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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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Sh*t My Dad Says
Justin Halpern
IT Books 2010

First off, everyone else in the world has read this. But it’s my first exposure to the Halpern tribe and I am adding to what I more or less heard about this.

Killing time unemployed and wanting to stay busy-looking I walked down to the local library in the sweltering Virginia afternoon. It’s raining and It’s a “cool” 79 degrees. Yesterday it poured and it was around 90. I still don’t get it. After 50 years in California, I find out the East Coast is a tropical rain forest.

So anyway, my reserved books aren’t in yet and I picked a few dull-as-mud nerd manuals on CSS and HTML coding and I grabbed this.

Like I said, I just put the book down for a minute. I broke out laughing a few times and a woman digging through DVDs glared at me.

I’m totally recommend this. Even if you never lived in San Diego, there’s a moral message in here. I can’t find it but it’s funny and sounds, well, real familiar.

Sent from iPhone

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