By James DeWeese
Pakistan, once part of British colonial India, became an independent Islamic republic Aug. 14, 1947, one day before predominantly Hindu India gained its own, separate freedom from Great Britain.”You know that Jackson Heights is the heart of Queens,” said Hina Khalid, an organizer with Pakistan TV Network, the cable television network that arranged for the event. “We've been playing to do something in Queens.”Khalid and Bina Tahir, two members of the group of about a dozen who put together the event, said they had been working for more than three years to stage a celebration in Jackson Heights, which would be more accessible for Queens Pakistanis than the Manhattan celebrations slated for the same day.”We decided to come here because it was closer,” said Fresh Meadows resident Asima Shaikh, who arrived with her whole family to commemorate Pakistan's 57th year of independence with well-known Pakistani pop music stars and speeches from prominent and everyday members of the Pakistani immigrant community alike. “It brings you a little closer to home when you come with your family,” she said, flanked by her husband, A.J. Shaikh, and three young sons, Harris, Daniel and Imran.Despite some flight delays which put the kibosh on the planned march from 77th Street down 37th Road to the site of the grandstand at 37th Road and 73rd Street Ð the pop stars where on board the tardy flights — more than 300 hundred people showed up for the independence day event.Onlookers Ð from grandmothers with head coverings to children in baseball caps Ð waved Pakistani and American flags as Pakistan pop legends Shah Zaman and Najam Sheraz belted out tunes dedicated to their Pakistani homeland as well as to the adopted nation of the Pakistani immigrants.”It's a great feeling of patriotism that we're all together,” said Asma Jaffar. The 19-year-old traveled several hours from Rockland County with her entire family to attend the celebration after seeing it advertised on the Pakistani television network,Pakistan's official independence day is Aug. 14, one day before India's, she said. New York Indians marked their country's own independence from Great Britain in grand fashion last week with a street fair and a City Hall ceremony in Manhattan.During the Pakistani celebration in Jackson Heights, 12-year-old Athar Sheikh of South Ozone Park was a featured speaker. Sheikh, who came to the United States with his family six years ago, exhorted Pakistani Americans to foster a greater sense of unity and to cast aside the religious and cultural divisions some feel.”Life for my Pakistani people has been overwhelming,” he said, struggling through some earlier stage jitters to deliver a near perfect reading of his hand-written essay. “That is because we need except unity.””One reason it is important for Pakistani immigrants to have unity is so that they have the satisfaction of knowing that they are not alone,” Sheikh said, pointing out that Islam, the majority religion of Pakistan, also preaches unity among followers in its sacred texts.Mohammed Rahman, 48, of the Bronx agreed. As an Indian Muslim, he said he believed all Muslims should feel united by a common faith and a single god.In the same vein of unity, but turning to international politics, Agha Zulfiqar, whose eponymous show appears nightly on the Pakistan TV Network, channel 509 on TimeWarner cable, stressed that his home country should be viewed as an ally to the United States.”We are not friends of the Taliban,” he said. “We are very much with America.”Reach reporter James DeWeese by e-mail at email@example.com, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.