Former US President John F. Kennedy once urged his countrymen to “ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” My name is Saeed Ahmad, and I am a member of the Pakistani diaspora who sought to fulfill the spirit of this maxim this summer by traveling back home along with my classmate Hussain Awan. We would like to tell you our story that led us from the classrooms of Harvard Law School to the footsteps of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
The Pakistani diaspora consists of over nine million people across the globe, with nearly one million of those concentrated in the United States and Canada. Hussain and I are part of this latter demographic, spending the majority of our lifetime in North America, all while trying to
remain connected to our land of birth, Pakistan. By the time we met in law school, we were both feeling an acute urge in our lives to answer the call encapsulated in President Kennedy’s quote: to not only ask what Pakistan would do for us, but to create positive change for the country through our own actions.
It was this quest to serve that ultimately enabled Hussain and I to meet at Harvard Law School as JD students and attempt to realize our respective Pakistani-Canadian and Pakistani-American identities. Several months into the 2022-2023 school year, we were informed that Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah of the Supreme Court of Pakistan would be giving a talk alongside Justice Stephen Breyer, formerly of the United States Supreme Court, to reflect on their experiences serving in the judiciary.
Before this event was to take place, a small group of Harvard’s JD and LLM Pakistani students had the opportunity to engage in an informal chat with Justice Shah. We raised the issue of the difficulty of diaspora students in connecting with their Pakistani heritage after having been raised abroad for the majority of their lives. With the objective of surmounting this obstacle, the two of us asked Justice Shah about the possibility of coming to Islamabad as summer law clerks.
Nine months (and many an email correspondence) later, we boarded our transatlantic flights to begin summer clerkships at the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Over the ensuing five weeks, we worked under the supervision of Justice Shah, civil judges, and research officers, and slowly began to gain a comprehensive understanding of the judicial system in Pakistan. We worked hard ourselves after work hours to understand the key aspects of Pakistani constitutional jurisprudence, a subject we were not familiar with given our lack of legal training in Pakistan. We also started our own research into more specialized topics, covering areas like
Public Interest Litigation (PIL), the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction as enumerated under Article 184 of the Constitution of Pakistan, and its structural elements like the Human Rights Cell.
We were also able to experience and learn a great deal about many of the diverse aspects of the judicial system of Pakistan. Our mornings would consist of attending Supreme Court and Islamabad High Court hearings on legal issues spanning from property disputes, to sitting in on nationally important cases such as the Toshakhana proceedings. Afterwards, we would engage in our legal research and writing, prepare memos for Justice Shah, and spend much time discussing global jurisprudence with the many bright and capable research officers and lower-court judges we met during our time there.
Our time at the Supreme Court of Pakistan was not just limited to Islamabad, and aspects of the internship also included visits to the district courts in Rawalpindi, the Lahore High Court, Islamabad High Court, and the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). These visits included meeting with judges, observing court proceedings, and attending interactive workshops at courts’ research libraries. Particularly memorable was a visit to the Lahore High Court, where we were able to see the extensive development of the high court’s research center and discuss possible synergies that could emerge from its interaction with its American counterparts.
At the close of our five weeks at the Supreme Court of Pakistan, we can say that our understanding of the jurisprudence of both the United States and Pakistan has been enhanced, especially through our observation of the interesting parallels and stark contrasts that are present between the two jurisdictions. More importantly, our connection to Pakistan has been enhanced through our immersion in the language, culture, and diverse people present in the four provinces, in the territories, and in the capital region.
In our quest to live by the famous quote at the head of this article, we will strive to facilitate relationships between institutions in our country of study and our country of origin, enabling diaspora students to explore opportunities in Pakistan and Pakistanis to get the chance to succeed abroad. At a time of economic and political turmoil in Pakistan, it is necessary for the people in Pakistan and Pakistanis in the diaspora to join hands in creating opportunities between their respective places of residence and to showcase the merit of Pakistanis across the globe. The deficiency present in Pakistan is not one of talent, but rather of opportunities. Hussain and I will strive to unlock these opportunities in the legal domain, and usher in a future of formalized internship programs for diaspora students, collaboration between academic institutions in Pakistan and abroad, and an influx of legal talent into Pakistan.