Happy Independence Day, Pakistan!
Interestingly, earlier this week, I found a file on my computer entitled: “Dear Honorable Prime Minister, Imran Khan.”
I chuckled a bit, and then read the two page, single-spaced letter, approximately 1200 words, which was dated back to September 1, 2018.
It was a little over a month before I started my second more in-depth fieldwork experience in Pakistan, heading to Islamabad, where I had the amazing opportunity to reside with Senator KhushBakth Shujat Ali Baig at the Parliament Lodges for about three months. I literally lived five minutes away from Imran Khan for three months, with many thanks to our friendship with KhushBakt Auntie. I really owe her a great debt of gratitude, as I was able to complete over 70 interviews just while based in Islamabad for about three months, with some road trips to Peshawar and Lahore. And, in turn, make so many beautiful memories. I really loved Islamabad.
I have many pictures just within the “Red Zone,” the Government area in Islamabad. I did roughly blog some of my initial fieldwork experiences in Islamabad here: www.elsatkhwaja.com. It was a bit rough and unpolished… but you can check out my initial reflections on fieldwork a few weeks after returning on the blog here. However, it is not comprehensive and I hope to post more as I finish up my studies, along with some lessons and observations for conducting qualitative research in Pakistan.
Here is one photo I took at the Prime Minister’s House in the Red Zone on the eve of the Prophet’s birthday, I believe on November 21st, 2018 when the entire Red Zone was decorated with colorful and beautiful lighting. I wanted to take an evening walk, and give my salaam to Prime Minister Imran Khan.
I have more to share about my fieldwork, while being based in Islamabad, and beyond that. Sometimes it contributes to the overwhelming feeling I already have regarding my dissertation write up, and perhaps a fear a losing its value due to the prospects of a transformed post-COVID pandemic era. My main priority has been this monstrous feat of completing this dissertation, along with a promising journal article publication this year, and not to mention getting my health back during this pandemic quarantine life which has stalled the dissertation a bit. But I wanted to break from that, just for this moment, during Pakistan Independence day and share the letter I wrote and never sent to the Wazir e Azam (Prime Minister). It just remained a file on my computer. 🙂 I guess I didn’t think it would be possible to meet him, so I didn’t bother to make the effort.
It is a bit generic and perhaps a little cheesy or cringeworthy at parts, admittedly, (which is probably why I didn’t send it to anyone), but seeing this letter this week was a bit nostalgic of an exciting and hopeful time with both my studies and the political climate. And it was a good reminder for me about how my personal and professional experiences, ambitions and goals intersect. Other than a few typos and grammatical mistakes I haven’t changed the original from September 1st, 2018. For example, you’ll notice at the end I indicate that I will stay in Islamabad for two months, but I extended my stay to three months, to try to make it back to Peshawar due to some challenges in research there. And most importantly, it is not intended to be an analytical piece. I am introducing myself, my family background, and sharing my purpose and interest in meeting him.
So here is the letter copied directly from the word document:
“September 1, 2018
Dear Honorable Prime Minister Imran Khan,
I hope this finds you well in health and good faith.
My name is Elsa Talat Khwaja. I am a PhD Candidate at the Schar School of Policy and Government, at George Mason University, in Arlington VA, near Washington, DC.
My research explores the nexus of social capital, aid, and fragility of prominent rural development programs and externally-initiated interventions in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
I am a Pakistani-American, born and raised in a lovely small town in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. I have 5 amazing brothers and sisters, all married, all highly successful, and seven beautiful nieces and nephews. I am grateful to be a part of such a big and wonderful family. It is a reflection of the hard work, efforts and success of my most loving parents, Dr. Akhtar Khwaja and Mrs. Talat Khwaja, who brought us back to their home country many times since we were children.
I was very happy to hear about your success in this recent election and congratulate you. I know many among the Pakistani Diaspora were happy to learn about your success and are looking forward to the “Naya Pakistan” you have planned.
Ever since I was a little girl, my parents took me back to their home in Karachi, Pakistan and every time I went, I would fall in love with Karachi, and my family there, over and over again. I wouldn’t want to come back even though some of my family would make fun of my broken Urdu. I have always felt something missing while growing up in the US, as many children of immigrants do, and even though I didn’t quite fit in your beautiful country of Pakistan, it has always welcomed me and for that reason, I have dedicated more than a decade studying Pakistan and South Asia in my higher education in the US.
I love my extended family in Karachi, which has felt at times, like half the population of Karachi. They are people of great character, and I hope you get to meet some of them some day. Our ancestry as the Khwaja family (on my father’s side) goes back 900-1200 years, as my father always tells me. I really want you to know the impact you have made on them. Most members of my extended family were never involved in politics before you, which is the case for many families of all sorts of backgrounds in Pakistan, and it was incredible to see the markings on their thumbs during the election as they posted their pictures on Facebook!
My family voted for you and they voted for a #NayaPakistan you have promised. We cannot underestimate what you have done here, and unfortunately I do feel some experts and pundits continue to devalue and underestimate the Pakistani youth (Millennials) and I hope the growing numbers of younger generations of Pakistanis will continue to show their worth. It is something I hope for young people everywhere! I also think that there may be some similarities to the 2016 Presidential Candidate I have supported in the United States, Senator Bernie Sanders, in terms of welfare reform, and involving more people from the margins into the political process, and the younger generations. And I see great potential in a progressive agenda in the US, after we overcome the current hurdles.
My ancestral origins are Urdu-speaking, Muhajir, originally from a place called Ghazipur, Uttar Pradesh, India. It is only because of my Mother, Talat Khwaja, that I can speak Urdu and have as much appreciation for everything about Pakistan as I do today. My father, Dr. Akhtar Khwaja, was born one year before the partition, in 1946. My grandfather (dad’s side), was a well-known and beloved teacher, speaker, writer, scholar and artist. They settled in Nazimabad, Karachi. And If you meet my father, you will fall in love with him, as everyone does. Sometimes I can’t believe I have a father like him. He is my number one supporter, alongside my mother. My father is an International Agricultural consultant and Soil scientist, well-respected across Pakistan and the world. As you know, there is so much potential for agricultural development programs in Pakistan’s beautiful lands and he now wants to give back the expertise he had developed from around the world to Pakistan’s Agricultural development.
Among the many things I had a chance to do in my last trip to Pakistan for my fieldwork, was sitting at the Khyber Pass gate at the Afghanistan and Pakistan border, eating chapli kabaabs with my Father in your province of Khyber PakhtunKhwa! And within the Sindh province on the complete opposite side of Pakistan, I also had the privilege of visiting my father’s College/University, The Sindh Agricultural University in Tando Jam, with the help of a good friend, Dr. Rajab Memon, former Vice Chancelor of SAU who facilitated a grand tour of the campus. It was a nostalgic experience for my father and surreal for me, as his daughter to see the university where my Father spent 9 years, learning and growing, and that experience itself helped me realize how much I really want to contribute to Pakistan, as a Pakistani American in any way possible, whether it be through public service, foreign service, or my scholarship as a budding academic in the field of international development policy.
I know you may not be interested in bilateral aid efforts in Pakistan, but I would love the honor to meet you so we can discuss how we can work together going forward, to make some of the more foreign aid programs more sustainable in Pakistan, particularly in understanding how local ownership of these projects can be improved and prioritized for successful and sustainable impact.
You may wonder why should I bother with this Elsa Talat Khwaja. I realize there are many Pakistani-Americans like me among the diaspora, who want learn, understand, and make some contributions to their parent’s country of origin. They are wonderful and should be celebrated in their own unique ways. It is true that I am merely a Doctoral Candidate right now, but I hope you can see the ambition, drive, and passion in this letter for something more. I would like to contribute in just any small way as a bridge for understanding on Pakistan, in the United States, especially as a Pakistani American studying and working in public policy here in the United States.
I will be in Islamabad for two months this coming October and November. Please let me know if you are able and willing to sit with me. I would be honored if I had the pleasure of meeting you briefly for one cup of chai.
Thank you for your time in reading this letter and your consideration.
With warm salaams and sincere regards,
Elsa Talat Khwaja
PhD Candidate, Schar School of Policy and Government, George Mason University
Arlington, VA, USA”
So I never had the chance to meet the Wazir-e-Azam, lol, :). I guess among all the correspondences for recruiting participants to my study, and the excitement of his election, I thought to write this one too.
But I did have the opportunity to see him live from a distance twice, once in Islamabad, during the 100 days speech, (again thanks to Khushbakth Auntie) and then at the historic event of IK’s address to the Pakistani American Community in Capital One arena in Washington, DC. I will share some thoughts about both (some of which I compiled in social media posts) in the future as well.
Jinnah Convention Center, Islamabad, November 16, 2018
Washington, DC, Capital One Arena, July 21, 2019
I shared a few more reflections relevant to my fieldwork in Pakistan on this day here in this Facebook post in case it interests you: https://www.facebook.com/elsa.khwaja/posts/10157121835131572 …
Independence day means something different for everyone in Pakistan. The heterogeneity or diversity of Pakistan’s provinces contributes to defining Pakistan’s “national Identity crises,” so this is important to remember on a day like this. Many are still fighting for their freedom, (which is the case for most nation-states, including our own state of affairs here in America). We see that evident with the crisis in Kashmir, the state of Pakistan’s media, the treatment of religious minorities, and the need for a historic Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, which has been compared to the historic Black Lives Matter movement in the US.
With all the criticism against Imran Khan, his promise for the “Naya Pakistan” remains unfulfilled for many, but for others, it’s emerging. So I guess an important caveat here was that this was written in September 1, 2018, fresh, perhaps a little over a month after his election victory, when I noticed the dawning of new kind of hope in Pakistan and also among the Pakistani diaspora.
And this hope still persists for the future of Pakistan due to the faith, courage, determination and resilience of the people of Pakistan.
“The new world is as yet behind the veil of destiny… In my eyes, however, its dawn has been unveiled.” – Allama Iqbal
And on a lighter note, I do believe in the power of love to bring us together, despite our differences, through a delicious cup of chai, so I enjoyed one especially today on Independence day….
And here is me, enjoying a cup of this delicious Karak Pyala Chai, in a beautiful cool evening underneath the stars, in Nooriabad Sindh, after a day in Hyderabad during my pilot fieldwork, January 2018.
Happy Independence Day, Pakistan!
And Happy Independence Day celebrated in India on August 15 as well!
warmth, peace and blessings,
“She wasn’t looking for a knight. She was looking for a sword.” –Atticus