Farhana Qazi I am an American Muslim woman. More specifically, a Texan and a Punjabi (the dominant province and ethnic group in Pakistan). I was born in the cultural city of Lahore in Pakistan, but raised in the American southwest.
I am able to straddle the seemingly contradictory worlds of East and West. I travel to places off-the-beaten-path to understand how communities are brutally affected by conflict. Women in war fuel my passion for writing the untold story.
Alrasub: Tell us about your early schooling, college university life, and if you remember any of your childhood memories.
Farhana Qazi: For over a decade, I have been helping people rethink assumptions and assertions about women in war. Trying to answer the oft-repeated question Why do women kill or protest? requires an understanding of culture, religion, history, and men. After all, women rarely act alone. Nor do Muslim women kill or protest out-of-context.
My recent focus is Kashmir, the bowl-shaped valley that is torn between two rival giants, India and Pakistan. The women of Kashmir are trapped between the mountains in an age-old dispute.
But Kashmiri women are not alone. Women in most countries or communities around the world protest something.
This blog is a tribute to women who struggle. Women who strive to create a life of change and compassion.
Currently, I am a senior Pakistan instructor on the AFPAK Regional Training Team at Booz, Allen & Hamilton. I design multiple courses on Islamic civilization and all-things-Pakistan for U.S. government analysts and officers. Most of my classes take place at The National Defense University in Washington, DC. Although I will go almost anywhere to train, including South Korea.
In addition to teaching foundation-level courses, I develop and direct unique senior-level seminars. In winter 2011, I designed a seminar entitled “The Media’s Influence in Pakistan’s Politics,” which examined the role of mass communication tools in shaping Pakistan’s state policy. I also participate widely in U.S.-government-led events related to current threats and themes in Pakistan and Kashmir.
Aside from Pakistan’s perils, I teach Islamic history, civilization, and post-9/11 challenges across different Muslim communities. In the classroom, I focus on historical contributions made by Muslims since the birth of Islam in 7th century Arabia. Upon request, I teach a two-day course entitled “Islamic Radicalization,” addressing challenges in political Islam and the ongoing threat of extremism.
In the context of Islam, I highlight the role and reaction of Muslim women to events that are taking place today. My chapter, “The Mujahidaat: Tracing the Early Female Warriors of Islam,” was published in Women, Gender, and Terrorism (December 2011). The book is a study of women’s political and violent movements in the 21st century.
Evaluations from students point to my passionate, powerful, and Punjabi-like presentation skills. I am known for my energy, enthusiasm, and expertise of a volatile region.
When I’m not teaching, I manage a publication for my clients and students. The original newsletter is named Amozesh—a Dari word for ‘training.’ In the publication, I showcase the AFPAK instructional teams’ travels and training. And feature articles that give attention to the challenges and core issues in Afghanistan and Pakistan today.
21st Century Leader Award Recipient
The National Committee on American Foreign Policy (NCAFP) in New York has selected me to receive the 21st Century Leader Award. The award was created to recognize the achievements of individuals aged 40 and under who display a serious commitment to furthering the United States’ national security interests that accord with the principles of political realism. In the award letter, President George Schwab wrote, “Your expertise and experience in the Afghanistan/Pakistan region is undeniably relevant to American foreign policy today, and your commitment to promoting a clear understanding of the region and the conflicts it endures are unique and outstanding examples of what the spirit of the award embodies.”
In the Press
When I’m not traveling or teaching, I try to write. I have been widely published and quoted in media around the world. An editorial titled “Where is there no revolt in Pakistan?” for Reuters in May 2011 received international attention. And a piece called “Keeping Kashmir Alive” for Dawn, Pakistan’s English online news forum, helped raise awareness on the age-old conflict as well as engage the South Asian public.
Other publications, including “Dressed to Kill” in Newsweek alarmed the U.S. Embassy and Multi-National Force in Baghdad. I received calls from the U.S. military and then appeared as a guest on FOX, which luckily came to my home for the interview so I could pick up the kids from the bus stop!
Other articles and reviews have appeared in The New York Times, The New York Post, The International Herald Tribune, Foreign Policy, Newsweek, The Middle East Times, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Oxford Analytica, Reuters, CTC Sentinel, Dawn, United Press International Associated Press, Globe and Mail, Emirates Today, The Wall Street Journal, McClatchy Newspapers, The Austin American Statesman, The Baltimore Sun, The Council on Foreign Relations, and more. I’ve also written for academic journals in the United States and Pakistan.
In the news, I’ve been featured on CNN, BBC, PBS, Al-Jazeera, FOX, National Public Radio (NPR), Voice of America, Bloomberg television, as well as the international press, including Canadian, Afghan and Pakistani state television.
I’ve also had the honor to engage diverse audiences, at home and abroad. These include Oxford University, The International Institute for Strategic Studies in the United Kingdom, The School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, The National Defense University in Pakistan, international conferences in the United Arab Emirates and more.
Before and After 9/11
Before 9/11, I was the first American Muslim woman to serve in the Counter-Terrorism Center in the US Government. I advised senior officials in the U.S. administration and worked across the U.S. military and diplomatic community. I have been presented with several Meritorious Awards for exceptional service. When I resigned, I was recognized with an honorific award for my commitment and compassion.
After government service, I joined the RAND Corporation in August 2005 as an International Policy Analyst. My research highlighted the impact of Islamist movements in the Arab Middle East as well as security challenges to South Asia. For example, I directed a project on social services organizations in the Middle East, including Lebanon, Iraq, and Egypt. And managed several research projects inside Pakistan, which included an examination of the madrasa or religious educational system, the security and human dynamics in Kashmir, and the role of women in leading Islamist political and apolitical groups.
I am a graduate of The George Washington University, where I studied political Islam and violent movements. I hold a Bachelor of Arts from Southwestern University in Georgetown, TX, where I am a featured alumni. I am proficient in French, Punjabi, Urdu, Hindi, and learning Arabic.
Alrasub: First we will talk about Women in Pakistan, What kind of Problems women facing in Pakistan specially working women, conditions are better as compare to past.
Farhana Qazi: In recent years, several significant laws have been passed to protect women from violence and discrimination, such as the Acid Attack law and Sexual Harrassment Law. However, despite these steps, women continue to strive for equal rights and opportunities.
When I was in Pakistan in January 2012, I interviewed a gender rights activist Rukhsana Rashid. For nearly twenty years, she has been a pioneer for women and managed multiple projects to advance the economic rights of women.
Though often associated with the fame of her brother, Ahmed Rashid (author of The Taliban and Descent into Chaos), Rashid is a woman who stands on her own merit. “For almost twenty years, I have been working for the rights of women,” she told me.
We met in her well decorated home in Barakot, set in the rolling hills outside of the capital city of Islamabad, where I saw Imran Khan’s haveli (fortress). Rashid has short hair that is dyed henna red and wears layers of clothing. “I am sorry,” she said, “I have no gas now. I’ll light the fireplace when it’s dark outside. I hope you don’t mind.”
Of women, Rashid said, “they think they have come a long way in Pakistan. But women have regressed. To have an impact, Pakistan needs a long-term vision and sustainable programs. This government needs to make a commitment. We need to do more.”
Alrasub: Recently Government done much legislation to protect the women rights, you think that’s enough?
Farhana Qazi: Legislation is a key first step. But implementation of the law is the crucial second step. According to gender rights activists, educating the higher and lower courts of the new laws for women is a consistent challenge. Judges remain uninformed. In the rural areas, for example, the new laws are non-existent. And many women are unaware of the rights they have been granted.
These persistent challenges can be overcome with education and training.
Alrasub: We often read in western Print and Electronic media and some voices within too we hear that women have no rights in Pakistan or they are so Oppressed, second class citizens and some writers or TV channels blame religion of their Oppression what is your opinion on this issue?.
Farhana Qazi: In Pakistan, I have seen women who are progressive and others who remain passive. Some women are assertive, ambitious and aggressive. They include younger female Parliamentarians such as Dr. Donya Aziz and a Pashtun political leader, Bushra Gohar. There are countless examples of women who are determined and dedicated to a particular cause and/or organization.
However, I’ve also seen women who are submissive and subjugated to tribal, familial, and religious norms and practices. Often, Islam is wrongly accused for violence committed against women. However, Islam is not the problem, but the answer. Unfortunately, men dictate religious law and set the standard for women. Until women educate themselves and their men about the rights afforded to them in Islam, women will continue to be persecuted by faith-based groups.
Alrasub: What kind of Freedom in Pakistan like country you will suggest, should our women have the freedom like we see in west?.
Farhana Qazi: Pakistan’s founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, said in 1940 (years before independence) that no nation can progress without including its women. Jinnah’s vision included protection and freedom for minority groups; his own sister Fatimah was an icon for female emancipation and education—she was a dentist before she joined her brother on the political campaign trail. Since the birth of Pakistan, women were entitled to the rights afforded to men.
However, Pakistan has had an awkward experiment with democracy, at best. Political crises (such as civilian and military power struggles) and cycles of economic anxiety have stifled the country, which has affected the role of women in society and the political sphere. Over the years, I’ve seen women in Pakistan who take to the streets and stand together to demand basic human rights—they deserve to be heard.
Alrasub: In these days we are seeing lots of women in Politics in Pakistan, you satisfied from their representation or the women who are in politics are doing something for women rights in country?.
Farhana Qazi: It is remarkable to see women in Parliament and actively engaged in political parties. Today, there are over 70 members of the National Assembly in Islamabad and a third of the seats in the Punjab Assembly in Lahore are reserved for women. Personally, I know former fashion designers and social workers that have joined political parties; it is evident that women are projecting their voice. Years ago, when I was a graduate student at The George Washington University, I worked with Pakistan’s former Ambassador to the United States, Maliha Lodhi, who was an inspiration to young women across America. She and others like her are strong spokeswomen for Pakistan—they are proof that women can have a career in government.
Alrasub: As you have experience to live abroad you think Women are free there, what kind of problems in that societies women facing?.
Farhana Qazi: Every country has its social ills and political burdens. In the United States, which I call home, there has not yet been a female President and women are underrepresented in the business community. One can also point to the high levels of domestic abuse / violence as well as unequal opportunities for women of different ethnic and religious backgrounds.
That said, I am more “free” here than in any other country. I have never been subject to discrimination, though I often encounter ignorance. Many Americans associate Pakistan with the Taliban and Usama Bin Laden’s hideout, and most do not know the location of Kashmir, a disputed valley that is the subject of my research and forthcoming book. But ignorance can be overcome with education and an open mind.
Alrasub: In Pakistan many intellectuals and common people too complain that when it comes to human rights and specially women rights and freedom America has double standards, and mostly people then talk about Afia Siddique which is in USA jail, what you think about it?.
Farhana Qazi: No country is perfect or void of legal battles concerning women. In the U.S., gender rights activists have been fighting for equality on a variety of issues, including abortion, work ethics, and same-sex marriage. This should not be confused with a country’s terrorism laws, which are understandable subject to scrutiny and suspicion. For example, Aafia Siddique’s case is controversial and arouses emotional outbursts from Pakistanis and Muslims who consider her to be innocent, despite the charges levied against her.
Alrasub: Lets talk little about Pakistan US relationship, you not feel that both countries developed lots of misconception about each other and gape is increase of mistrust day by day, How both countries can avoid this misunderstanding?.
Farhana Qazi: The U.S.-Pakistan relationship is evolving. When I was in Pakistan this winter, I have spoken to Pakistanis and Americans both willing to come together to resolve outstanding issues. There are people determined to repair the relationship, which is an encouraging sign. This process is slow and will require constant communication and a commitment to change.
Alrasub: People say that US Army (Pentagon) influence the white house decision, is it true?.
Farhana Qazi: The U.S. military is an important decision-making body and has a significant role. For example, in Afghanistan, American military strategists and planners are training the Afghan Army and police forces to help Afghanistan transition and take charge of its own security affairs.
Alrasub: As you are instructor of AFPAK training team, what you think will be the future of Afghanistan after leaving the American forces, and some people think American will never leave, what you say?.
Farhana Qazi: The U.S. presence in Afghanistan will be minimal—there will be a diminished role for boots on the ground—but an increased need for U.S. advisors. Afghanistan is a country that is in transition and will need continued international assistance, particularly from the U.S. and its NATO partners to manage its domestic and regional security.
Alrasub: What is your observation about Arab Spring because many intellectuals say that Arab spring is West funded and specially American funded?.
Farhana Qazi: I’ve been surprised that the Arab spring has had little impact on people inside Pakistan or Afghanistan. Some analysts predicted that the Arab revolution would encourage Pakistanis to rise against their own corrupt elite and military oligarchy. However, Pakistan is highly fragmented and divided along sectarian, ethnic, and tribal fault lines which renders a unified uprising nearly impossible.
Alrasub: Kashmir is unsolved issue between Pakistan and India; in near future you think both countries will be able to solve the issue in peaceful way?.
Farhana Qazi: Over the past few years, India and Pakistan have signed treaties to improve relations between the two countries. For example, both South Asian states view progress by encouraging people-to-people cultural exchanges and increased trade and tourism. However, these goodwill initiatives neglect to recognize the people of Kashmir—most of whom now demand a separate state, governed by local leaders and with minimal interference from Islamabad or New Delhi. Failure to address the political quagmire will lead to future cross-border skirmishes between India and Pakistan and lead to cycles of violence.
Alrasub: What kind of problem women are facing in kashmir and what is their role as you are working on women of Kashmir too?.
Farhana Qazi: Women are the victims of violence in Kashmir. Thousands are widows or half-widows. Most receive little or nothing from India or Pakistan to support their families, and thus, rely on local organizations. Despite their misery, women protest. They march. They chant. They stand by their men and shout slogans of freedom. My forthcoming book on Kashmir is a chronicle of the untold stories of women in war.
Alrasub: International Community and media are not giving the importance to Occupied Kashmir as they give coverage to other issues globally, why?.
Farhana Qazi: Regrettably, Kashmir is viewed as an isolated regional issue to be resolved between India and Pakistan. Outside intervention and American mediation has been minimal, at best. Part of the problem is that the Western world is misinformed—the media projects Kashmir as an on-and-off dispute, where militants and stone pelters are to blame for the political stalemate. Few understand that India and Pakistan have stifled the debate and/or stymied progress by failing to include the Kashmiri people. At the moment, securing peace in Afghanistan has taken precedent over the Kashmir crisis.
Alrasub: Are you writing or have plan to write a book on Women issues or about something else?.
Farhana Qazi: My forthcoming book on Kashmir details the lives of women. Each chapter is a story about a single woman—a politician, a protestor, and/or a prisoner. The book is a collection of stories of women who have struggled to survive in extreme circumstances. They live on the edge of conflict. By highlighting these women, I hope to give attention to the victims and victimizers of this protracted war.
Alrasub: Media in and some political parties, and some intellectual claiming that Pakistan is going through a major change, how you are observing the change, is it in right direction?.
Farhana Qazi: Pakistan is in perpetual crisis. On the one hand, crisis forces positive action and I’ve seen men and women at the grass roots level take charge of their lives by promoting social change. They prove that Pakistanis are resilient and ready for democracy. On the other hand, the country is spiralling out of control; one political debacle after another sets the country backward. And economic woes, such as power and gas shortages, make Pakistan a hard country to live in.
Alrasub: How you spend your free time?
Farhana Qazi: When I have a moment, I spend it with my two children, Khalid and Maryam Ali. They give me hope and force me to fight for change.
Alrasub: You message for our readers?.
Farhana Qazi: One woman (or man) can’t change the world or a political system, but I’ve learned through years of research and work in and outside the U.S. Government that change is one step at a time and with one person at a time.
By focusing on Pakistan and Kashmir, I hope to make the West aware of the progress that can be made when women come together for a common cause. I believe in the voices of these women. They inspire me. They motivate me to write and speak.
Farhana Qazi can reach at: