Book Review and Commentary

How did Osama bin Laden live safely for years within walking distance of Pakistan’s military academy in Abbottabad? That, and other questions, are what Gall writes about drawing upon over 10 years in Afghanistan and Pakistan reporting for the New York Times. She spoke recently on her experience in South Asia and her new book, a must-read for anyone interested in Afghanistan, Pakistan, jihadists, and al Qaeda.

Carlotta Gaul’s study based on more than a decade as a New York Times journalist in Afghanistan and Pakistan is a bald, revealing account that documents Pakistan’s agenda-driven interference in neighbor Afghanistan for its domestic policy ends. This subplot to the motives and dynamics in the war-torn regions has needlessly inflamed the conflict there at the cost of thousands of lives and bloodshed in both countries.

The Wrong Enemy by Carlotta Gaul image of book jacketAnyone remotely interested in an inside reveal of Pakistan’s deal with the devil and about Pakistan’s notorious ISI Intelligence arm must read this book.

What was America thinking?, one must ask after learning in detail evidence of Pakistan’s part in hiding Osama bin Laden? after Pakistan’s failing to prosecute captured Taliban and al Qaeda leaders? of its part in the bombing of India’s embassy in Kabul? and of its housing and feeding of terrorists who cross the Durand Line into Afghanistan, attack Afghans and NATO allies, then flee back into Pakistan’s Tribal Areas to rest and recuperate, secure knowing Pakistan would make feeble attempts at best to go after them.

Further detail are at the link.


Fallows, James M. China Airborne. New York: Pantheon Books, 2012. 

Fallows, James M. China Airborne. New York: Pantheon Books, 2012.

Fallows, James M. China Airborne. New York: Pantheon Books, 2012. – photo Russ Imrie 2013

Why should you read this book? Well, you should read this if you are at all interested in China. It’s written in Fallows’ “Atlantic” style, where he has been journalist as well as written for the New Yorker and NPR. So it’s bright and dead air is hard to find.

Each page has facts or an aside every American could stand reading. Fallows plants facts and insight everywhere—like the population reality that China deals with in a diverse and massive country…He’s been there.

…that the U.S. and China encompass approximately the same land area but that with vast mountain and desert regions, China has quite a significantly smaller arable land base; that one must consider it would take the sum of the populations of Mexico (110m), Brazil (200m), Cuba, all the Caribbean Nations, Canada, Colombia, every other Nation in North and South America (total about 1B) plus Nigeria (155m) plus Japan (125m) to almost equal to China’s 1.5 billion.

Philosophically, this work addresses one of the great questions of modern times: what model will move civilization forward on this globalized planet? The open, chaotic, and democratic model that the western-centric democracies seem to be embracing? or the authoritarian single-party (Communist in this case) top-down government model of decreed agendas that The People’s Republic of China follows today.

Fallows posits that the absolute need, economically driven, for China to conform to a world-class air-traffic control and manufacturing system will inevitably bleed over into the wider society and systems. Standards such as high-speed rail development and safety standards, environmental technology, high-value electronic manufacturing, and even the odd  double standard Chinese press operates under—where English language newspapers like the Economic Observer operate in conformance with the censors’ patronizing assumption that Chinese readers (even those born and raised in the West) won’t “get it” while in-country publications such as Southern Weekend are ‘way over-controlled, tends to work toward cracking open China’s incestuous leadership and its parochial regulatory system.

Fun and free excitement!

China’s “build it and they will come” MO (an artifact of central [mis]planning, and an urgent need to keep low and semi-skilled workers employed as well as to distribute what we in the U.S. would call “pork”,  results in not a few empty developments, and in one case, a modern airport in Tibet that was virtually useless due to geography and local climatic/weather conditions.

On page 179, Fallows treats us to a section of the epic first-ever landing at the storied (and basically inaccessible by the existing Chinese air traffic control system, such as it was) with a link to Nevarus  (acquired by GE) and thus this YouTube video in a tour-de-force demonstration of modern, world-class Required Navigation Performance (RNP) 
Access on Top of the World: Linzhi (Air China Test Flight) 国航-林芝


Pakistan reels along in chaos, says Pamela Constable in Playing With Fire, a digest of her penetrating experiences in today’s Pakistan. Shrines, Madrassas, Karachi to Kashmir, she analyzes what makes Pakistan such a failing state, or if it indeed has an actual future for it hybrids forces that transcend its short timeline.

Playing With Fire – Pakistan at War With Itself book cover

Constable, Pamela. Playing With Fire: Pakistan at War With Itself. Random House, 2011.

The arrogance of power, whether state or culturally enforced, is all that holds the state of Pakistan together and in shreds.

That and an option many Pakistanis choose out of desperation–Islamic Fundamentalism, i.e.–the Taliban and its draconian social order that uses extreme violence to enforce its edicts and is absolutely against Western understandings of women’s rights.

Pakistan bomb kills children near Shia processionBBC online November 24, 2012 (7 killed)

Taliban bomber kills Pakistan Shia marchers” BBC online November 22, 2012 (23 killed) 

Afghan funeral bomb: Suicide attacker ‘kills 25’ in east” BBC online September 4, 2012 (Afghanistan funeral attack)

Coupled with the denial many Pakistanis seem (according to Constable) express in Lahore to Karachi that the butchery by Moslem Taliban of the Moslem Pakistani population is indigenous, and not from some plot by the West, Pakistan can’t seem to get around to solutions of real, 21st-century problems the nation faces. Issues like rule of law, corruption, energy, water, housing, abject poverty, and education (some of the world’s lowest literacy rates exist in Pakistan’s tribal belt).

This fundamental denial of science, a vital democracy, rational thought and its appeal to undereducated or illiterate populations (which we see even in the US and evident in the recent re-elections) has a death grip on Pakistan’s hopes to reform and grow.

Names and players, from Judges to impoverished farming families, have their stories told here. Murders, “tactical” prosecutions to gain property, pervasive cynicism at every level–an intricate scenario emerges in Constable’s work that exposes the incredible (and depressing) ecology of layer upon layer of corruption and faith in a tortured land. I think this a must-read for those interested in a comprehensive survey of present-day Pakistan and its role in history.

Of particular interest (and explored in my developing post on “tactical” stereotyping in media and civilization) is hackneyed nugget from the “Great Game*” era in a description of the fear wielded by Pakistan’s infamous Inter-Service Intelligence Service, or ISI:

“p. 111; The Agency cultivates a reputation for omniscience, omnipresence, and impunity, and it floats rumors of horrific punishments in secret prisons, where men are said to be thrown into dungeons and tormented by rats, snakes, or starving dogs…”

Of course this horrible fate echoes from the ghastly ordeal of Stoddart and Conolly, two English adventurers who were thrown into the Black Pit of Bukhara in the 19th century. The torture, in Stoddart’s case, went on for years  before Connolly arrived to rescue him. Then on the orders of the Amir, they were both beheaded in a public spectacle after digging their own graves. Déjå Vu, anyone? The fear and bafflement of the Euro-American intelligentsia then lives on and is an undercurrent in this work today, albeit it comes from a frank and close-to-the pulse exploration. Pakistan today is living some of the outflow from ancient tectonic forces unleashed by arrogant empires. Now it’s dragged out again by an intelligent non-fiction author, perhaps unconsciously. I hope Pakistan’s future overcomes the narrative. It passes on and on like Cultural Herpes – even incorporated into the elevated atmosphere of  academic think tanks and reports, such as this one from the Center For International Media Assistance.

the Media Seen Too Blog…

Is the work of Russ Imrie, an IT freelancer living in the Washington DC Area. A registered American Indian and veteran, interests herein are widespread especially around historically themed film and writing. Also technical/nerdie stuff at the supTweet Blog and is a new contributor to China Daily Mail.

copyright 2012 and forever, for that matter, Russell Imrie

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