Saghir "Saggy" Tahir is a state-level part-time Pakistani American politician who currently serves as a New Hampshire State Representative. He is the only elected Muslim in the Republican Party. In the 2006 elections, he was re-elected for a fourth term to represent Ward 2, District 9 in his home town of Manchester.
Tahir has a B.S. in Physics and Mathematics and a B.S. in Civil Engineering. Tahir is believed to be the first Pakistani native to be elected to a state legislature anywhere in the United States. Tahir is the first Muslim-American elected to a political position in the United States of America.
Tahir took his seat in the New Hampshire General Court, State House of Representatives for Ward 2. The New Hampshire House of Representatives has 400 members and is the fourth-largest English-speaking legislative in the world. As representatives are paid $100 a year plus reimbursement for mileage, it is generally seen as voluntary work.
Upon taking office Tahir has been credited with a good "work ethic and ethical standards". Tahir was deeply moved the first time he spoke on the floor of the house, "They are talking about ethics. We are the judges of our actions. When was the last time the taxpayers approved for us to take a free lunch?" Tahir’s political focus has been on education and aiding the needy. In the past he has taken “a high-level delegation to a local homeless shelter to push for more support and funding.” Tahir was re-elected in District 50 (Wards 2, 3, 10 & 11) in November, 2002. He serves as a member of the Public Works and Highways Committee, and was Chairman of the City Republican Committee in 2001. He served as the 2nd Vice Chair, City Republican Committee in 2000 and Secretary, City Republican Committee in 1999.
Soon after his 2000 victory Tahir "hit the road to make appearances and speak to Pakistani American communities…[to] give a wake-up call to all Muslim Americans to show that the United States is your home, and you must give back to local communities so that Americans of other faiths will look at you as brothers and sisters, instead of adversaries. …[and remind them to say] thanks to the veterans because their efforts and sacrifices gave us this land of opportunity."
On June 23, 2005, Tahir was on a panel hosted by the Islamic Center of New England to discuss the work of Imam Dr. Talal Eid, Th. D., and his paper on “Marriage, Divorce and Child Custody As Experienced By American Muslims: Religious, Social and Legal Considerations", with a special focus on reflecting “on the issues concerning Muslim women in America.”
In March 2004, Tahir was honored by the Pakistani American Congress (PAC), “an umbrella organization of 57 nationwide Pakistani groups”, as one of the Pakistani Americans who "fought many odds to lead America towards a 'more perfect democracy'." He gave a speech documenting his “struggles and road to success” after receiving the award.
On November 16, 2001, after discussing the idea with the US State Department (who were not only supportive but offered financial assistance) Tahir lead a delegation to Pakistan “to promote better understanding between Pakistan and the United States of America.” The central points of the trip were to promote the idea that “Pakistan's future development relies heavily on foreign investment, especially from the United States and the European Union”, “to establish better awareness between the people of Pakistan and the USA”, and “to inform Pakistanis that are many Americans who support fair policies towards Muslim nations.” Tahir’s press release stated that he “feels that American citizens should know that the people in Pakistan care for them equally” and that he believed that “there are tremendous mis-impressions regarding how Pakistanis view Americans and vice versa.” Which “has resulted in lack of trust and confidence between the two peoples.” The delegation visited Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi and Quetta. Press conferences were held with the local media with the facilitation of the US Embassy of Pakistan in Washington DC. The Pakistani Government also offered financial assistance, but both their and the State Dept.’s offers were politely declined and the mission was self-funded by the delegation. Tahir’s personal goals for the delegation was to combat the sentiments in Pakistan that led some Pakistanis to burn American flags before the media. He held this “can only infuriate Americans all over the world. This type of behavior does not promote the investments that can create jobs and lead to progress.” He hoped the delegation could “turn sentiments around as both Pakistan and the United States are now at the threshold of establishing a more durable and lasting relationship.” In a press release by the United States Embassy, Tahir was quoted as saying "Who is teaching Pakistanis about how good America is? There's been a relationship between the U.S. government and the government of Pakistan, but there has never been much people-to-people contact. We're going to tell Pakistanis how good a life, we as Muslims, live here in the U.S. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, human rights, justice for all - this is exactly what Islam is.” He expressed that “he would like to see Pakistan develop the same level of tolerance and respect that he experiences in the United States, and he sees education as the key to that achievement. As a boy, he said, he spent an hour every morning in the madrassa, learning the Koran, and then went to school, where he studied mathematics and science for the rest of the day. ‘We need education’.”
Other members of the delegation were Agha M. Afzal Khan, Khalil-Ur-Reman (Chief Editor of Urdu Times, Awam and Pakistan Abroad), Vakil Ansari Writer/columnist and Co-Chief Editor of "Pakistan Abroad", Asad Abidi (Gov't Hospital, New Jersey), Naseem Akhtar and Masrur Javed Khan (Physicians).
Tahir gave his personal motivation for instigating the delegation, saying "If you believe that you can make a difference in the lives of fellow human beings around you, in your community, in your state, in your country, you must offer your services. When you die, everything you do for yourself will die with you but everything you do for others will last for a long time."
The delegation’s trip was mentioned again in July 2002, when several Pakistani-American advocacy groups joined under the umbrella organization Pakistani-American National Alliance (PANA). The group formed “with the objective of averting a nuclear holocaust and promoting Pakistan’s proposals for peace and arms reduction in South Asia.” Tahir, congratulated the new organization, saying that unity “is my mission and wherever I go, I call for unity and cooperation.” Tahir held that because of a “lack of a unified platform the Pakistani American community has no voice. …the Pakistani American community should use its clout to affect developments in Pakistan.”
Tahir held that Pakistani Americans should stop hoping for the return of Pakistan's ex-Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto (now deceased) and Nawaz Sharif (who was exiled to Saudi Arabia after Pervez Musharraf's coup). In 2002 Pakistan's Pres. Musharraf had the constitution amended banning prime ministers from serving more than two terms (which was widely seen as a measure against Bhutto and Sharif), Tahir said that "we should forget Nawaz Sharif and Benazir and vote for new people." Tahir noted his previous delegation to Pakistan and said he had been approached to return “I am asked to take a delegation of 100 Pakistani Americans to Pakistan to urge the people to vote new generation because the old generation has failed us.”
In December 2002, traveling at their own expense, Tahir and Giuda went to Azad Kashmir. There they visited refugee camps by "the Line of Control near Chikote, several small towns in the area, a military post, the Ambore Refugee Camp in Muzzafarabad, and several orphanages." They were also able to speak “for 45 minutes with the chief of staff of Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, and to other Pakistan government officials and opposition leaders. A meeting with Musharraf was cancelled when he was called to sign a water treaty.” After returning to the US Giuda said "That trip changed our lives." Giuda (a former officer and pilot for the U.S. Marine Corps and an ex-FBI agent) told the New Hampshire Union Leader that while he usually doesn’t cry in public, he wept “when he talked to an elderly Muslim in a Kashmir refugee camp. The man described “the day that Indian army soldiers visited his family. The man and his wife were forced to watch while the men raped and then murdered his adult daughters.”
Giuda was so moved by the experience that he authored a concurrent resolution in the New Hampshire State House (HCR 16) urging the “the United States to facilitate a just, peaceful, and rapid resolution to the Kashmiri conflict between India and Pakistan; to bring a cessation of atrocities against the people of Jammu and Kashmir; and, as a result, to reduce the threat of nuclear war in Southwest Asia.” The bill passed the NH State House with great support by voice vote, and passed unanimously in the State Senate by unanimous voice vote on February 20, 2003. The resolution was delivered to President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, and the New Hampshire Congressmen and Senators in Washington, D.C. Tahir was credited as “The catalyst behind the resolution” who "had persuaded the Republican deputy majority leader of the house" to join his delegation. Tahir stated “It is in the best interest of the United States and its people to bring the Kashmir resolution to bear, because too many people in that continent are being deprived of food, clothing, health care and housing. Peace has to prevail. After 55 years of conflict, enough is enough."
The Indian Ambassador to the United States, Lalit Mansingh, wrote the leaders of the NH Legislature “taking exception” to the concurrent resolution. In return Giuda accused India of committing "atrocities" amounting to "the worst kind of genocide”. He demanded that in the future the Tahir delegation be allowed to visit the part of Kashmir controlled by India, “I would very much like Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the Indian government to prove me wrong by letting us visit Indian-held Kashmir.”
On April 22, 2003 the Asian News International reported that the resolution “reached the Foreign Affairs Committee of the US Senate for consideration.” This led to a denial of a visa request by Giuda to visit the Indian side of the Line of Control. India’s ambassador to the US Lalit Mansingh Lal protested the resolution, saying "the legislators did not have all the facts when they adopted the resolution". Pakistan’s ambassador to the US Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, issued a response saying "There is only one country in the world that takes the position that Kashmir is an integral part of India, and that is India itself."
The Tahir delegation returned to Kashmir again in February 2003 with a larger NH delegation and a television reporter. They returned to the Line-of-Control "meeting with everyone from victims of artillery barrages, gang rape, and forced amputation to refugees, orphans, shop-keepers, families, school children, military authorities, and national leaders." One of the national leaders they met with was Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf. The delegation "presented copies of HCR16 as symbols of our commitment to bringing a just and lasting peace to all Kashmiris on both sides of the Line of Control that now divides them. The upwelling of hope and gratitude generated by our actions was beyond anything we have ever seen."
When India pulled out of US moderated talks on Kashmir that year, Giuda expanded on what the Tahir delegation had seen and condemned India, “It is ironic that India, which boasts itself as ‘the world’s largest democracy’, avoids direct questions about its refusal to permit observers from human rights organizations, other nations and states, or the United Nations, to visit Indian Occupied Kashmir, where reports of atrocities committed by Indian troops and paramilitary police continue to escalate. …The people of Kashmir continue to fight against overwhelming and oppressive intrusion into all aspects of their lives, held hostage by an Indian government that denies any culpability for gang rapes of thousands of Kashmiri Muslim women by Indian soldiers, custodial killings of thousands of young Kashmiri men by army and paramilitary troops, deliberate shelling of non-combatant men, women, and children, schools, hospitals, shops, and homes, and the systematic destruction of the economic underpinnings of Kashmir. …The days of India keeping a shroud of secrecy over its brutal repression of rights in Kashmir and the persecution of Kashmiri Muslims are numbered.”
Giuda went on to form Americans for Resolution of Kashmir (ARK) a non-profit organization which was “organized exclusively to conduct, organize, educate, and publicize all issues attendant to the Kashmiri conflict, its impact on the Kashmiri people, and its importance to global peace and the security of the United States of America.” Tahir has given his time and support to ARK. Supporters of India mentioned Tahir in their rebuttals of Giuda's allegations.
A former Manchester party chairman said that among the reasons Tahir’s campaign was greeted by Republicans was for "the potential he has to draw minorities to the party. Soon after taking office Tahir was made head of the Manchester Republican City Committee. Tahir pledged that the Manchester Republicans would not focus on partisanship and instead concentrate on “issues such as taxes, the senior center and schools”. He told a reporter, "These are the things the people are interested in; it's not a fight between two neighbors.” In 2002 Tahir stepped down and Ed Mosca became the head of the Manchester Republican Committee.
Tahir has been worried about the perception American-Muslims in general have had for his party for some time. Before the 2004 elections, Tahir told the BBC that he was worried that Republicans could be losing the Muslim-American vote. He explained "I am concerned about the backlash by the American Muslim community. But I believe the Republican Party will try to mend fences and make sure they don't desert the party.” This worry appears to have been justified as “According to (the Council on American-Islamic Relations) CAIR 78% of Muslims voted Republican in 2000...because many American Muslims say they share the same social values as the Republicans.” But as of 2006 “A pre-election CAIR survey revealed that 42 percent Muslim voters consider themselves members of the Democratic Party while only 17 per cent are Republican.” Polls indicate this is because they “strongly oppose the war in Iraq” and have a “deep disaffection with the Bush administration”.
In 2004, Republicans lost the majority in Manchester’s delegation to the state House for the first time since 1998.
Tahir was interviewed upon the murder of his friend shopkeeper Syed Ali Hussain.
Three to be elected.
|Saggy Tahir (R) (incumbent) (won)||1,342||19%|
|Catherine Hackett (D) (won)||1,323||18%|
|Sandra Smith (D) (won)||1,258||17%|
|Pete Escalera (D)||1,175||16%|
|Cate Johnson (R)||1,093||15%|
|Win Hutchinson (R)||1,041||14%|