The other day at Lahore, a panel discussion was convened amongst top officialdom on the role and status of expatriate Pakistanis in the US. The very nature of the topic suggests the salience of the US community and the interest taken in Pakistan on its doings. Much of the discussion dealt with 9/11 and its aftermath. Caught unprepared, the Pakistani community in the US was subjected to unfair and unreasonable targeting. It left in its wake an atmosphere of trepidation and a depletion of confidence on life in the United States. Some changed their names; others shifted permanently. Another huge event has been the promise of the Obama presidency - a man whose father was Muslim as was his Indonesian step-father and whose mother worked in Pakistan wearing shalwar kameez and speaking Urdu. The discussion raised concerns and queries about the priorities of expatriates. Mention was made of the movie Three Idiots, which explored the sub-continental propensity to overly pursue business and technical subjects at the expense of humanities and social sciences. One consequence of this trend has been insufficient knowledge and understanding of the world beyond their technical fields. The Sufi saints of Punjab, for example, were renowned for their learning and piety which carried universal appeal. Picking safe and lucrative professions has left ample space in the battle of ideas - space which has been occupied by disinformation supplied by foes with vested interests who have capitalised on apathy and inertia. During questions, it also emerged that Pakistanis are held hostage to the vagaries of US Middle East policy, which sometimes see Muslims in America through the lens of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Another trend is the propensity of being elite-centric at the expense of grassroots interaction. A key obstacle has been a diffident mindset that has stymied the flowering of Muslim talent. There is also a problem of approach: one side is passivity and the other side is belligerence. Neither has worked. A key issue facing Pakistani youth in America is lack of inspirational role models in the community. Sometimes also there is too much togetherness, reinforced by obscurantism and pre-set ideas. The group felt that, by receiving mixed signals from their elders, the younger generation has been confused, and some have oscillated between rigidity and appeasement. More barriers are being built when the need is to build more bridges. The casualties of isolation have not been fully understood, nor is there sufficient appreciation of the positive dividends that can come from greater human connections, which can counter intolerance and ignorance. Many among the discussants drew a contrast with the inroads made by the Indian community in the US, which did not cast a favourable light on the Pakistani community. There may not be any single remedy. However, a reduction in occupation-driven tensions in the Middle East is essential, as is attaining proportionate Muslim representation in key US policy sectors. Expatiate Pakistanis in the US can ill afford to lapse into defensive defeatism when the need is for much more visible outreach and participation in the conversation of America. The significance given by the Obama administration to Pakistan has to be matched with more vigorous activism by the Pakistani community in the US. The building of ethno-national and sectarian barriers amongst expatriate Pakistanis blocks transcending partisan and personal agenda-driven interests. Balkanisation has not worked among Pakistanis in Pakistan or among the Pakistani community in the US. The issue is not just education; it is a mindset, which has to look beyond. So far what has happened beyond the community has affected the world around the community. The community has to change both its approach and itself. Thus far, Muslim weaknesses in America have made them a safe and easy target. If they learn to comprehend and engage the world beyond, that may no longer be the case tomorrow. The writer is a barrister and a senior political analyst.