It's a Wednesday morning in Akhtar Faruqui's cramped Irvine office, where the next seven days of work stretch out before him like so many miles of dirt road.
Faruqui edits the weekly
PakistanLink newspaper. Here on the first day of his news cycle he has 56
pages to fill but enough e-mailed essays and news articles cobbled from
other publications to take up twice that space.
"I worked seven
days last week," says Faruqui, 58, PakistanLink's one-man newsroom and a
former editor for Dawn, Pakistan's largest English-language daily. "It
becomes an exhausting exercise, but it's worthwhile." Little known outside
the United States' small but growing Pakistani community, PakistanLink has
matured over the past decade from one immigrant family's passion into a
key platform for debate among Pakistani Americans. The paper claims a
weekly circulation of more than 25,000, making it the largest of a
half-dozen English-language newspapers catering to the estimated 149,000
Pakistanis living in the U.S.
But in these days of war, and fear,
it is a newspaper in transition, struggling under Faruqui's yearlong
tutelage to evolve from a paper that tracks the minutiae of the expatriate
community to one that moderates sometimes divisive debates on everything
from politics to religious expression.
Faruqui and PakistanLink
just might have found their stride in the aftermath of the Sept. 11
terrorist attacks and the ensuing military campaign--with Pakistan's
help--against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which shares a 1,500-mile
border with Pakistan.
For Pakistani Americans, the events have been
doubly troubling. In their new homes, they shared in the national horror
of the attacks on the East Coast.
And now they share their native
land's fears and tribulations as U.S.-led attacks against Osama bin
Laden's Al Qaeda network threaten to pit not only Christians against
Muslims, but Muslims against each other.
It is Faruqui's task to
try to make sense of it all, directing a choir whose voices of anger, fear
and conciliation sing out from PakistanLink's pages. At the same time, he
acts as a collator, taking articles from other publications and boiling
them down into a digest of current events for Pakistani
"The responsibility is to be true to the profession, and
to be true to the people," says Faruqui, a slight and intense man dressed
this day in black slacks and sweater over a dark-checked
PakistanLink is a thick, distinctive-looking paper, with
both the U.S. and Pakistani flags printed on the front page. The stories
are packed tightly together with color photographs played small, giving
the pages a cramped but urgent look.
The tone has picked up an
added sense of urgency, and depth. The week before the Sept. 11 attacks,
Faruqui published a commentary called "Come September," enumerating the
deaths and wars that, throughout its history, have made September
Pakistan's cruelest month.
The next week, as the collapsed twin
towers continued to smolder, Faruqui published the essay "America Under
Attack," containing a quote from an Anne Bront poem that echoes through
the ages: "Oh, I am very weary,/Though tears no longer flow;/My eyes are
tired of weeping,/My heart is sick of woe."
Most of the
paper's material is less literary, and tied more to the rhythms of average
There's a sports section with cricket updates. Ads promise
help with immigration issues and cheap travel deals to Pakistan.
Restaurants trumpet their menus and the classified ad section includes
personals from families seeking mates for their adult-age children. One
reads: "Suitable match required for beautiful educated citizen daughter.
Short marriage annulled. Urdu speaking professionals below 37
Like all papers, PakistanLink has its supporters and
its detractors even as it has built a loyal following among
"It's a good paper," says Tasneem Khan, a Los Angeles
insurance broker and native of the troubled Kashmir province over which
Pakistan and India have fought for more than 50 years. "In this crisis
time, it really brings the community together."
Sreenivasan, a journalism professor at New York's Columbia University and
co-founder of the South Asian Journalists Assn., places PakistanLink in
the long tradition of ethnic newspapers helping immigrant communities make
the transition from one society to another.
"Unlike other Asian
communities that have been here for generations, such as the Japanese and
Chinese and Koreans, South Asians have been here for such a short period
of time--particularly Pakistanis," Sreenivasan says, tracing the start of
Pakistani immigration to the 1980s. "So they are much more interested in
what's happening at home than other Asian communities."
that interest has been satisfied by the paper's sister publication,
UrduLink, written in Pakistan's native language. Initially published as a
section within PakistanLink, the papers separated two months ago and
UrduLink is now distributed separately.
But separation is relative.
Faruqui and UrduLink editor Shakil Yousufi sit only a few feet apart in
the five-desk office within a high-tech incubator owned by entrepreneur
Safi Qureshey, 50, of Santa Ana, who bought a controlling stake in
PakistanLink two years ago.
Ironically, PakistanLink began
because of war. Founding editor Faiz Rehman launched the paper in February
1991 to draw attention to what he saw as Pakistan's overlooked role in the
U.S.-led ouster of Iraqi troops from Kuwait during the Persian Gulf
Rehman and his family sold most of the paper for $400,000 two
years ago to Qureshey, a founding partner of the former computer firm AST
Research. Rehman, his father--a noted Urdu poet--and two brothers stayed
on to run the editorial side of things. They quit last year, though, in a
bitter dispute with Qureshey over editorial autonomy.
has moved into Orange County Superior Court, where Qureshey obtained a
restraining order earlier this year barring the Rehmans from opening a
competing newspaper. A settlement conference in the case is set for next
month.When Rehman quit the editorship, Faruqui, whom Rehman had hired as
his assistant, moved up one chair. Rehman says he likes the direction in
which Faruqui has taken the paper, eschewing lighter entertainment
coverage in favor of in-depth analyses and opinion pieces of current
"I think they're doing an OK job," he said.
since the terrorist attacks, Faruqui has found himself treading water to
stay above the flood of fast-changing news.
He also has struggled
to maintain relevance for the weekly paper in an environment where news
changes hourly, and the details are available almost immediately on
Internet sites and in the various broadcast media, with analysis trailing
by a day in daily newspapers.
So the paper focuses on something
most other outlets don't deliver: opinion pieces and essays by Pakistanis
both here and in Pakistan.
While some observers laud the articles
as measuring the pulse of the community, others dismiss them as irrelevant
"They're the opinions of people who don't have much
knowledge," says Asim Mughal, an editor with Pakistan News Service, which
operates the Web site http://www.paknews.com. "I mean, I can talk about
birds, but I don't have any expertise on that. They need to find people
who can write in-depth articles, who have taken the time to do
Faruqui says he would like to firm up the paper's
coverage, including hiring staff to do more original reporting, but for
now the costs pose too formidable a hurdle.
"My effort has been to
bring PakistanLink to the standards of mainstream papers, and this has
been a very tall order," says Faruqui. "I want it to reflect the opinions
and aspirations of Pakistani Americans and South Asians who are part of
mainstream America--the broad-minded, open, educated and enlightened
For all the devastation wrought in the wake of
the Sept. 11 attacks, these are times that challenge journalists to do
their best, often career-defining, work. It's an absurd dance in which
tragedy leads and journalists follow, seeking simultaneously to witness,
explain and play an ancillary role in events that shape nations and
Faruqui, who immigrated to the U.S. with his wife and
three adult children three years ago, has been in the dance for decades.
With the music now playing in his homeland, Faruqui finds himself on the
opposite side of the world.
With a diplomat's skill, Faruqui
sidesteps questions about whether he'd rather be closer to the story, and
closer to home, as Pakistan faces a critical juncture in its 54-year
development as a nation.
"I think I'm doing a good service here,"
Faruqui says. "I think if I can give a good accounting for myself, I will
be doing a good service to the country, and to the [Pakistani American]