Three Kashmiris in White House

Farah Pandith

A Kashmir born woman become third Kashmiri origin person to join team Obama.  Farah Pandit will take care of the Washington’s outreach efforts in the Muslim world, while another women from her hometown has been instrumental in Obama’s Cairo Speech.

Kashmiri-American woman Farah Pandit has been made special representatives of the United States to the Muslim world. Pandit joins the league of two more Kashmiris working in US administration at influential positions.
One of them is again a woman Afeefa Sayeed from Pandit’s hometown Sopore, while the other Neel Kashkari is a Kashmiri Pandit.   .
A statement released by the US State Deparment said that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made Pandit in charge of a special department created for outreach efforts in the Muslim world.
Pandit and her staff will carry out Clinton’s efforts to “engage with Muslims around the world on a people-to-people and organizational level”, the statement said.
Farah Pandit and her parents migrated from Srinagar to the United States in 1969, when she was four. Previously she has served as a special advisor to the Under Secretary responsible for European and Euro-Asian affairs. She has also served in the National Security Council as a coordinator of outreach to the Muslim world. She was also associated with USAID directing relief projects to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine.
Pandit was discovered by Barbara Bush wife of former president George Bush, when she made an impressive speech in a university where presidential couple included the audience. She was promptly invited to White House by the impressed hosts. The meeting ended with Farah getting her first political appointment, when she was barely in her early twenties. She was appointed as confidential assistant to administrator of USAID, an aid institution facilitating United States funding.
Pandit belongs to a famous business family of Pandits of Sopore. Her grandfather; Abdul Samad Pandit originally a forest contractor started Samad Talkies, which remained only theatre in north Kashmir for many decades.
The family has had its share of misfortunes. Farah’s eldest uncle Abdul Razak died in an accident; two of his sons, Ghulam Hasan and Habibulah died in an air crash.  Farah’s father Anwar migrated to United States with his wife, a medical doctor in 1969. Her mother Mehbooba, from Srinagar, is a chest specialist. With their younger son, they live in Boston after the separation of their parents.
The youngest of the sons, Abdul Rashid attended to the family fortunes in Sopore. Farah’s parents separated when she was 11. She studied Islam in the mosques of New England, a city in USA. She is also alumni of renowned Smith’s college and Fletchers School of Law and Diplomacy.
She also served stints as director of Middle East peace initiative at National Security Council, chief of staff for Bureau for Asia and Near East at US agency for International Development and Vice President for international business. Farah (41) unmarried has also worked an as advisor to European desk of the State Department.
Farah remains in close touch with her extended family in Kashmir. She has been visiting Kashmir quite often. Owing to her high profile her visits have been disallowed due to security reasons in Kashmir for the last couple of years. Her family in Kashmir says that she visited the valley three years ago.
Afeefa Sayeed

The other Kashmiri women in White House Afeefa Sayeed works as senior advisor in the Obama administration’s global aid agency, the US Agency for International Development. She is the daughter of Prof. Sayeed of Sopore. Afeefa was also involved in drafting President Barrack Obama’s initiative to reach out to Muslims ahead of his historic Cairo speech. Her involvement and community activism led her to run for local office in 2003 as the Democratic candidate for the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors from the Potomac District. However she lost the elections.

“To me, there is no contradiction between being an American and between being a Muslim,” she said in a video released by White House soon after Obama’s speech. Afeefa, who emigrated to the US with her parents as a child and covers her head with a scarf, adds that “to be an American Muslim simply to me means that you are practising your faith through the lens of an American identity”.
Afeefa is the founding director of Al Fatih Academy, a community school whose philosophy is integrated learning with an emphasis on civic education and participation. Through the school, she has helped develop the Peace Leaders Program to teach conflict resolution skills to elementary school students.
She is a diversity consultant and multicultural trainer based in Northern Virginia. She has consulted with a range of organizations including public school systems in the DC metro area, Simon & Schuster Children’s Book Division, the U.S. State Department, and MTV/Nickelodeon Productions. Sayeed holds a Masters Degree in Applied Anthropology with a focus on Community and Grassroots Development. She is married with three sons.
Neel Kashkari

The third Kashmiri to occupy influential position in the administration is Neel Kashkari. Farah’s appointment came a year after the George W. Bush administration gave Neel Kashkari, a man of Kashmiri origin, the task of bailing out the US economy as the interim assistant secretary of the treasury for financial stability.

Kashkari, 36, had been assigned to run TARP (Troubled Assets Relief Program) that was supposed to help USA deal effectively with recession. TARP had been given $700 billion fund for the mega challenge. An interim Assistant secretary of the treasury at that time Kashkari was handpicked by Henry Paulson for the job of financial stability, Kashkari continues to run it having been asked to stay on by the Obama team until a replacement is found.
Kashkari, a Kashmiri American of Pandit ethnicity, was born on July 30, 1973, in Akron, Ohio, and grew up in the Akron suburb of Stow, Ohio. He attended Stow–Munroe Falls schools before transferring to the Western Reserve Academy in Hudson, Ohio, from which he graduated in 1991. His parents, Chaman and Sheila Kashkari, are from Srinagar’s Safriyar locality, located by Somyar Mandir.
Neel’s father Chaman Kashkari migrated to USA before Neel was born. In July 2006, Kashkari was appointed as a special assistant to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. In the summer of 2008, he was appointed assistant secretary for international economics and was confirmed in that post by the U.S. Senate. On October 6, 2008, Paulson named Kashkari interim head of the new Office of Financial Stability. Overseen by the treasury secretary, he is in charge of creating and implementing the United States government’s $700 billion financial stabilization program. This is an interim appointment; the permanent head of the Office of Financial Stability will require Senate confirmation, which is unlikely before the inauguration of the next administration in January. The Obama transition team has asked Kashkari to remain at Treasury after inauguration for a limited period to assist in the transition.

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