Raza Ali Sayeed in Dawn:
Being in the eye of the storm in geopolitics has its downsides and its benefits. This holds especially true if you are a writer or simply a foreign correspondent sent to cover a volatile country like Pakistan. After the attacks of September 11 2001 in the United States and with the subsequent war in Afghanistan, much of the world’s attention focused on Pakistan and its image as a breeding ground for extremism and militancy. The country has longed been called a dysfunctional state or simply a failed state by westerners.
Pamela Constable in her book “Playing with Fire: Pakistan at War with Itself” seeks to dispel some of these preconceived notions and tries to navigate for the lay person the vast labyrinth that is Pakistan’s politics and society. Her resume as a journalist is impressive, being a former correspondent for the Boston Globe and now working for the Washington Post. As a foreign correspondent she has reported from Central and South America, with a particular focus on Chile during the grim years of the Pinochet dictatorship, as well as parts of the former Soviet Union.
Now she turns her focus to Pakistan, where there is indeed much to write about. In 11 straightforward yet riveting chapters she describes the country’s recent history. The chapters are almost in bullet form a summary of Pakistan’s political setup and the ghosts that have been haunting it ever since its birth in 1947. Constable presents us a nation with much vitality and brimming with talent, yet at the same time unable to throw off the shackles that have prevented it from becoming a dynamo which she says the country has the potential to be.