Older generations of Pakistanis have always encouraged younger generations to pursue careers in engineering and medicine. As a young nation, Pakistan required these occupations to build up from the remains of the British Raj. To meet the demands of that time, to expand infrastructure, and to develop a society, Pakistan desperately needed engineers and doctors. As time went on these occupations provided sound financial incentives, as well an aura of prestige.
Fortunately or unfortunately, Pakistan’s position in the world has changed from “just another developing country” to a nuclear armed, headline hogging nation on the frontline of the “War on Terror”. Now Pakistan faces different, more complex challenges in an increasingly globalized world. With consistently negative round-the-clock media coverage, right-wing extremists drowning out the moderate majority, and mixed messages coming from Islamabad, Pakistan’s biggest challenge is- simply put- PR.
When asked to name Pakistani-Americans who are influential or household names, most people draw a blank. After a few seconds of thought, some might name Huma Abedin. Nadia Ali maybe? There’s obviously many, such as writers Mohsin Hamid and Kamila Shamsie, the recently deceased poet and activist Ifti Nasim, businessman Mansoor Ijaz or Professor Jalal at Tufts. However, for a population of nearly 1 million, a handful of names is nothing to be proud of. Pakistani-Americans are one of the most educated (with more than 60% possessing a college degree), wealthy (with a higher median income than American workers) and philanthropic racial subsets in America. (Statistics)
For this reason, it is imperative that Pakistani youth venture off the beaten path and embrace other career paths, especially in the liberal arts. Pakistan desperately needs journalists, politicians, academics, lawyers, bankers, and not to toot my own horn, IR folks. We must come out of our offices and cubicles and enter mainstream America. Essentially, Pakistani-Americans must become more visible and project themselves as the indispensable components of the American society and economy they already are.
We lack a pop-culture figure, such as Indian-Americans Kal Penn, Russell Peters (Indian-Canadian, but he’s extremely popular in the US too), and Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Maybe it’s a case of me being under read, but I couldn’t name you a well-known Pakistani columnist in a largely circulated American paper. When it comes to innovation… Pakistan’s TedTalks are a little dull. Despite being the second largest Muslim population and eight largest Asian-American population in America, there has never been a Pakistani-American in Congress. Even influential, non-elected government positions and prestigious seats in policy institutions are less sought after by Pakistani-Americans. If we are not there to defend Pakistan, how should we expect others to?
To tackle these challenges we must break the stereotype of success as being limited to certain professions. Success should be defined not by your monetary value or your job title, but rather as the impact you have on your community.
The writer is an undergraduate student at George Washington University