BRATTLEBORO >>The first woman Consul General of Pakistan in Montreal visited Brattleboro with some of her family for her second time Saturday, April 16.
Azra Jamali, 46, was born in Quetta, Pakistan, which is the capital of the province of Balochistan. She said while she grew up in a rural village from a progressive family, where she was able to become educated and eventually work to improve the country's quality of life. However she feels there are some stigmas about her country that should be broken.
"I've tried to portray a positive image of Pakistan's historically rich culture, one of the oldest civilization, 5,000 years old," said Jamali. "So it becomes painful when you can feel the way people look at you when you tell them you come from Pakistan, I've come across some unfriendly looks, some smirks."
Jamali has lived in Montreal since 2013 and said a big part of her job as Consul General of Pakistan in Montreal is interacting with community, trying to sort out problems, such as keeping children in schools. She also meets with what she calls "the business people," where she tries to tells them why they should import from Pakistan. She noted that 70 percent of the soccer balls used in the World Cup come from Pakistan. In addition she said there is a great amount of cow and sheep skin that are used for items such as leather jackets.
She also asks that people look at Pakistanis differently, especially in regards to violence. According to Jamali there have been many killings, such as the 60,000 civilians that she said have been killed through different blasts at mosques, churches and army bases. She adds the people of the country are the victims not the terrorists and they do not know who is conducting these attacks.
"Whenever there is some incident, I cry in front of the television,. I cry, 'We are not like that,'" said Jamali. "We do not want any more senseless killings, we don't want people to suffer. Pakistan was as peaceful as Brattleboro"
She added that killings are sometimes done in the name of Allah, but that is not of their religion. She brought this back to the meaning of Islam, which is peace. In addition the greating, "As-salāmu 'alaykum," means "peace unto you."
"Since 9/11 thing have not been good for Pakistan, I never thought the terrorists would be associated with Pakistan," said Jamali.
Another stigma that Jamali wanted to break is regarding women. She said Pakistani women are equally contributing to the country and they are found in an array of notable trades. She emphasized that while she came from a progressive family, she still worked for the success of her career and to maintain a healthy family as a single mother. In addition her uncle, Mir Zafarullah Jamali, was Pakistan's thirteenth Prime Minister under President General Musharraf.
Her daughter, Sher Bano Jamali, 19, who was recently accepted to Mcgill University, has similar views to her mother about Pakistani women. She believes the country puts much of their monetary efforts toward the military to combat terrorism and as a result she says less funding goes toward education and this is one reason why the illiteracy rate is high, 65 percent among adults.
"I come from a tribal family. I'm well educated, all of my cousins are getting educated, we are going out in the real world, so I think it's improving," said Sher Bano. "People have this misconception that just the patriarchal man is the one who decides that when actually the woman does have a say in that."
Sher Bano said when she travels back home to Pakistan she notices that in arguments between men and women, the woman's opinion is given a lot of priority just as a man's.
"In that situation I think it really varies family to family and the way you have been brought up, or just generally because I have a basic understanding of Islam, I have been educated in the Western world, I have an education from Pakistan,I come from a conservative family, I live in Canada and I've never drank, I keep up with fashion, but I also respect the values I have been brought up with," she said.
Sher Bano said she would like to study International Relations at Mcgill. In her future she thinks it will be important to further educate women in Pakistan about their rights such as sister rights, mother rights, parents and child rights.
"I know it's cultural conventions and maybe women do tend to stay at home, but I feel they should know about their rights if it's something they don't know about," said Sher Bano.
Azra hopes people will see Pakistan for the beautiful country she has known it to be and mentioned a few proactive natives she feels have made enormous strides for the country. The first is the philanthropist, Abdul Sattar Edhi, who runs the Edhi Foundation in Pakistan that operates an ambulance service, free nursing homes, orphanages, clinics, women's shelters, food kitchens, and rehabilitation centers for drug addicts and mentally ill individuals all across the country. In addition she mentioned Imran Khan, who is somewhat the face of the anti-drone movement in Pakistan. According to Asia Society, Khan was voted as Asia's Person of the Year 2012. In Azra's opinion Khan is the "catalyst for Pakistan."
"My father was once asked the question, 'How do you like America?' He replied, 'God has given you a beautiful country, so work hard to make it more beautiful,'" said Azra. "So this is what we have done and we will do the same for Pakistan."
Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext 275