Many of us travel for business or leisure. But few ever take a trip that dramatically shatters their entire worldview of a country and a people in one fell swoop. I was lucky enough to have returned from just such a trip: a week-long sojourn in Pakistan.
It was a true eye-opener, and a thoroughly enjoyable one at that. Many of the assumptions and feelings I had held toward the country for nearly 30 years were challenged and exposed as wrong and even ignorant outright.
Yes, I was aware of all the reasons not to go, safety foremost among them. As an American, an Indian, and a Hindu there seemed to be multiple reasons for someone of my background to have concerns about security. Relatives and friends couldn’t hide their dismay and genuine fear; a frequent question was “why would you want to go?” The subtext is that there’s nothing to see there that’s worth the risk.
The Western and Indian media feed us a steady diet of stories about bomb blasts, gunfights, kidnappings, torture, subjugation of women, dysfunctional government, and scary madrassa schools that are training the next generation of jihadist terrorists. And yes, to many Westerners and especially Indians, Pakistan is the enemy, embodying all that is wrong in the world. Incidents such as the beheading of American journalist Daniel Pearl, 26/11 and the Osama Bin Laden raid in Abottobad have not helped the cause either. Numerous international relations analysts proclaim that Pakistan is “the most dangerous place in the world” and the border with India is “the most dangerous border in the world.”