Hello, I’m Brad Sherman from California’s best named city, Sherman Oaks. It’s a pleasure to be with you. In 1951, my grandfather worked for the United Nations International Labor Commission. He was a specialist in technical education and he arrived in Sindh. And he said the same words I’m going to say to you here tonight, Sindhee Marhun Khay Salahm Ayn Bhaleekahr. I want to thank my friend Sufi Munawar for inviting me here, but also for doing so much in such a short time to bring the issues of Sindh and the Sindhi people to the attention of the United States Congress. These are issues that some of you have followed for decades, but didn’t have traction in Congress. Sufi came, we now have a Sindhi Caucus. We now have a Congresswoman in the Sindhi Caucus. And you will see Congress focusing on these issues. With me here is my foreign policy advisor and chief of staff, Don McDonald. My California chief of staff, Matt Debaumay. And my expert on the Middle East, Siamak Kordestani.
This is a political action committee so I’ll get a little political, these gentleman are here on there own time and engaged in politics, joyfully. Please give them your business card if you’d like to be involved, frankly not only in being informed in what’s going on in Congress, but also being informed in what’s going on in my campaign. I’ll tell you about the campaign in a bit.
The Importance of Strengthening U.S. Ties with the People of Sindh. First a little background of course that you all know. Pakistan is one of the most difficult and complicated international foreign policy challenges for the United States. You know, the kids have a word, “frienemy”. I haven’t found that in any of the glossaries of specialized diplomatic terms, but a combination of the word “friend”, and “enemy.” Pakistan is the world’s only unstable nuclear power and will be therefore the focus of American foreign policy, even if we weren’t focused on it’s next door neighbor, Afghanistan. But as long as we have still eighty-five thousand troops in Afghanistan, Pakistan is a particular focus of the United States. Our relationship hit a low when we discovered Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, living all too nicely. Then from the Pakistani side when there troops were hit on the border in early 2012.
If we’re going to be dealing with this issue, we cannot assume that Pakistan is one monolith. Every country is to some extent a mosaic, but few as much as Pakistan. If you want to reach out to Pakistan, you have to reach out to Sindh. We have to do that in the Sindhi language, respectful of Sindhi culture. That language and culture and way of life has been under assault from the government in Islamabad, and it is time the United States be a counterweight, a force for human rights and for the rights of the people of Sindh.
This is certainly in our interest because the people of Sindh, influenced by the Sufi tradition, are among the world’s most harmonious people and moderate in their approach to Islam, and of course there are religious minorities in Sindh as well. We cannot ignore the southern third of Pakistan at a time when Pakistan is so critical to our foreign policy and national security.
The way to reach out to Sindh is in the Sindhi language. The Sindhi Caucus has succeeded in moving toward the day when the Voice of America broadcasts in AM, probably from the Emirates, in the Sindhi language to reach the southern third of Pakistan. This is important as a national statement that the United States is not on board with the idea of trying to impose Urdu on every citizen of Pakistan. They tried that in what was called East Pakistan, not a good move. And not a good move for Pakistan, in general. It also though opens the doors to the hearts and minds of those in Sindh.
If you want people to agree with you, if you want to convince them, if you want to build cultural bridges, you need to reach out to people in their own language.
We had two significant steps. First, on the Foreign Affairs Committee back in 2011, I authored an amendment that passed unanimously say that 1.5 million dollars should be spent on broadcasting in the Sindhi language. This was, however, in the authorization bill. Authorization bills don’t necessarily have to pass, and the 2011 authorization bill did not pass the United States Senate. The bills that you know are going to pass are the appropriations bills; if they’re not passed, the government shuts down.
That’s why we turned our attention to putting into the report of the Appropriations Committee. Adam Schiff was an important part of this and he’ll be speaking to you later. A provision of this that the committee recognizes recognized the Voice of American program for its contribution to our public diplomacy. The Committee encourages Voice of America to examine the feasibility and cost of initiating broadcasting in the Sindhi language and to be prepared to report its findings during the Committee’s hearings on the President’s fiscal 2014 budget request.
Let me translate that. I can’t translate it into Sindhi, but I can translate it into English. What it means is, we want you to do this. Either do it, or be prepared to report on your efforts and explain your progress to us when you come back next year asking for money. This isn’t just extra money; it’s your basic money. Without this you don’t open your doors and we want to hear what you’re doing. What we really want to hear is that you’re actually broadcasting in the Sindhi language. This bill will pass. This will be part of the report, but we know have to work inside of the administration and inside the State Department.
I met with the Deputy Assistant Secretary for South Asia to press the State Department to move forward. I spoke to the then ambassador to Pakistan, Mr. Munter to press that embassy, both to support this effort of broadcasting, but also to look at all the other ways that we can communicate with the people of Sindh. I’ll get to some of those other ways that they’re moving as well.
It is crazy for us to communicate with Pakistan only in the Urdu language, which after all is the number three language of the country, Sindh being number two and Punjabi being number one. We need to reach out in the language of the people, not the language that a few ideologues in Islamabad wish was the language of the people.
Now I don’t have to tell you the Pakistani government is pushing in the other direction. Their dream of imposing the single language on the entire country has not been extinguished. I don’t know if that’s a dream, you might think it’s more of a nightmare. It is not without resistance in the State Department that we are carrying on this effort. One area where we find less resistance is just trying to get them to do more of what they have traditionally done and that is conduct public diplomacy not only in Urdu, but also in the Sindhi language.
Thanks to the efforts of our caucus, the State Department is reporting to us what they describe as a more robust effort to reach out in the Sindhi language.
I’ll need you input to tell me whether they’re just doing the same thing and telling me it’s better or whether they’re actually better.
Here’s what they boast about: The State Department is offering an international visitor leadership program for Sindhi speaking journalists. This is the first time the State Department has offered any exchange program in Sindhi and this is a program by which we invite foreign
nationals from all over the world to meet and confer with their profession or counterparts and to experience America first hand. I hope to meet these Sindhi
journalists and I hope they have a chance to meet with you to see what progress can be made to build a good relationship with the United States and the people of Sindh.
Also, I don’t know if this just par for the course, but I’m being told this is a result of caucus’ efforts, in February 2012 the ambassador took a trip to Mohenjo-daro. That is of course the ancient ruins in upper Sindh. He did an exclusive interview on Sindh television. As you know, these ruins were built around 2600 BC and it is the site of what might be the oldest city in the world and the largest settlement.
Now the ambassador also told Sindhi TV earlier this year, we always enjoy coming to Sindh. The Sindhis and poets of this land are behind every brick, everywhere we come. When we come to Karachi, when we come to the towns of Sindh, we are aware of how friendly the state is and how much we can do, America and Sindh, together to build a better future.
I look forward to continuing with the caucus, with Carolyn, to push whoever is the ambassador in Islamabad, to visit Sindh, to reach out to Sindh. Earlier this year the then ambassador also hosted in Karachi a dinner for the Sindh media owners and senior editors. The general council has been holding similar events. Such engagement include exclusive interviews for Sindhi language television and newspapers with embassy leadership, with State Department officials, with subject matter experts in their visits to any part of Sindh.
I hope on the other side, to be able to call the Pakistani embassy in Washington and find out that they have at least a few people there who speak the Sindhi language, just as I would expect that we would have people both in Karachi and Islamabad who do the same.
Another major issue I raised urgently was the alarming case of, an it’s just one case, except it’s emblematic of hundreds of other cases, of the Sindhi girl, Rinkle Kumari who was abducted from her home in Sindh. She was forcibly converted to Islam. I of course wrote to President Zardari to take action to ensure the safe return of this girl to her family.
That has not occurred. The legal wrangling goes on. She is still separated from her family. Still held in custody, either by authorities that seem hostile to her or by her abductors. When her case was brought before a civil judge, unfortunately the court initially sided with her captors due to political pressure.
Her case is just one case of abduction and forced religious conversion in Pakistan. According to the Asian Human Rights Commission, about twenty to twenty-five forced kidnappings and conversions of Hindu girls take place every month in Sindh, plus what happens to Christian and Buddhist girls as well. Needless to say, everyone concerned with human rights is urging the Pakistani government to start treating its minorities fairly.
The recent release on bail of a Christian in another part of Pakistan, I believe in the Punjab, I know you know the facts better than I do, accused of blasphemy. She’s now released on bail and this is the first time anyone accused of blasphemy in Pakistan has ever been released on bail. This was a unique case where now a local imam in her neighborhood was arrested and accused of framing the girl by planting the evidence in her bag.
If this is true, the imam not only in effect tried to commit murder, but also must have burned copies of the sacred Koran in order to have those burned or partially burned pages available to him to put in her bag. I don’t want to jump to conclusions on any part of this, except to say that the blasphemy law in Pakistan is a source of great harm to the people of Pakistan and human rights in the world.
And of course we have to deal with the other human rights deprivations and violations of the Sindhi people, the disappearance and torture of Sindhi activist by local security forces. I am consistent and our caucus in consistent in urging the end of this practice of forced disappearances and other forms of illegal detention in Pakistan. We have written President Zardari on this issue. Individuals involved with Sindhi nationalist parties have jailed and tortured for their political activities, while Amnesty International reports hundreds of these cases. Human Rights organizations in Sindh and Baluchistan cite even higher numbers. So many illegal detention cites, so many political prisoners. I am concerned about the state of the rule of law in Pakistan. Repeated efforts of the Pakistani courts seem all too often to see justice contorted on behalf of extremists and the intelligence agencies.
I look forward to working with you to build friendship between the American and Sindhi people. I want to end my speech – once again this year – by saying Jiye Sindh!
Courtesy: Sindhi e-lists/ e-groups, September 29, 2012