Pakistan has officially begun looking into the prospect of opening a consulate general in Atlanta to serve a sizable diaspora in the metro area.
The process could take months to years and is to 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 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. The occasion was Pakistan Day, a national holiday celebrated each March 23 to mark the introduction of the Lahore Resolution, akin to a declaration of independence in 1940.
“Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, till that happens, you will have to tolerate me. You will have to see me very often,” Mr. Hashmi said, noting 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.
Mr. Hashmi has been a frequent visitor to Atlanta since the pandemic let up, partly thanks to vocal prodding. Organizations like the volunteer group Pakistani American Friends of Atlanta, which put together the dinner, and the Pakistani American Community of Atlanta have 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. Mr. 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.
Pakistan has a complex relationship with the United States, one of the first countries to recognize its independence after India was partitioned at the end of British imperial rule in 1947, a turbulent process that occurred 75 years ago this year.
A longtime recipient of U.S. military funding and arms during the Cold War and in the post-9/11 period, the country has cozied up with U.S. strategic competitors like China and Russia, most recently abstaining from the United Nations vote to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Pakistan is also a rival of neighboring India, a member of the U.S.-led Quadrilateral Security Dialogue with which U.S. defense ties have been strengthened in part as a bulwark against China. (India, for its part, has also officially refused to condemn Russia’s Ukraine war thus far.)
Still, the U.S. remains focused on helping Pakistan grow its economy and strengthen democracy, sending $5 billion in aid to the country since 2007 and advocating for deeper commercial and personal ties anchored by diaspora members who have made their homes in the U.S. The embassy in Islamabad, for instance, 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.
Georgia lawmakers hailed the contributions of Pakistani-Americans last week, 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.
Both were on hand for the dinner and together took the state to praise Mr. Hashmi and the community and note 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,” Mr. 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 Mr. Hashmi’s consulate is based. Total Georgia exports to Pakistan grew 41 percent in 2021, according to the U.S. Commerce Department.
More than 385,000 people born in Pakistan make their home in the United States, according to estimates by the Census Bureau, including about 11,000 in Georgia.
Many in the community were honored for their contributions in health, business and nonprofit work during an awards portion of the dinner, where Mr. 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 evening concluded with a banquet meal and cultural dances by Sanam Studios Dancers, which was able to coax some VIP attendees out onto the dance floor.
The consuls general of Germany, Japan and Nigeria were also in attendance.
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