U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E Schumer is no stranger to New Yorkers. He is frank, honest and minces few words to make his point, may it be politics, diplomacy, or connection with his voters and supporters.
It may not matter much which community one may belong to he has built strong bonds with many of the communities which call New York City their home. But his relationship with Pakistanis based in New York is slightly different. “I always had a great relationship with this community,” he fondly remembers the time when there were few Pakistanis in New York in general and Brooklyn, his home, in particular.
Schummer is a familiar face at Pakistani events, like the Pakistan Day parade or other community programs such as Brooklyn Mela, etc. But given his heavy routine engagements and the hot seat he occupies in the US Senate, it’s rare that the Senator sits with the Pakistani community to exchange ideas.
But thanks to the networking and rapport of Ali Rashid, the youthful president of Paksitani American Advocacy Group, the Senator accepted an invitation to sit down with a select group of Pakistani Americans for a heart-to-heart conversation.
APAG is a not-for-profit organization that seeks to promote Pakistani ethnic identity and customs through civic engagements, educational resources, career opportunities, and personal advancements.
Schummer shared his vision for America, his feelings about the Pakistani American community, the inclusion of Asians and especially Pakistanis in positions of authority, and Pakistan’s recent rocky relations with the US during the meet-and-greet event at a local restaurant in Queens, NY on June 26. Schummer has strong connections with Queens as well as his parents came from this most diverse borough of the US. APAG is one of a handful of Pakistani community organizations that are doing important advocacy work for the community’s empowerment.
Even though Schummer shared personal stories and struggles of his family during his talk, the event made headlines for his comment on the state of US-Pakistan relations. The reason was oblivious. The US remains at the center of Pakistan’s ongoing political and constitutional crisis.
Schummer said that the US-Pakistan relations were strained because of Khan’s anti-US statements. “Your former prime minister did not talk positive about the US but the incumbent Pakistani premier is expected to help foster bilateral ties between Pakistan and the US.” Former prime minister Imran Khan has been accusing Washington of being behind the no-confidence motion that brought his government down. The US vehemently denies any role in what Khan calls a regime change. Schummer said relations with Pakistan will be on the mend now that prime minister Shahbaz Sharif is in power. It was the first reaction to the allegations of Imran Khan.
Schummer said he was ready to use his good offices for normalizing the bilateral relationship. He hoped that the incumbent Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif would improve the situation and he (Schumer) was ready to play his role in improving the bilateral ties between the two countries.
He said Washington believes in democratic values and respects the democratic process, adding that the US followed a strategy to accept those who were elected through the democratic process.
When asked as to what the US policy would be if Imran Khan returned to power once again after winning elections, Schummer said the US holds a dialogue with an elected head of the government, adding that “no matter how intensely you disagree with someone, the best way to resolve the issues is to hold dialogues”.
An interesting situation arose when the Senator asked the gathering whom the Pakistani community in the US-supported, some of them said Imran Khan while some defused the situation by saying ‘mixed’.
Schumer also slammed the Indian government for persecuting Muslims in India and added that he supported the rights of Kashmiri people. Schummer’s name will be on the ballot this November. He is expected to return to the US Senate as so far there seems to be no challenger for him.
US-Pakistan relations have been under pressure since President Joe Biden took office. It depends on whom you ask in Islamabad and Washington. But the popular perception in Pakistan is that former prime minister Imran Khan was not happy with the cold shoulder he received from the Biden administration.
Against the common practice between the US and Pakistani leaders, Khan and Biden never spoke. Many in the previous Khan government waited until the end of his premiership for a call from the US president, which never materialized. However, Khan’s critics blame his anti-American rhetoric, which he never shied from sharing whenever he got a chance.
Conversely, Washington’s relations with India warmed up even more despite India being accused of gross human rights violations and anti-Muslim agenda of the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In fact, Biden has met Modi both in person and virtually since coming to the office.
Interestingly enough, the new prime minister Shahbaz Sharif, now in his fourth month in office, is also yet to receive a courtesy call from the US president. The mood in Washington towards Pakistan’s military establishment, however, is different. The two countries’ militaries continue to enjoy much better relations than the civilian sides of their respective governments, something Senator Schummer also alluded to.
It is in this backdrop that APAG’s efforts to bring the Pakistani community closer to the US elected officials and pave the way for more opportunities for track two diplomacy attain added significance.
Earlier, Ali Rashid welcomed the Senator and thanked him for joining the meet-and-greet event. He explained that the APAG mission is multi-dimensional, rooted in three tiers — Engage, Empower, and Elevate. He said APAG had run several campaigns of food and clothes distribution among the needy during the pandemic.
New York State Assembly Member David Weprin and New York City Councilwoman Linda Lee also joined the event and delivered brief remarks.