Pak­istan is always on the brink,” jour­nalist and doc­u­men­tarian Wajahat Khan told a packed room of North­eastern jour­nalism stu­dents last week, but “we don’t know what it’s on the brink of.”

Khan, a Fellow at the Joan Shoren­stein Center on the Press, Pol­i­tics and Public Policy at Har­vard, has cov­ered Pakistan’s mil­i­tary and the war on terror, for which his native country is “ground zero,” he said.

He is studying the uses of new media, such as Face­book and Twitter — not, as in the Arab world, by democracy-​​minded rev­o­lu­tion­aries, but by fun­da­men­tal­ists such as the Tal­iban, pushing their views on a public eager for uncen­sored infor­ma­tion. “Anti-​​social social media” is Khan’s term.

Speaking in Shillman Hall, Khan said that decades of repres­sion in Pak­istan have left the main­stream media in a weak­ened state; occa­sion­ally able to inves­ti­gate politi­cians but unwilling to crit­i­cize the mil­i­tary or the pow­erful Inter Ser­vices Intel­li­gence (ISI), “Pakistan’s darker ver­sion of the CIA.”

Because the mil­i­tary and ISI are nom­i­nally U.S. allies in the war on terror, Khan said, the repres­sion is essen­tially sup­ported by U.S. aid.

Pak­istani ruler Pervez Musharraf “actu­ally freed the media,” allowing a pro­lif­er­a­tion of tele­vi­sion sta­tions. “Cable news came to Pak­istan in a big way,” said Khan — inspired in part by the Indian media’s power during Pakistan’s failed “Kargil War” with India in 1999.

How­ever, because of rela­tion­ships between media moguls and mil­i­tary lead­er­ship and the ISI’s relent­less pres­sure to both censor the press and plant false infor­ma­tion, the Pak­istani media remains weak.

The media has been fooled,” he said. “The media has also stopped itself.” The pre­vailing edi­to­rial stance now, said Khan, is anti-​​American, because it serves ISI’s and the military’s pur­pose to focus Pak­istanis on external ene­mies rather than poverty, unem­ploy­ment and corruption.

Those who don’t toe the line, he sug­gested, are in danger. The Com­mittee to Pro­tect Jour­nal­ists calls Pak­istan the world’s third dead­liest coun­tries for reporters this year, behind Iraq and Libya, and the dead­liest in 2010. “Most of those cases were not even inves­ti­gated” by Pak­istani author­i­ties, Khan said.

Why should this worry you?” Khan asked rhetor­i­cally. “The last attempted terror attack in this country (the Times Square bombing) emanated from my country. Most Amer­i­cans think the next terror attack will come from Pak­istan … the intel­li­gence com­mu­nity thinks so. The White House thinks so.” Fur­ther, he said, “your tax dol­lars — or your par­ents’ cer­tainly” are sup­porting not only the Pak­istani mil­i­tary, but a war of drone attacks along the Afghanistan-​​Pakistan border that helps desta­bi­lize the country.

The Amer­ican gov­ern­ment,” he said, “is really not trying to bring out the best in Pak­istani journalists.”

Approx­i­mately 60 stu­dents and sev­eral fac­ulty mem­bers engaged in a question-​​and-​​answer ses­sion with Khan after his remarks. In response to a ques­tion on the effects of Wik­ileaks rev­e­la­tions about covert U.S.-Pakistani rela­tion­ships, he laughed. “We assume that at every level there is cor­rup­tion,” he said. “We didn’t need Wik­ileaks to tell us that.”

When one future jour­nalist asked, “What can we do?” Khan urged: “Pack a bag and go, man.”