media, telecommunications, fashion weeks and literature festivals, but equally importantly, about the scale and complexity of ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity we negotiate every day. We boast high rates of political participation and leadership for women and are confident that a slew of recent landmark laws on women’s empowerment too will build serious equities in advancing a progressive agenda. Pakistan’s minorities remain on every serious leader’s minds in the extremist context we navigate every day, and we remain committed to building coalitions with civil society and political actors that seek common ground in the important but challenging task of protecting and empowering minorities. We have already rebuilt some of the churches and temples that Pakistan’s leaders have promised to protect, but we recognize that the protection of religious freedoms have a long road ahead in the region.

As far as Pakistan’s relations with the US is concerned, first of all, I would say that a re set was needed for a number of very good reasons. Some of these were structural, while some of the famous “trust deficit” gaps were informed by a profound cognitive, and even institutional, disconnect Many of the gaps can be mitigated, if we step back,  give pause and re-construct. But on the strategic end, this relationship has been burdened with too many expectations, and invested with an inordinately high wattage of emotion. The marriage metaphor for instance, never seems to go away, with its implicit embrace of love and hate, life, death and in fact, divorce, which we seek to avoid. Given the state of strategic flux our region faces at a time of unprecedented challenges, and the responsibilities such transitions bring with it, this is too important and too sensitive a relationship to carry this volume and scale of unregulated hyperbole. The good news is that many of us on both sides think it is time that this relationship matured into a more consistent, stable and transparent equation, with weight given to mutual respect, but once again that would be the subject best reserved right now for our parliament to decide.

I see that in your invite you mention the attack on Pakistani soldiers at Mohmand as a cut-off date for our broader bilateral engagement, but I would take this opportunity to say that the tragedy at Mohmand really served as an end-line trigger that called for a fundamental re-set. It was indeed shocking for the Pakistani nation to see the flag-draped bodies of 24 soldiers martyred in the line of active duty on the international border with Afghanistan, at the hands of our allies. In the absence of an immediate apology, this did cause the Pakistan street to erupt with questions about the egregious asymmetry in the calculus of comparative sacrifice between our two nations in terms of blood and treasure. So while the incident left a strong mark on the Pakistani psyche, spurring a re-think of the modalities of how we had been working together, it was not the sole motive for the Pakistani call for a re-think. As we all know, this event itself came on the heels of a long line of bilateral catastrophes in 2011. As far as this bilateral equation is concerned, as with all national security challenges, we are now on a road where we speak as one united government, where the military defends our borders, and the civilian leadership stands up for its soldiers, just as strongly and clearly as your leadership does for its military in the United States.

For Pakistanis, the notion of territorial sovereignty dominates public space today in important ways, simply because the symbol of its subversion is so repeatedly and unfortunately associated with the United State’s growing footprint in Pakistan. However, make no mistake, to us terrorists represent as much a breach of our sovereignty as state-sponsored unilateralism of any kind. You will be happy to hear though, that despite our resource constraints and much damage to Pakistani terrain, the core assets of Al Qaeda have been defeated and destroyed with Pakistani cooperation. I  am also encouraged to note that most interlocutors in the US Administration have echoed this view, which gives cause for hope and mutual appreciation.

Our challenge in the days ahead is to not only re-set this relationship in seminal ways so that we avoid being caught in the cross-hairs of a tough conflict in a very tough neighbourhood, but also build on vital gains that can bring more light than heat to any given situation. Among other tangibles, we clearly need a series of codified protocols where episodes stay off the red line radius, and therefore not contingent on the infrastructure of crisis management. The current rules of engagement, if you like, leave this vital relationship too vulnerable to the enemies of peace, as well as to our own gaps in communication. Volatility is the enemy of delivery in any bilateral construct, and I do believe that the divergence in our two narratives can be bridged if we invest in regular exchanges among our two great peoples, who individually build abiding relationships across great gulfs of space and time. Which is why we need to invest in more traffic between our nationals and not just our two governments. But this is not a prescriptive intervention. From our end, the way forward between the countries is a far more substantive conversation that right now is the prerogative of Pakistan’s parliament.

We have cooperated with the US at key moments in our history, but have managed somehow not to overcome the cognitive dissonance that derails the relationship. The negativity that you often see here is partly a function of information deficits on both sides. The media in both countries is very free and like all media, it flashes the bad news in nano seconds while good news everywhere crawls on it belly. So while Pakistan faces down a crippling internal terrorist challenge, the good news just stays on the ground while the flames from the fire make great footage.
The other thing we can both do better on is managing the official public discourse. Public official messaging has to be clearly and unequivocally non-coercive if it is to mean anything, especially in Pakistan. A consistency in our mutual public messaging will go a long way in bridging the static in our cognitive bandwidth. That will give moderates more space to build back better, stronger ties with the US.

As great political and economic shifts take place in the world, I hope that the response to challenges we face together as well as alone will be based on a recognition and evaluation of the possibilities and resources available to us in the realization of shared goals. Critics of a strong US-Pakistan relationship are questioning its viability in both nations, yet I feel we can use this opportunity to re-set our relationship on a clearer, more stable footing, based on public consent and strong mutually articulated goals that are achievable. The United States’ friendship is a pivotal element in our democracy and capacity-building endeavour.

Today Pakistan’s internal terrorism challenge is mostly a function of its location as well as its capacity in the face of high numbered daily casualties, both civilian and military. These casualties have shattered countless homes and families throughout Pakistan, and do not make the headlines anywhere except in Pakistan. Blowback from military operations and anti-terror offensives spur terrorist attacks on girls’ schools, hospitals, hotels, Sufi shrines, police precincts, all intelligence offices, and soldiers on the frontlines. There is no absence of political will or commitment. We are in full overstretch militarily in all the tribal areas on our western border, and with thin deployments from the Afghan side of the border, we face a substantial security threat from insurgents and militants in that area. The terrain is hostile to monitoring, and border indictments need to match our operations from both sides. As it stands, the NATO charter does not even include narcotics policing as a formal roster of duty for its patrols.

I have no intention of bringing a victim narrative to Washington but I do take this opportunity to inform the House that from today our embassy here will be putting out a weekly scorecard on Pakistani casualties sustained in the effort against terrorism. This will pose in sharp contrast, the staggering quantum of casualties sustained by Pakistan, only in human cost, to the losses sustained by the combined strength of our allies in the war next door. This initiative is not intended to vitiate the atmosphere. To the contrary, if anything, this will reduce the knowledge gap about the limits to Pakistani abilities to degrade, defeat and destroy terrorists of all stripes at the same time. And we hope it will bring sobriety to the sometimes vitriolic narrative in certain political quarters, which is a quality we endeavour to inject into the public conversations back in our country about the US as well.

As part of our vision for a secure, plural, democratic and prosperous Pakistan, we are firmly committed to playing a constructive role in promoting peace and stability in our region. I must draw your attention to a positive shift in Pakistan’s foreign policy agenda on two broad salients. One, Pakistan is pursuing a non-intrusive peace offensive in the region. In English, this means broadening and strengthening our relationship with India, which is stepping up to our offers of multiple and sustained conversations. It is our  intent to enhance our dialogue with India and to make it productive and result oriented, with the hope that the Kashmir dispute finds just and peaceful resolution. This also very importantly means we are reaching out to Kabul, where our Foreign Minister has recently met all political coalitions, in order to deepen trust and build mutual capacity for stresses the two countries continue to face, as civilian casualties from the conflict in Afghanistan reach their highest number in ten years. At this point I want to clearly state that Pakistan will support a peace process that is Afghan-led and Afghan owned, in real-time practice, not just as a policy platitude. We do not consider Afghanistan our strategic backyard, as many claim we do, but we do have the highest stakes in Afghan stability since we simply cannot afford the blowback from either a civil war there again, nor any other kind of surge into Pakistan, with its long, porous border. Our motives in the region are driven by a legitimate anxiety about the security transition in a post-US drawdown timeline in Afghanistan, certainly not ambition.

We consider Afghanistan our brother, as President Karzai likes to put it, and we continue to host about 3 million refugees that we seek to repatriate with dignity and respect back to their homeland. In a few days we will be hosting a trilateral summit between Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan at the highest level in order to broaden regional stakes in an Afghan-led peace. None of this of course, and I must emphasize this, precludes nor excludes the value of our core engagement so far with the US until 26/11 on all these important issues, but we do have a full spectrum review ending soon, which will roadmap the terms of our renewed cooperation. And that we hope will be very soon. America is right now the principal agent in the security and stability of Afghanistan and the region, and we do not, and certainly cannot disregard that.

Two, Islamabad is also diplomatically stepping up its strategic outreach to the global community, in which Pakistan sees itself as a productive member of a concentric circle of countries, both in our own continent and abroad. This includes engagement with Central Asian countries, with Turkey, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, and Russia as well as China. We will of course seek to renew our important relationship with the US by reinvigorating it with new terms of engagement. We hope that by bringing greater clarity, coherence and operational coordination, we can move towards a partnership that is better hardwired for critical metrics of success, such as mutual respect and mutual benefit. We clearly have converging goals in seeking stability in the region, and hope that they can soon be pursued with greater vigor, openness and clarity. Pakistan can no longer make crucial strategic decisions based on one phone call, and I thank all  US officials and other interlocutors who have worked so hard to welcome me to Washington and to exercise patience throughout this “strategic pause” in our bilateral engagement.

Lastly, as my key priorities in Washington, in what is really a red-eye job, given our time difference and contemporary predilection for crises, I would like to strengthen and broaden the bilateral relationship, help set it on a firmer, transparent, equitable footing, and play my part in educating the people of both countries to better understand each other. I hope to give particular attention to the large and robust American-Pakistani community in the USA, and to seek their support in advancing mutual goals. The idea that trade insulates a relationship from the caprice of unintended consequences finds particular resonance with me, and my leadership in Pakistan would hope that the embrace of free trade values and conventions by the United States, whom we look to for inspiration and innovation in the great global marketplace will find accommodation for Pakistan’s goods in an enabling trade environment, reducing dependency from the vexing politics of aid.

I would like most of all to be remembered as the envoy who represented the first sustained elected government in many decades, that in the most challenging and exciting transitions to democracy, stayed the course to unite and reconcile our federation despite onerous odds, and anchored this critical bilateral relationship in the solid ground of public consent. American people know the value of power rooted in democracy, and I for one am known for speaking truth to power.

Thank you.

Losing Our Voice

A recent column by Ardeshir Cowasjee for Dawn was one of those pieces that connects the dots and makes a picture of the world start to take shape. His column, Killing the Messengers, addresses a major obstacle in moving Pakistan beyond the mess that we’re in. It’s not that we’re having the wrong conversation, it’s that we can’t have any conversation at all.

Our inability to have a civil debate has become increasingly apparent. But this is not a ‘pox on both houses’ situation, as much as we like to cast blame equally. When Marvi Sirmed appeared on Shahid Nama with Zaid Hamid, she didn’t accuse anyone being a traitor or unpatriotic. She just offered an alternative point of view. More recently, it’s been Mubashir Luqman lobbing such accusations against Najam Sethi of being an American agent. Nevermind the fact that in listing the top ten mistakes of Pakistan, the same Najam Sethi lists as number one the alliance with America. But he also criticises the decision not to recognise Sheikh Mujib’s electoral majority in 1970 elections, and the Kargil assault, which some want to pretend happened differently than they did.

This is not a new phenomenon. Back in 2008, Javed Chaudhry wrote a scathing attack against Najam Sethi. But Javed Chaudhry didn’t debate his positions then either, rather he attacks him personally, saying Najam Sethi is mafia lord of a Lahore NGO sponsored by America to spread anti-Pakistan views.

If you take the time to actually listen, what these so-called “liberal extremists” say isn’t really extreme at all. Is it really “extreme” to suggest that secret conspiracies are not responsible for all of our problems? Or that maybe, just maybe, military officers have not always made the wisest decisions? People like Marvi Sirmed and Najam Sethi aren’t advocating an athiest Marxist-Leninist revolution. They’re not anarcho-syndicalists who want to replace the National Assembly with a federation of worker’s councils. Could it be that the right wing finds them far more threatening because when they speak, they actually make sense?

If someone says something the right wing doesn’t like, they don’t offer a reasoned counter-argument – they resort to character assassination. They term you a traitor and say you are spreading anti-Pakistan views. They say you’re a paid agent. And this is used not only against journalists, but politicians, government officials, and even private citizens who dare to have their own opinions. Zaid Hamid calls for politicians to be “hanged by the trees” and Ahmed Quraishi calls for a “ruthless military coup”. They resort to threats of violence because they cannot convince people with their ideas alone.

It’s easy to dismiss such threats as online taunting, but this right wing mindset has a bad habit of crossing the line between uncivil talk and uncivil behaviour. What starts as character assassination too often escalates to just plain ‘assassination’. Whoever killed Saleem Shahzad, there is little doubt that his killers were motivated by what he wrote. The killers didn’t offer any counter argument to Saleem Shahzad’s claims; they just didn’t like what he had to say, so they shut him up. Permanently.

Mumtaz Qadri murdered Salmaan Taseer not over any blasphemy that the governor committed, but because he disagreed with him about whether a law should be reformed. Once again, nevermind the fact that by advocating for rahma (mercy) Salmaan Taseer was not challenging Islam, he was living it. What he was challenging was a political ideology that can’t bear to be challenged. So, without a trace of shame, Meher Bokhari says he’s ‘Western’ and reads a fatwa against him on TV. When the character assassination doesn’t deter Salmaan Taseer, Mumtaz Qadri shoots him in the back.

In a way, it’s rather ironic. The self-appointed defenders of Islam have replaced the central message of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) with central message of Gen Zia-ul-Haq. They’re replaced itjihad with jihad, reason with guns. Similarly, these same self-appointed guardians of the national honour (ghairat) are turning Pakistan into a pariah state, increasingly isolated from the rest of the world.

So who’s really being anti-Pakistan here? Is it the so-called ‘liberal extremist’ commentators who are merely telling what happened in the past so that we may be saved from repeating it? No, the real extremists here are Pakistan’s wanna-be coup makers who want to kill (literally) any criticism that threatens to expose their delusions and the self-defeating adventurism it justifies.

This brings me back to Cowasjee, who wrote:

In our universe, Pakistan is in the middle of a party celebrating its greatness and no one wants a messenger of bad news to interrupt the self-glorification. But in the real world, we can kill as many messengers as we like, the message that Pakistan is in big trouble is unlikely to go away.

You don’t have to agree with everything Marvi Sirmed or Najam Sethi or anyone else says. I don’t. But I respect their right to say things that I don’t agree with. It’s not anti-Pakistan to want the country to be the best that it can be, and it’s not extreme to recognise your past mistakes so that you can improve for the future. It’s your real friends who will tell you when you have food in your beard. It’s your enemies who let you walk around looking like a fool.

Hate-Filled Zombies

The following quote is taken from a piece by Brig (R) Mehboob Qadir published in Daily Times on 17 August about the state of TV mullahs and the effect that these performers are having on our society.

Our faith is already badly mauled by their brutal brethren out in the street and is gasping for life. We need to be spared further torment. Their endless sermons and awfully circular reasoning that always tends to confirm and secure their own authority over our lives are oppressive. We have been deprived of our natural goodness towards others and we have stopped seeing people from differing faiths as human beings. Slowly we are being converted into faith-propelled, hate-filled zombies ready to pounce upon those who do not see what these mullahs have told us to see. We are being led blindfolded to the precipice of baseness and destruction. Please allow us to be simple practicing Muslims, just decent caring human beings. Leave us alone in our homes and let us live. We have had enough.

Click here to read the full piece.

Secularism and Sectarianism

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this debate about secularism that is going on in our country. Mostly, it’s left me a little bewildered. Someone will tell me that secularism is not right for Pakistan, and they say the reason is we will descend into anarchy without our religion. I wonder, do they ever go outside? On Saturday, some Hizb-ut-Tahrir guy spammed everyone he could think of on Twitter by linking to a couple of articles in the British press about the London riots and claiming that “opinion makers condemn secularism”. I literally laughed out loud when I saw this. If secularism is responsible for London’s riots, what is responsible for Karachi’s?

Of course, just as religion has almost nothing to do with the riots in London, it has very little to do with the violence in Karachi also. But it has everything to do with the death and destruction sown by groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat AKA Sipah-e-Sahaba. It’s sectarianism, not secularism that is fueling violence and killing Pakistanis.

Actually, the articles the HuT wala linked didn’t even support his point. In fact, in a way they actually defended secularism. Take the piece by A N Wilson for Daily Mail.

All of us — Muslims, Sikhs, Jews, Hindus, Christians — have a rich religious inheritance.

At the core of this inheritance is a sense of right and wrong. And in all these religions, the school where we learn of right and wrong is the family. Muslims, Jews, Sikhs and Hindus have all, very noticeably, retained this twin strand of family structure and ethical teaching.

Is this the message that Hizb-ut-Tahrir is trying to spread? That each of these major religions should be respected for teaching important lessons about right and wrong? Obviously not. Hizb-ut-Tahrir doesn’t even respect Muslims, unless you’re they’re kind of Muslim. This piece in the Daily Mail is about a British guy worried that his culture turning away from religion and morality – he’s talking about atheism and amorality, not secularism.

And this is the what is at the center of the debate about secularism in Pakistan, an issue of definitions. This is also why I refused to waste my time debating with one of Hizb-ut-Tahrir’s internet commandos. They will tell you that secularism means a complete absence of religion when nobody is arguing for such a thing.

The truth is that what people are arguing for when they’re promoting secularism is actually closer to Sunnah, certainly closer than any mythical re-imagining of the Umayyad Caliphate.

Pakistan today is beset with religious and sectarian anarchy. Mainstream religious forces want the state to become partial towards their sects and have pushed the country to the edge – all in a mad desire to enforce their version of Islam. Bhutto’s and Zia’s ‘Islamizing’ of Pakistan has yielded bitter fruits and a dark legacy. Ironically, before such attempts of Islamization, history suggests that Pakistani society was more peaceful, had less crime and citizens generally felt secure in the practice of their faiths.

Judging by the facts on ground the country has moved away from Islamic ideals in the name of Islam. It would be appropriate to interpret a few instances from Holy Prophet’s rule (pbuh) and contrast his Sunnah to the ideas of modern day Islamists.

The Charter of Madina known popularly as Misaq-i-Madina was a landmark agreement in the history of Islam between the Prophet (as representative of Muslims), pagans and Jews that granted equal rights to all communities of the city. Interestingly, the notion of citizenship of individuals is defined in the Charter as part of specific communities; Jews and Muslims are two distinct yet equal communities. Specifically, that ‘Jews and Muslims are one nation’ as mentioned in the Charter would sound blasphemy to Muslims today yet the Prophet did not see any fault in this wording.

When Pakistan was founded as a homeland for South Asia’s Muslims, it was done in reaction to the prospect of being persecuted under a reactionary Hindu majority in India. This is why Jinnah’s often quoted declaration of secularism made perfect sense when they were spoken on 11 August 1947. What doesn’t make sense is the argument by those opposed to secularism today who insist that Hindus and Zionists are intolerant and oppressive to religious minorities…and we should act just like that.

Nobody is arguing that people should not practice their religion. Secularists are only arguing that people should be able to choose their religion as they see fit, not have the state choose it for them, and should not be forced to practice any religion at gun point. It is Lahore’s growing Talibanisation that threatens to erase our culture, not Western secularism. Pakistan is not threatened by secularism, we are threatened by sectarianism. Jinnah foresaw this possibility, which is why he argued so forcefully for the rights of all Pakistanis to be able to practice their religion without interference by the state. And that’s called…secularism.

An American in Pakistan

Did you know that 700,000 Americans sent $1.86 billion to Pakistan last year? That’s in addition to the billions of dollars provided by US taxpayers in the form of civilian aid over the past 10 years. These Americans, as you may have guessed, are like me – Americans of Pakistani descent. And just as I do, they also send money back to their ancestral country to help family and friends pay tuition, build businesses, and improve their daily lives. Many, if not most, of these people were born in Pakistan, and many still have deep roots there. But while each of these people is very much Pakistani, they are also very much American.

Most of the middle or upper middle class people in Pakistan have at least one relative that lives in America and sends money back or brings back gifts or presents when visiting Pakistan, and can play an important role in countering myths and conspiracy theories that are running rampant in Pakistan.

On a recent visit to my motherland, I heard frightening stories about America cracking down on Pakistanis and Muslims. Others told me that the US is corrupting Pakistani values and that they worry about future generations if we don’t cut ties with the US. I tried to explain that it’s not the Americans who threaten Pakistan’s future, but the militant extremists who are bombing mosques and schools. An old friend shook his head and said to me, “sheir ki aik din ki zindagi geedar ki sou din ki zindagi say behtar hai”. All this while we were sitting and enjoying an air-conditioned meal in Hardee’s.

Another common misconception that I came across was that I was treated as a second class citizen in America, deprived of my rights to practice my religion and a victim of prejudice at every instant of my life. People would approach me with great sympathy to tell me how bad my life in America was.

At first I was confused, and then I began to laugh. I explained to each and every one of them that their impression could not be further from the truth, that I actually took pride in the fact that I am a Muslim Pakistani-American. I was never deprived of my rights in the US, and I almost never thought about what others thought of my religious beliefs and practices – definitely far less often than when I was living in Pakistan.

Did they know, I asked, that when a Pakistani-American woman running for political office was smeared as an extremist, she was defended in the media by both the Mayor and a Judge? Did they know that when a Muslim judge was criticized for defending 9/11 detainees, that the Governor of New Jersey came to his defense in a public speech, calling the man’s accusers “crazy”?

When I asked them if a Christian safai wala or an Ahmedi carpenter or a Hindu jeweler could say the same thing in Pakistan, my friends had nothing to say. When I asked what happens to a Governor when he defends a religious minority in Pakistan, my friend lowered his eyes and muttered, “Astaghfirulah”.

I understand, though, because when I first came to America I too expected a much different place. I was always a bit shocked everywhere I went. There were white people, black people, and brown people. There were Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and Atheists. And all of them went about their lives as if there were no differences between them.

I believe that living with such a varied and diverse population creates tolerance. Growing up in Pakistan, almost everyone that I came across was a Muslim who practiced the same religion as I did. There was, of course, a great degree of diversity in the practice of those beliefs, but even these differences were downplayed so as to avoid confrontation. Because we are not used to different cultures and religions being practiced, we are often quick to see difference as a threat.

My question to my fellow Pakistani-Americans is this: Don’t you think it is time to stop this anti-Americanism brewing in Pakistan? How many of us have enjoyed successful businesses here? How many of our children will have better lives because we brought them to the US? How many of our grandchildren will be healthier and safer than we were?

According to Dr. Mehtab Karim, a visiting senior research fellow at Pew Research Center, more Pakistani-Americans (29.5 percent) completed four years of college than other Americans (17.6 percent). Likewise, Pakistani-Americans did better (22.5 percent) than other Americans (20.0 per cent) in terms of completing a Master’s degree, while 1.6 per cent of Pakistani-Americans obtained a doctorate degree compared to 1.1 percent of all Americans.

We enjoy perks and privileges available in the US, and yet we stand mute when our friends and family in Pakistan express anti-American sentiments. Even if we have felt some prejudice, some suspicion because of our names or our motherland, there has always been someone who stood up for us regardless of his or her skin color, race or faith. And if we feel that we are being wronged, we can depend upon our rights being protected by a court of law. I have dealt with the justice system in both the US and Pakistan, and let me tell you there is no comparison. How ironic that a political party back in Pakistan names itself after “justice”, but concentrates all its energy on exploiting anti-American sentiments.

Too many of us will speak out when we hear someone say something against Pakistan, but we sit silent when our friends and family repeat anti-American conspiracy theories. Our silence affirms their misconceptions. In trying to avoid confrontation, we are actually making things worse.

We who have the privilege of knowing both Pakistan and America have a responsibility to tell the truth about both our motherland and our adopted homeland. When someone unjustly defames Pakistan, we should come to her defense. When someone unjustly defames America, we should defend her also. We are proud Pakistanis. We are also proud Americans. There are 700,000 of us, and standing together, we can put an end to misperceptions of both Pakistan and America.

The writer is a Pakistani-American businessman living in Texas, USA. His favourite food is pizza with a side of mango chutni. He can be contacted at sohail_ahmed69@hotmail.com