The Pakistani American Association of Connecticut (PAACT) is one of few organizations in the tri-state area that has created a niche for itself within the community and beyond. Lead by its president Zaheer Sharaf, PAACT has engaged the Constitution State’s immigrants of Pakistan origin in ways that have made the community more influential, civically engaged, integrated and on path to political empowerment.
Connecticut is the first state from where two Pakistani Americans made it to the state legislature – State Assembly representative Maryam Khan and State Senator Dr. Saud Anwer. New Jersey and Texas followed the suite when the two states elected two Pakistani Americans each to their respective state assemblies. Sadaf Jaffer and Shamaa Haider made history in 2022 elections when they won their seats for state assembly on Democratic tickets. Likewise, Salman Bhojani and Dr. Suleman Lalani won their historic races for Texas state assembly the same year. In all, eight Pakistani Americans are serving in state legislatures. The 2022 elections also saw impressive victories by Farooq Mughal and Tariq Khan who were elected to the state assemblies in Georgia and Pennsylvania.
“We are determined to leave our imprints on the US political system,” says Windsor-based Sharaf, who is a petroleum engineer and a successful businessman. “We want an all-inclusive political culture that gives every community an opportunity to add its voice and weight to the national discourse,” he adds.
PAACT has actively worked with the local politicians, public officials, law enforcement and organizations across community lines to build alliances and partnerships that are mutually beneficial. It started appointing its members as liaison with the local police after Faisal Shehzad, an immigrant from Pakistani and a resident of Connecticut, tried to detonate a bomb in Times Square on May 1, 2010. PAACT, in collaboration with local police, appointed representatives in 13 towns as liaisons with the police. Shehzad’s action shook the community across the state, many of whom feared the risk of being unfairly targeted by the law enforcement agencies.
Sharaf was among a handful of Pakistanis at that time who worked with the authorities both to prevent future terrorists attacks as well as to protect Pakistani-Americans from extra policy scrutiny. “Zaheer Sharaf, Paact’s president, said that many Pakistanis were afraid of the police, because they believe that police officers in their original country are corrupt,” The New York Times had quoted him as saying in a report published on May 17, 2010.
PAACT moved beyond reminding law enforcement not to unfairly paint all Muslims as terrorists. It also called upon the Pakistani-Americans to acknowledge that people of Pakistani descent had been implicated in high-profile terrorist attacks, to probe the causes and in the process to remind the public that Pakistani-Americans wanted security as much as other Americans did.
Sharaf and his team at PAACT continue to do and expand their valuable work 13 years later. A registered Republican himself, he has been tirelessly trying to build bridges of friendship and collaboration with other community organizations. May it be the work related to the resettlement of refugees from world’s conflict zones or convening his community for humanitarian causes, Sharaf is active all over, while overseeing his expanding businesses in retail estate, retail and medical equipment.
He recently hosted Pakistan’s New York-based outgoing Consul General Ayesha Ali to give her a befitting farewell. Ali has been posted as Pakistan’s Ambassador to the Czech Republic. Among those invited to the reception were Shahid Ahmad Khan, the Massachusetts-based Pakistani American Democrat and member of President Joe Biden'[s Advisory Committee on Arts. President Biden named Khan to the coveted position on May 12 this year.
A long-time friend of Sharaf, Khan has previously served as an advisor to former Secretary of State John Kerry who is currently serving as President Biden’s special envoy on climate change. Over the years, Khan has played an important role in improving the US-Pakistan relations.
“We the Pakistani-American community are the minority majority who wield unmatched power to influence election results, especially in tight races,” Sharaf told Pakistan Week over the phone. He says PAACT is putting together elaborate preparations for the 2024 elections. “We want to organize ourselves more and spread understanding of the US electoral process within the community,” he adds.