On Thursday, November 17th, I had the honor of reading parts of my short story at a cultural event held at the Pakistani embassy in Washington DC.
This colorful and heavily attended meeting was organized after His excellency, Mr. Hussain Haqqani found out the recent launch of the creative writing issue of South Asian Review on Pakistani writing. Thus, through a collaboration between the editors of the special issue (Dr. Fawzia Afzal-Khan and Dr. Waseem Anwar) and the embassy staff, last Thursday those of us who could make it to DC gathered at the embassy to read excerpts from our works. While we will provide more information about the readings and the whole event in a separate blog, I would like to take a few moments to convey my immediate thoughts after hearing the Ambassador’s vision of Pakistan on Thursday.
First of all, I must point out that I generally do not have a very high opinion of diplomats, especially when it comes to their public statements, as they usually cannot speak their minds because of the policy dictates of their respective governments. I was, therefore, ready for yet another boring prepared speech by yet another diplomat. Needless to say, what the honorable ambassador said to us resonated deeply with the audience and certainly made me think and, furthermore, encouraged me to throw my own support, puny and unimportant as it might be, behind the Ambassador’s vision.
I cannot cite the honorable ambassador verbatim here, but I will try to convey a sense of his passionate plea for a more diverse, progressive, and tolerant Pakistan. The Ambassador started his speech by pointing the obvious dangers to Pakistan, to its democratic institutions, and to its very idea of itself as a nation. He asserted that the role of literati and artists is extremely crucial in defining a more progressive Pakistan and also in challenging the fundamentalist imaginings of the nation. Pakistan, he said “will not be respected by producing fiberglass replicas of its nuclear bombs” but by embracing the democratic and progressive aspects of the current world.
I must say that while the ambassador offered his vision of Pakistan at this gathering, I felt proud to be a part of that crowd, for that progressive and multicultural vision of Pakistan is also the bedrock of my own philosophical take on the future of Pakistan.
The Ambassador also pointed out that there were two competing visions of Pakistan: One that attempts to define Pakistan with a “twelfth century mindset” and the other that articulates a Pakistan in peace with the world and in harmony within its own borders. Needless to say, most of us in the audience found ourselves on the side of the second: the one about the future, about tolerance, peace and dignity for all Pakistanis.
Yes, as the ambassador said, all leaders are flawed human beings, but it is through the combined efforts of these flawed beings and the people of Pakistan that the nation can be reimagined as a nation of the future. I wish the honorable ambassador the best of luck and I also offer him, whatever it is worth, my total support in realizing this vision of a more progressive and liberal Pakistan.
My thanks to you, Mr. Haqqani, for giving us a candid, honest , and daring speech worthy of someone such as you. Please be assured that we the writers, the teachers, and the workers of Pakistan share your hopes and aspirations about Pakistan.