Ambassador Masood Khan engages with community members at the briefing organized by Global Atlanta, hosted at Miller & Martin and co-sponsored by the World Affairs Council of Atlanta.

If Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States ever feels his confidence in his nation’s future being shaken, he needs only to look to its diaspora in Georgia. 

Masood Khan’s visit to metro Atlanta in June was centered on connection with a Pakistani-American community that now numbers close to 30,000 people. 

At a time of political and economic turmoil back home, the high-achieving group of doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs and legislators shows Pakistanis’ resilience and provides a platform for deeper engagement, he said.

“We are very proud of what you’ve done here,” Mr. Khan told community members during a wide-ranging Global Atlanta interview at the offices of Miller & Martin PLLC, a briefing co-sponsored by the World Affairs Council of Atlanta. 

But, as evidenced by the Q&A session, this group can also provide reminders — very vocal ones in some cases — of why so many left Pakistan in the first place, and how the world’s fifth most populous nation has yet to reach its full potential. 

Mr. Khan acknowledges a dissonance at play in an economy of some 220 million people, where 80 million have entered the middle class while some 30 percent remain in dire poverty. 

On the heels of the pandemic, recent events have exacerbated inequities. Historic floods last September killed at least 1,100 people and ruined harvests, while the saga of ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan has continued to roil the country. 

The former cricketer was booted from parliament in a no-confidence vote last year that he claimed was a result of a conspiracy among the United States, the current government and Pakistan’s powerful military (all deny the accusation). He then led a series of at-times violent anti-government protests, triggering a crackdown by authorities that critics decried as a sustained assault on civil and human rights. 

Last week, the still-popular politician was convicted on corruption charges and handed a three-year prison sentence and a ban on running in elections for the next five years. 

Pakistan’s parliament was resolved Wednesday to pave the way for a national election, with talks on appointing a caretaker prime minister set to begin Thursday. 

Amid all this, the ambassador retains an optimism driven by his faith in Pakistan’s resilience, a trait the country has displayed since its founding out of the British departure from India in August 1947.

That period, known as Partition, triggered mass migration along religious lines, sparking a violent upheaval that killed more than a million people. 

“The nation is passing through a difficult phase; I will not mince my words. But this is not the only time we are facing economic stress. In fact, when Pakistan was created, we were not sure we would survive. Because we had absolutely no means, and at the time in (the Gymkhana Club) in Delhi, people were betting that this country would collapse in four months. So we didn’t have the wherewithal, the resources. But thank God, we survived.” 

He urged patience among those in the diaspora clamoring for change. 

“We’ve had some difficulties in the recent past, some political uncertainty, and we have had our own economic woes. But don’t be disappointed. We’ll make it. We’ll make it,” Mr. Khan said. “And not because I’m the ambassador of Pakistan, but because I’m really proud of who Pakistanis are — talented, dedicated, very hardworking and ready to connect with the rest of the world.”

Those traits are especially present among Pakistan’s youth, he said, which provide a “bulge” at the lower end of the country’s demographic curve that should make it attractive as a market. 

Some 140 million Pakistanis, he said, are under 30, and these digital natives are driving Pakistan’s startup and tech scene.

“They are contributing to Pakistan’s economy. They are also part of the international economic mainstream. They are studying new technologies and investing in tech startups very aggressively, very successfully. The rate of failure of ecosystems has been small compared to its growth, so I would say that we have a future.” 

Pakistan is also bolstered by American investors, who have stayed put during the worst of Pakistan’s crises. Some 80 companies, including Coca-Cola Co., now employ 150,000 people and support 1 million households, he said. 

“None of them has moved out, even during the worst circumstances during COVID and post-COVID,” he said. “And their profits are good.” 

He said political risk should not deter people from tapping into opportunities on the ground. “There is this gloom and doom picture, and there is this flourishing Pakistan,” he said. “If you’re advising somebody, tell them to invest — political risk notwithstanding — and come January, everything will be stabilized, inshallah.” 

Georgia on the Map, Consulate Still Being Considered 

Georgia’s concentration of Fortune 500 firms, combined with its successful Pakistani diaspora, makes it a productive place to prospect for this type of investment, Mr. Khan said, noting that Georgia and Pakistan traded about a billion dollars worth of goods last year. 

And the state is now squarely on Pakistan’s map, thanks in large part to growing engagement here from its nearest consulate in Houston and the efforts of community members.

The ambassador came to Georgia in large part thanks to personal entreaties, first from Pakistani-American Friends of Atlanta’s Sanam Azeem, who approached the ambassador about coming to Atlanta during an Eid party hosted by the U.S. State Department in Washington. 

State Rep. Farooq Mughal, a Democrat from Gwinnett, has also played a key role linking the state with Pakistan while influencing perceptions, both through his personal example and concerted action, the ambassador said. 

Mr. Mughal, a longtime lobbyist before winning his own legislative seat last year, traveled to Pakistan last year to propose a sister-state partnership between Georgia and the province of Sindh, “which is ancient civilization and which has the biggest metropolis we have in Pakistan: Karachi,” according to the ambassador. 

The move garnered a lot press attention in Pakistan, he added, helping to put Georgia “on the map.” Mr. Mughal March and introduced a resolution outlining plans to formalize the relationship. 

While here, the ambassador visited with about 15 Georgia legislators and invited them to visit Pakistan. 

“They’re very enthusiastic. They look at Pakistan through the prism of Mr. Farooq Mughal, who is a wonderful person, so it’s a positive prism, a positive lens that we have there in the Capitol,” the ambassador said. 

With Pakistan’s new Houston-based consul general, Muhammad Aftab Chaudhary, in the audience, Mr. Khan also pointed to the continued push for a Pakistani diplomatic presence in Georgia to cultivate the bilateral relationship. 

At a dinner last year, former Consul General Abrar Hashmi said the foreign ministry would begin working toward this goal, though recent events have dimmed prospects for movement in the short term. 

“My predecessors have been promising establishment of a consulate here ad nauseam, but it hasn’t happened,” he said. “Yesterday, while talking to the community, I said that this time, I’ll turn it into a solid, concrete proposal.” 

In the meantime, he said Pakistan would explore appointing an honorary consul. He expected little pushback from the U.S. State Department, which just approved a similar request in Orlando. 

He urged diligence on the part of the community in lobbying for the country to join the 70-plus with diplomatic representation in Georgia, noting that “they put us to shame the we’ve lagged behind.” 

“We will catch up,” he said. 

Bilateral Ties With the U.S. — China, Afghanistan, Ukraine and Beyond 

On the bilateral front, it has been a rocky time for the U.S. and Pakistan, which since 9/11 have been partners in the war against terrorism. In recent years, the countries have had to manage competing interests even as they retain a level of collaboration. 

While the ground has shifted since the U.S. withdrew from Afghanistan and the Taliban stormed back to power in 2022, the security environment in the region is still fluid, Mr. Khan said. 

“America should not disengage lock, stock and barrel, like they did in late 1980s, and then they discovered Taliban a decade later (and Osama bin Laden) in the region,” Mr. Khan said. “There should be a kind of continuity in our security cooperation, intel to intel, military to military, and particularly to counterterrorism, because the threat is still there.” 

One challenge is that the U.S. “unjustifiably” ended the foreign military sales to Pakistan in 2018, when then-President Trump used a tweet to announce the decision, Mr. Khan said, adding: “It needs to be restored.”  

It’s unclear whether that will be a bridge too far, as Pakistan deepens its longstanding partnership with China, which U.S. policy makers increasingly frame as a strategic adversary. 

Neither side has explicitly asked Pakistan to take sides, but the U.S. has not-so-subtly implied that its appetite for partnership may be limited by Pakistan’s growing military and commercial relationship with China, he said. 

“We’ve had peaks and troughs,” he said of Pakistan’s relationship with the U.S. “But China has been there since the early 1960s. I used to be the ambassador there, and China used to counsel us, ‘You should have good relations with the United States of America.’ They never said that Pakistan should make a unilateral choice for one country,” Mr. Khan said. 

All this is occurring as India, Pakistan’s neighbor and rival, has grown its military cooperation with the U.S.

Both India and Pakistan, meanwhile, abstained from the United Nations vote condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, reflecting historical friendliness both have enjoyed with the country. Both India and Pakistan have also continued buying Russian oil under a framework set out by the G7, which Mr. Khan framed as vital for Pakistan’s economy. 

“These are the layered realities of our world now,” Mr. Khan said. “International politics is more complex than we think; you’re not supposed to make binary choices.” 

While Pakistan has “remained equidistant because after years of diligence, we were on the verge of having a rapprochement with Russia,” that doesn’t mean Pakistan is indifferent to Ukrainian suffering, Mr. Khan said. 

The war is an “unmitigated disaster” for the Ukrainian people, first and foremost, he said. But its effect on food exports and supply chains has also rippled out economically to countries like Pakistan, for which Ukrainian wheat and fertilizers were key. Pakistan also maintained military links and other exchanges with Ukraine before the war that have had to cease, Mr. Khan said.

Mr. Khan said Pakistan would like to see a ramp-up in diplomacy and peace talks to end the war under the auspices of the United Nations, he said. 


View the Sister State resolution between Sindh and Georgia below: 

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As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...