My initial reaction when I saw this NYT article was, “Pakistan has problems because they’re ruled by a kleptocracy? Stop the freakin’ presses, Batman!” If that was a hot news flash to you, well, welcome to the 21st Century; we hope you enjoy your time here.
Having clicked through to the article and read it, my reaction is somewhat different: it is actually an interesting survey of Pakistan’s problems, as reflected by the state of the national rail system. That state is dysfunctional.
At every major stop on the long line from Peshawar, in the northwest, to the turbulent port city of Karachi, lie reminders of why the country is a worry to its people, and to the wider world: natural disasters and entrenched insurgencies, abject poverty and feudal kleptocrats, and an economy near meltdown.
Chronic electricity shortages, up to 18 hours per day, have crippled industry and stoked public anger. The education and health systems are inadequate and in stark disrepair. The state airline, Pakistan International Airlines, which lost $32 million last year, is listing badly. The police are underpaid and corrupt, and militancy is spreading. There is a disturbing sense of drift.
An argument about the merits of various leaders erupted between a Pashtun trader, traveling to Karachi for heart treatment, and an engineer who worked in a military tank plant. “We’ve tried them all,” the engineer said with an exasperated air. “All we get are opportunists. We need a strong leader. We need a Khomeini.”
One thing towards the end of the article lept out at me: “Nazir Ahmed Jan, a burly 30-year-old and an unlikely Pakistani patriot” lives in Karachi. He migrated to the city in 2009, and makes a living…
…selling “chola” — a cheap bean gruel — as he guided his pushcart through the railway slum. It earned him perhaps $3 a day — enough to feed his two infant children, if not much else.
So? Mr. Jan also writes patriotic Pakistani poetry. Still “so?”
He had contacted national television stations, and even the army press service, trying to get his work published, he said, folding a page of verse slowly. But nobody was interested; for now the poetry was confined to his Facebook page.
His Facebook page?
In the corner of his home was a battered computer, hooked up to the Internet via a stolen phone line.
Wow. So even desperately poor people in a desperately poor kleptocracy can get Internet access and have Facebook pages? Not really a shocker, but worth noting next time someone starts talking about the technology gap between rich and poor.
On a tangentially related note, something else that should not have surprised me but did. Last night’s SDC was at one of the growing breed of “fast casual” Indian places. (Review to come.) The big screen TV on the wall was showing Indian cricket.
That wasn’t the surprise. I think you’re hard pressed to find that on US television, even if you have DirectTV, but I know there are satellite TV providers that target the Indian population in the US.
What surprised me, and, in retrospect, shouldn’t have, was: discovering that there is such a thing as “fantasy cricket“. After all, there’s fantasy football, fantasy hockey, fantasy basketball, and cricket really isn’t that far from baseball, so why not fantasy cricket? I guess it surprises me because I hadn’t really considered the idea until it was thrust in my face; now that I have, well, it is interesting, but I won’t be assembling a fantasy cricket team this year.