Pakistan has officially begun looking into the prospect of opening a consulate general in Atlanta, Georgia, to serve a sizable diaspora in the metro area.
The process could take months to years and will require approvals by both the Pakistani government and the U.S. State Department, but the city’s name was floated in Pakistan’s parliament this year partly in response to strong lobbying by an active local Pakistani community.
“I told them that if any city in the USA deserves [a consulate], it is Atlanta, and I think I was able to make that pitch to the prime minister’s office. It will be a long process, but your candidacy has been registered,” Abrar Hashmi, Consul General of Pakistan in Houston, said to applause from a dinner audience gathered March 19 at the Ashiana Banquet Halls in Norcross, GA. The occasion was Pakistan Day, a national holiday celebrated each March 23 to mark the introduction of the Lahore Resolution in 1940, akin to a declaration of independence.
“Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, till that happens, you will have to tolerate me. You will have to see me very often,” Global Atlanta quoted Hashmi as saying. He noted that in the same hall on the following day, the consulate’s team would render mobile consular services to the community, even as it aimed to digitize its offerings to minimize the need for travel to and from the Houston consulate, about 793 miles away. Besides Texas and Georgia, the consulate in Houston serves the Pakistani community in Oklahoma, New Mexico, Louisiana, Arkansas, Colorado, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.
Hashmi has been a frequent visitor to Atlanta since the pandemic started, partly thanks to vocal prodding. Pakistani community organizations like the volunteer group Pakistani American Friends of Atlanta, which organized the dinner, and the Pakistani American Community of Atlanta have so far served as informal liaisons between the consulate in Houston and the local community.
If opened, a career consulate would join more than 70 other countries’ diplomatic or trade outposts in Atlanta. Hashmi told Global Atlanta during a 2020 Consular Conversations interview that the country had gotten away from appointing honorary consuls, which are selected by a country to represent its interests in the communities where they live.
None of the community organizations have posted any data about the population of Pakistanis in Georgia in general and Atlanta in particular. But Atlanta’s long-time residents of Pakistan origin say it has been steadily growing over the years. According to the data of the Atlanta Regional Commission, the Pakistani community’s population was more than 12,000 as of March 2021. But the actual numbers, according to many Pakistani-Americans, is much higher. Gwinnett County is home to 43 percent of the Pakistanis in the Atlanta region and 34 percent of the Pakistanis living in Georgia.
The 10-county Atlanta region is home to approximately 42 percent of Georgia’s total population but represents 81 percent of the state’s Pakistani population.
The Atlanta-based community is vibrant and has been active to strengthen the friendship between Pakistan and the United States. The US embassy in Islamabad recently retweeted a social media posting showcasing volunteer road cleanup by Pakistani-American Friends of Atlanta as an example of friendship between the two countries
It’s not just the US embassy in Islamabad that gave the community a shoutout. Last week, Georgia’s lawmakers also hailed the contributions of Pakistani-Americans, starting with a resolution in the Georgia State Senate recognizing March 23 as Pakistan Day in the state.
Among the sponsors of the legislation were Democratic state senators Sheikh Rahman, a Bangladeshi immigrant who represents a Gwinnett County district that encompasses Norcross, and Lester Jackson III, a Democrat from Savannah who is running for state labor commissioner this year.
The two lawmakers were on hand for the dinner and praised Hashmi and the community and acknowledged the growing diversity of Gwinnett County and Georgia as a whole.
“This is what Georgia, this is what America is going to look like 20 years from now,” Sheikh Rahman said in his remarks to the audience. “Whenever I go outside of Georgia, sometimes people tell me, ‘Are you a senator from Georgia? How did you get elected?’ They get surprised. I say, ‘You know, Georgia is not the same Georgia as 30 or 40 years ago. Georgia has changed. It’s not Georgia is changing — Georgia has changed.’”
Norcross Mayor Craig Newton also read a proclamation on behalf of the city.
Georgia’s trade with Pakistan is relatively small given that the country is the fifth most populous in the world, with around 210 million people. But the $294 million in exports to the country, mostly made up of agricultural goods, make Georgia the second largest state exporter behind Texas, where the Pakistani consulate is based. Total Georgia exports to Pakistan grew 41 percent in 2021, according to the U.S. Commerce Department.
Many in the community were honored for their contributions in health, business and nonprofit work during an awards portion of the dinner, where Hashmi, who himself accepted an award for diplomatic service, and his wife distributed small plaques in recognition of their efforts on behalf of the Pakistani-American Friends of Atlanta. The consuls general of Germany, Japan, and Nigeria were also in attendance.
The evening concluded with a banquet dinner and a cultural show by Sanam Studios Dancers, which was able to coax some VIP attendees out onto the dance floor.