Thursday, January 24, 2008

Open Letter to Najam Sethi

(Note: The Letter was written on Nov 7, 2007 but most of the issues discussed are still relevant.)

Dear Mr. Najam Sethi,

I never had any illusions about your democratic credentials after having gone through your editorials in Friday Times and later Daily Times for the last 8 years in your capacity as the self appointed spokesperson and advisor to General Musharraf and the GHQ. I was familiar with your jugglery and frequent 180 degrees somersaults, but your editorial of Nov 5 in Daily times "Wages of confrontation" still took me by surprise and I was really dismayed and disappointed at your audacity to justify the martial law proclaimed by General Musharraf on Nov 3. In this editorial you have summarily accused the lawyers, judiciary, journalists and political parties as confrontationists, who have brought us to the present state of emergency. This single editorial deserves that you are nominated as his official speech writer given your expertise at rephrasing the speech of General Musharraf, perhaps more eloquently. The reward for your services was very quick: the owner of daily times was appointed as a minister in the new caretaker cabinet and some crumbs might be thrown to you personally as well in the near future. You have chosen to apply the most infamous logic of General Musharraf by accusing the victim like he did in the case of Mukhtaran Mai and accused Pakistani women of staging rape cases to get immigration to Canada. You conveniently forgot the role of the present military regime in bringing Pakistan to the status of one of the most corrupt and dangerous countries of the world, keeping its vast majority illiterate and poor and subjecting them to draconian laws.

The crux of your argument is that the civil society does not realize the importance to fight extremism in the country and was creating impediments for General Musharraf to fight the war against terror and deserved the punishment meted out to them. Despite galloping US$10 bln in direct US aid in the last seven years, rescheduling of loans by the international financial institutions and a few more billions in covert aid, what has the military regime done against terrorism. It has brought terrorism from inside Afghanistan to tribal areas, then settled areas of NWFP and now up to Islamabad. How has it facilitated it. First by keeping the mainstream parties out of 2002 elections, delivering two provinces to MMA by recognizing the sanads issued by Madrassas, letting the extremists take shelter inside tribal areas and regroup and refusing to purge extremists from its intelligence agencies who had been able to infiltrate in the armed forces during long years of training Jihadis against the Soviets and later developing Taliban. Is the militant Islamic ideology godfathered by Military inadvertently or as a counterweight to undermine democratic political forces and use it both inside Pakistan against democracy and also for its intervention in India and Afghanistan?

Secondly for quite some time now you had successfully introduced highly confusing and misplaced terms of transition and transformation in the political jargon through your newspapers. Under transition you advocated extension of PML (Q) status to some more liberal secular political parties like PPP, who could be forced to join a Government under General Musharraf without demanding any major structural or policy changes by the military regime and providing it desired legitimacy and termed the position taken by the democratic movement for fair and free elections, sending the armed forces back to barracks (and focusing on fighting terrorism) and supremacy of constitution and law as an extremist position. These genuine democratic forces were called transformationists/confrontationsts, who were unaware of the ground realities of military domination in the society and instead of realizing that the primary conflict in Pakistan is not between civil and military forces but between liberals and fundamentalists, these forces are bent to destabilize the country and bring about a revolution. This statement and understanding has serious flaws. What you call transformation is by no means a revolutionary demand, it is very much a democratic demand advocated today by all civil society forces except a few opportunists like PML (Q), MQM and some individuals like you. It takes us back to 1988, not any farther, as the protagonists of this demand are mainstream political parties who do not want any revolutionary changes and are content by restoration of constitutional rule in the country. Permanent displacement of armed forces from politics and confining them to their constitutional role may be the dream of many, but is not a realistic goal given the lack of such an organization which can spearhead such a movement. Only a civilian leadership can fight the scourge of fundamentalism with appropriate use of armed forces and not otherwise. Today all political and civil society organizations are united that the only negotiations with the military regime can be for the exit strategy for Musharraf and the whole nation is backing the joint leadership of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Shareef. It is very much clear to everyone that contrary to what Mr. Najam Sethi would like people to believe, General Musharraf is a dictator who never wanted any genuine sharing of power with any genuine political party and the assumption that he would have doffed his uniform if the courts did not press him is false and a blatant lie. CJ Iftikhar Chaudhry sensed the possibility of martial law and did not form a full bench to hear the case of Gen. Musharraf and excluded three anti-Musharaff judges to be members of the bench, thus trying to defuse the situation, but Musharraf was not ready to take any chance and preferred to topple the judiciary.

You have always highlighted the corruption under the civilian regimes and completely ignored the state of corruption under Musharraf. Even in the satire columns you have always targeted the political leadership by ridiculing them. The only column on Musharraf does not ridicule Musharraf, it targets President Bush. This is your true face: joining the hated military ruler against popular civilian leaders. I have not seen any of your columns on the corruption cases under the Musharraf regime. You fail to take note of the annual report of Transparency International in 2006, which declared Musharraf regime to be more corrupt than both Nawaz Shareef and Benazir Bhutto at the index of 63% against 48% for Benazir and 34% for Nawaz Shareef. It is due to journalists like you who have served the military rulers by black outing their corruption and focusing your entire energies on the civilian leadership and thus perpetuating military rule.

We kept on hearing about Transparency International throughout 1990's, however reference to their reports completely disappeared during the present regime. I am sure you know that more than half of our revenues goes to defence and the lack of accountability and massive corruption in various defence establishments at all levels remains unreported. You for obvious reasons failed to pay tribute to the glorious movement of lawyers for the supremacy of judiciary. Instead you have complained about the suo moto notices of CJ against the inefficient, corrupt government officials who deny to serve the people and provide them any relief. Was it wrong to provide justice to Munoo Bheel, who was oppressed by his feudal masters with the active connivance of police and provincial government of Sindh headed by the infamous Arbab. Was it wrong to provide some justice to the thousands missing persons from Balochistan and other provinces. CJ simply demanded that if there are cases against them these people should be persecuted through the law and courts and not held by intelligence agencies indefinitely. One could expect that you are sympathetic to such people abducted by the agencies without charges.

I can understand the ire of military rulers and bureaucrats on Judiciary, but I did not know that they caused sleepless nights to you, who himself underwent similar experience in the previous regime and cannot forget it. Obviously Mr. Sethi does not like the Judiciary to interfere in any constitutional matters such as the dual offices of President and COAS, return of Nawaz Shareef or ruling PCO to be against the constitution. Now even Musharraf admits that it was an illegal and extra constitutional step. But Mr. Sethi, you have decided to be more loyal to the king than he himself is.

You have also conveniently forgotten to mention two of the darkest days in the recent history of Pakistan: May 12 and Oct 18, when citizens of Pakistan were killed mercilessly by known actors. Suo moto notices by the supreme and high courts were about to disclose the faces of people behind these carnages and it is one of the primary reasons why Judiciary was attacked so vehemently. Now the sole criterion of selection of Judges is just one: compliance to the orders of an authoritarian executive.

Lastly you never fail to praise the present military regime with the outstanding performance of economy in the last 7 years. You are obviously aware that from 1999-2002 the economy grew at just 2.5% and it was only after 9/11 and the massive rescheduling of loans, channeling of huge funds of more than US$10 bln by the US alone and remittances of US$5bln each year by overseas Pakistanis due to uncertainty in the West has helped Pakistan keep floating. Musharraf regime has not contributed a single kilowatt in the national energy grid forcing citizens and the industry to face long hours of load shedding, there has been no trickle down effect of these remittances on the majority of Pakistanis who are barely surviving the wave of unemployment and inflation. Pakistan remains one of the most underdeveloped countries with mass illiteracy, lack of health care and is found at the bottom of list on all social indicators at No. 138. It is the only country in the world which shares a military dictatorship with Myanmar. Major terrorist activities world wide are somehow linked with Pakistan and everyone visiting abroad knows the worth of a Pakistani passport.

In such dismal times, it really takes courage to praise the present regime which has got Pakistan to the bottom of its prestige. It has managed to stay in the world headlines mainly due to your President's penchant for negative popularity.

I know it will not be possible for you to publish this letter in your newspaper given your own authoritarian tendencies, but let it be known what some of your readers think about your journalism.

Nadeem Khalid


Anonymous said...

Dear Nadeem

I may or may not agree with you on any or all of your points, but I will defend your right to express yourself in any medium, in any manner. Except one.

You should allow for the possibility that Mr. Sethi had sincerely written what he felt and thought.

Your disagreeing with him is no reason to impute dishonourable motives to him. He may well be as honourable, or as dishonourable, as you.

We should learn to disagree, discuss, debate, and still disagree, agreeably.

Tariq Mufti

Anonymous said...

the critique is biting yes, but right on. 55 judges of the supreme court are dismissed in an unprecedented abuse of power in pakistan, and a democratic paper like TFT finds reason to excuse it. shameless. thank you ,mr. nadeem, for writing this letter. i particularly like how you point out the absence of the "missing people" issue from TFT, as well as the way in which the "extremist threat" is ahistorically presented in the editorial, instead of linking its existence to military politics itself.