Relevance of Diaspora Diplomacy to Bolster Pakistan-U.S. Relations

In US, there exist a significant amount of Pakistani Diaspora amounting to 550,000. Out of this population, about 35% are US-born and other 65% is first generation immigrants.

With the advent of 21st century, the relevance of Diaspora in foreign policy has increased. It is considered as a significant source of country’s soft power and hence, acts as a facilitator for bilateral relationships. Diaspora diplomacy refers to the efforts taken by home state’s government to engage with Diaspora communities in host states, in order to achieve a certain foreign policy goal. The primary objective of perusing Diaspora diplomacy is to establish loyalty in Diaspora communities towards the home state, which eventually converted into political influence. Countries use Diaspora diplomacy as a tool to ensure the effective utilization of Diaspora to fulfil foreign policy objectives.

Pakistani Diaspora in the US

In US, there exist a significant amount of Pakistani Diaspora amounting to 550,000. Out of this population, about 35% are US-born and other 65% is first generation immigrants. Most of this Diaspora is concentrated in major cities of US namely New York, Houston, Washington DC and Chicago. The history of migration of Pakistani immigrants towards US, dated back to the partition of the Subcontinent which significantly increase during the 20th century.

The history of migration of immigrants from Pakistan to US is categorized in three waves;

  1. The first wave of inflow of immigrants in US began soon after the independence of Pakistan. It was facilitated by immigration quotas, which were set up by US for newly formed South Asian states.
  2. In 1965, US Immigration and Neutralization Act were introduced, which formed basis for second wave to begin. This act caused inflow of highly skilled and professional immigrants, particularly physicians and engineers.
  3. The third wave initiated between the 1990s and 2009. It is estimated that about 75% of inflow of Pakistani immigrants to US took place during that time. It was promoted by US diversity programme established in 1990.

Pakistani Americans are ranked as the second highly educated Diaspora communities in the US. As per 2019, it is estimated that about 60% of Pakistani American hold bachelor’s degree, making them the second highest percentage among Asian Americans. Pakistani Diaspora in US is working as entrepreneurs, doctors, engineers, artists, lawyers, journalists and bus or taxi driver. Some Pakistani Diaspora members in US constitute an important and influential place in the field of medicines, entertainment and in technology.

Various Diaspora members through their work in their respective fields are projecting positive image of Pakistan in the US. Among them are Kumail Nanjiani; a Pakistani-American actor-comedian, Sana Amanat who designed Ms. Marvel comic book character Kamala, for Marvel entertainment and Sadaf Jafer who is a first female Pakistani American mayor in New Jersey. Pakistani Americans in Silicon Valley are playing an important role in boosting Pakistan-US ties and encouraging Pakistan’s economic progress. Some of these entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley are founders of technological companies such as Chegg, FireEye, Elastica, Open Silicon and Cavium.The Pakistani Diaspora has established numerous well-funded and professionally managed organizations and business networks in America that also contribute to human and economic development in Pakistan. The Citizens Foundation TCF, the Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America APPNA, and the Organization of Pakistani Entrepreneurs of North America OPEN Pakistan, are among the most influential Pakistani American organizations in USA.

Relevance of Diaspora Diplomacy

Diasporas are capable of fostering transnational links, acting as bridges or mediators between their home and host nation. Because of their rich cultural contributions, diverse voices and economic benefits to the countries, migrants and diaspora populations are recognized for their vital role in society. They are considered as an important source to execute host’s state soft power. Joseph S. Nye in his book “Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics” mentioned, Soft power is a source of attractive persuasion which can shape the preferences of others. Thus, Diasporas can contribute to execution of soft power by shaping preferences and by advocating cultural values of home state.

Pakistan can utilize Diaspora Diplomacy to aid Pak-US bilateral relationship by engaging Diaspora community to fulfill two major goals. First is to ensure the contribution of Diaspora community for economic development of Pakistan, particularly in the form of remittance and investments. Secondly, utilization of Diaspora to lobby soft image of Pakistan in US is imperative to shape perceptions and image to facilitate the Pak-US bilateral ties.

Somehow, Pakistan is proved to be successful in bringing remittance from US. It is estimated that in 2017, Pakistan received over $1.3 billion in remittance from the United States. To ensure the flow of remittance, government of Pakistan took several steps; among them is the initiation of Roshan Digital Pakistan program by Consulate General of Pakistan, Houston in collaborations with Pakistan Remittance Initiative PRI. The program is responsible for bringing investment in Pakistan and works in Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and in all US territories. Moreover, the Foreign Exchange Remittance Card FERC is introduced by Ministry of Finance to facilitate the process of inflow of remittance from US to Pakistan.

Although Pakistani Americans have harnessed Diaspora power to benefit Pakistan, they somehow have been unsuccessful to lobby Pakistan’s soft image in US at its maximum. Multiple steps can be taken in this regard to ensure the effective engagement of Diaspora community to lobby soft image of Pakistan in the US.

Engaging Diaspora in Local Development: Hometown associations can foster socioeconomic developments, ensure multi-stakeholders’ engagement and mitigate the challenges faced by emigrants. Engagement of Diaspora in certain hometown associations will ensure the mutual interaction among Diaspora. By attaining better mutual interaction, they would be able to project their influence in host states i.e. in US and would be able to lobby Pakistan by enhancing soft image of Pakistan in US, which is the utmost need of current times.

Engagement with Pakistani American Organizations: There exist 11 networking organizations of Pakistani in USA including The citizen foundation TCF, Association of Physicals of Pakistan in Descent of North America APPNA and Islamic Society of North America ISNA. These organizations, particularly APPNA are involved in political lobbying, because they hold an effective influence within country. Pakistan can project its soft image by engaging Pakistani American Organizations within US, such as individuals in such associations, hometown associations and medical associations. To make it effective, Pakistan Diaspora Commission PDC should be established to regulate and optimize the Pakistani Diaspora.

Cultural Diplomacy: The attractiveness of a country’s culture and the way that culture is perceived abroad are among the key foundations of soft power. The Lahore literary festival that happens every year in New York presents the Pakistan’s cultural, intellectual, and artistic richness. Such festivals act as an effective tool to implement soft power, which brought together not only the south Asian Diaspora and but also influence the audience in a positive manner. Pakistani government needs to shift its focus more towards arrangement of cultural festivals in the USA frequently to engage societies across the board in the US.

Enhance People-People Interaction: By initiation of exchange and scholarship programs for American students, Pakistan can add value to Diaspora influence. As people-people interaction via educational program can help in building positive image of Pakistan in US’s public minds.

Introducing Institutional and Policy Framework: Several countries have engage their Diaspora in host states by introducing certain institutional and policy frameworks. Japan and South Korea are prime examples in this regard. The policy initiatives taken by Korean government, aided the emergence of Diaspora engagement institutions in US such as establishment of Council of Korean American, Overseas Korean Foundation and Overseas Korean Traders Association of Southern California. It facilitated the engagement of Korean Diaspora within US and strengthens the impact of the Korean American community. Pakistan’s government should adopt such policy initiatives to paved ways towards the formation of institutions for effective Diaspora engagements.


Diaspora remains an untapped asset for Pakistan. In current times, the utilization of Diaspora diplomacy to bolster Pak-US relationship has become more relevant than ever. Pakistan can Pakistan’s government should look for avenues for collaboration with Pakistani American Diaspora and effectively engage it to bring economic development. Among them is the formation of institutes and initiations of programs within the US, in collaboration with Ministry of Finance, Pakistan and Pakistan Remittance Initiative PRI and Overseas Pakistan Foundation.

With the help of good policies and progressive frameworks along with effective engagement of Pakistani Diaspora within the US, Islamabad can look for ways to lobby its soft image at multiple levels from grass roots and above. Pakistan’s government needs to consider the importance of Diaspora engagement policies as by engaging this Diaspora, Pakistan can enhance Pakistani Americans influence. That, in return would able them to lobby its soft image in USA. By doing so, Pakistan will be able to fade the mistrust and ill suspicious that is plaguing the Pak-US bilateral relationship and can bolster Pak-US bilateral ties.

Aliza Pervaiz
Aliza Pervaiz
Author is a Graduate of Bachelor’s in Defense and Diplomatic Studies from Fatima Jinnah Women University, Pakistan. Research interest of author includes Climate change, peace and conflict studies at both National and International level, and analysis of diplomatic relations of Pakistan.