Why I Love Pakistan (March 23, 2013)
Following is the text of the keynote address I delivered at the Pakistan Day banquet of the Pakistan Association of America, Troy, Michigan, March 23, 2013. – Ethan Casey
There’s a question I get asked almost invariably, whenever I speak in public about a country I’ve known and loved for almost twenty years: Why Pakistan? I don’t think I can fully or satisfactorily answer that question, but this talk will be an attempt at least to acknowledge and address it.
The people who ask the question – Why Pakistan? – often phrase it as, “Why did you first go to Pakistan?” There are specific, contingent answers I can give to that version of the question. Most specifically, I first went to Pakistan in early 1995 because a fourteen-year-old Pakistani Christian boy, Salamat Masih, and his uncle were on trial for blasphemy, and the newspaper I was writing for at the time, the South China Morning Post of Hong Kong, wanted me to write about it. More broadly, I had become interested in the horrible and chronically disputed situation in Kashmir, I had already spent many weeks on the ground in the Kashmir Valley itself and several months in India, and I felt both a desire and a duty to spend time in Pakistan, in order to elicit and appreciate the Pakistani point of view on Kashmir. These were identifiable, proximate starting points for what has become my lifelong friendship with Pakistan.
I don’t think that’s what most people who ask mean by the question, though. Implied in it are a few other questions: Why do you care about Pakistan? Why do you look at and write about Pakistan so differently from so many other Americans? Why in the world would you go to a country with such a bad reputation? Why do you keep going back?
These questions are more interesting, and my books are attempts to offer full, proper answers to them. In fact, it’s not an exaggeration to say that it has taken me the effort of writing two full books, just to begin answering the questions for myself.
Which is to say that I can’t really explain my enduring interest in, and love for, Pakistan, but I can narrate it. I once told a New York literary agent that I had written a book about Pakistan. He responded by asking me: “What’s your argument?” I’m sure the agent considered himself savvy, but his question betrayed the fact that he looked at Pakistan the same tiresome way most members of the American political and publishing establishment do: not as a country and a society in its own right, but as a problem or challenge for America to deal with, about which it’s necessary for any writer to have an argument. Not only do I refuse to see Pakistan that way; I genuinely don’t see it that way. I don’t claim to know or understand Pakistan completely. But by the same token, I don’t know or understand my own wife or mother or father or brother completely. But I love my wife and parents and brother, and my own country, as well as I humanly can, despite their faults and flaws, as I know they also love me despite mine. My love for Pakistan is similar: human, based on flawed and partial knowledge and understanding, but honest and genuine. I was so surprised by the literary agent’s question – “What’s your argument?” – that I could scarcely blurt out my answer, which was and is: “I’m not making an argument; I’m telling a story.”