On Najam Sethi’s Punjabi ethnocentric, pro-establishment propaganda

General Jehangir Karamat, former army chief, visits Najam Sethi at the latter’s residence (2007)

Related Post: Najam Sethi parrots Deep State’s lies by equating Pashtuns with Taliban – by Salma Jafar

A manufactured perspective about the Pakistani media is that the sauve English speaking types are somehow more objective in their reporting and liberal in their outlook. It is also derived from this basic false assumption that the English speaking journalists are somehow politically neutral and are independant of the powerful security establishment. Nothing could be further from the truth.

This manufactured perspective is mantained to ensure that foreign journalists who are not familiar with Urdu or the other provincial languages of Pakistan get unwittingly embedded in the toxic narratives peddled by sauve english speaking, pro-establishment journalists. As soon as their arrival onto the local scene, most foreign journalists and correspondants get sucked into a web of a tighly-connected group of pro-establishment journalists whose surface-level characteristics such as fluency with the english and an ease with different cultural norms disarms the unprepared foreigner.

At the center of most of these networks is Mr. Najam Sethi, probably the most sophisticated pro-establishment journalist. When LUBP writers and contributors started deconstructing Mr. Sethi’s chauvinist pro-army/anti-elected politician discourse, they were lambasted and incorrectly and unfairly compared to the crude, silly, conspiracy theory laden nut jobs of Pakistan’s mainstream media; a tactic used to casually brush aside and deflect LUBP’s arguements against Mr. Sethi’s deeply problematic slants . Nonetheless, our writers and supporters persisted and today,other progressive journalists like Nadeem F. Paracha and Dr. Taqi  have also exposed Mr. Sethi prejudices.

Critical readers are aware of the fact that in the last few weeks, Mr. Sethi and some other journalists in Pakistan’s English language and Urdu language media have been, in their own ways, part of a well-coordinated campaign to spread rumours about the ill fate of the present civilian government.  Mr. Sethi’s role in the entire episode is most problematic and dangerous because he uses a pro-liberal narrative to subtly discredit and undermine democracy in Pakistan. Readers should educated themselves on Mr. Sethi’s links with Pakistan’s military establishment, his collusion with ISI and Farooq Leghari in 1990s to overthrow the democratic government of the late Benazir Bhutto, his separation from the Baloch resistance movement in 1970s and his continuous propagation of Punjabi ethno-centric, pro-establishment views.  One cannot in good faith accept Mr. Sethi’s analysis without a critical evaluation and understanding of his pro-establishment background.

For example, in his Geo TV talk show Aapas Ki Baat (Urban Gossip, Speculation and Disinformation Show) on 7 December 2011, Najam Sethi said that President Asif Zardari might not return to the country in near future, saying that his abrupt departure to Duabi was not meant for just medical checkup rather a politics-driven trip. Sethi said that the memo-stirred controversy was of significant importance as far as the future of the incumbent government was concerned. He said that Dec 15 was vital, as a Supreme Court bench hearing identical petitions regarding the memo issue have sought replies from Chief of Army Staff, ISI Chief, President, Prime Minister and other respondents by that date. He was of the opinion that President Zardari would monitor the developments from Duabi and in case of any adverse ruling on the memogate case, would prefer to stay abroad. Sethi said that President was under tremendous pressure from different quarters including military establishment and his political opponents. He said that in case of any unfavorable political development, Zardari would run and control party affairs from abroad. He said that if there was a military coup over the memo issue, PPP chairman Bilwal Bhutto Zardari would be used to create reaction in Sindh and the prime minister would resign in protest against such extra constitutional step. (Source)

In Sethi’s own words:

The SC also seems to have decided to go for Mr Zardari’s jugular. The NRO review petition has been revived and rubbished swiftly. The PM has been ordered to write to the Swiss authorities to reopen the money laundering cases against Mr Zardari, regardless of his presidential immunity. Now the SC has hastily held that there is, prima facie, a case to be made out against Husain Haqqani, former ambassador to Washington, and President Zardari, and ordered them, plus the prime minister, army chief and DG ISI, to send their comments, remarks and evidence to the SC by 15 December.

The military, in the meanwhile, is leaking like a sieve with stories of the “nefarious and treasonable” activities of both Mr Haqqani and President Zardari.

All these “stakeholders” have personal, political or institutional grudges against Mr Zardari. According to Imran Khan, the plan to “get Zardari” was ready in November last year but the military backed off at the last minute following the extensions in service granted by him to both the army chief and DG ISI. Now there is no such hurdle.

December is a critical month. If the government balks at obeying SC orders, the SC may seek recourse to Article 190 of the Constitution and order the army to implement them. Once such an order is made, Mr Zardari will be as good as in the net. He won’t be able to flee.

Under the circumstances, it makes good sense to be ill (thereby deriving public sympathy) and be out of the country (thereby denying the SC and military a chance to nab him and put him in the dock) until the road is clear of the present danger. Alternatively, if the plans are there for all to see, he can guide his besieged party and prime minister from the safety of Dubai and London to resist, like Altaf Hussain continues to do and like Nawaz Sharif did for ten years from Saudi Arabia. It is learnt that the prime minister and party have girded their loins to face the conspiracies afoot against them.

TFT Editorial: Go Zardari Go – by Najam Sethi

As highlighted, both his nightly television show and weekly editorial are emblematic of the degenerative trend that has deeply permeated Pakistan’s mainstream media.  Basically, Mr. Sethi is an articulate and refined propagator of the content that the military establishment wants to disseminate to the urban chattering classes.  There is little balance or journalistic integrity that seeks  to highlight to his audience an alternate perspective.  Instead, the main focus seems to be to present and reinforce morally-bankrupt fait accompi that are anti-democracy and pro military establishment.

In essence, Mr. Sethi is not very different from the right-wing military establishment spokespeople that dominate Pakistan’s media.  His tactics may be slightly different and more sophisticated from the Ansar Abbasis and Mohammed Malicks but the end purpose is the same: malign those elected leaders who are non-Punjabi and are on the wrong side of the military establishment.  The end purpose is always the same; to continousely reinforce the urban elitest myth that it is not the civil-military bureaucracy that is responsible for Pakistan’s current problems but democratically elected non-Punjabi (read PPP) leaders.  No one can beat Najam Sethi when it comes “Blaming-the-victim” tactics; a staple of Pakistan’s media industry.

Mr. Sethi’s pro-military establishment as well as his typically anti-Pashtun views were also highlighted by Dr Mohammad Taqi in a recent article in Daily Times. Dr Taqi writes:

In pursuit of this strategic depth, the Pakistani security establishment and its fellow travellers continue to bid on the Taliban and project them as the ‘legitimate’ representatives of the Pashtun Afghans. Unfortunately, some seasoned analysts too have not been able to avoid this pitfall. In his recent television show, senior analyst Mr Najam Sethi made a similar claim that the Afghan Taliban represents the Pashtuns of that country. Some survey numbers attributed to the pollster James Zogby corroborating this claim were also floated on the social media. At the time of this writing, the media contact person at Zogby International had not returned my call. My fellow-columnist, Farhat Taj, has already written a detailed piece last week, deconstructing Mr Sethi’s assertion.

AfPak: a series of unfortunate events — II —Dr Mohammad Taqi

In terms of his racist sentiments towards Pashtuns, Mr. Sethi is no different from other North Punjabi elite “intelligensia” like Tariq Ali and Imran Khan. Contrary to the facts on the ground, Mr. Sethi has no problems with the racist and reductionist view that the Pashtuns = Taliban.  Progressive Pashtun icons like Bacha Khan are reduced to RAW agents and  the sacrifice of thousands of Pashtun lives in combatting the Taliban menace are are wilfully ignored to enable this mendacious claim that the Taliban are an outcome of Pashtun nationalism!  How Mr. Sethi and other chauvinists can mantain this false and racist presumption is baffling given that all the Jihado-sectarian groups are headquartered in Punjab and it is the North Punjabi urban elite that is the biggest apologist for the Taliban Islamofascists!

In his article in daily Dawn, Nadeem Paracha offers a detailed analysis of Najam Sethi’s Punjabi ethnocentric, pro-establishment views:

It is startling to note that a majority of political analysts and journalists from the Punjab still sound somewhat naïve and highly presumptuous while commenting on the politics of Sindh as a whole, and of Karachi in particular.

Never mind the usual jingoists and mind-numbing vendors of worn-out establishmentarian narratives that are heavily littered around local TV news channels in this respect, because unfortunately, even some of the most astute and insightful media men from the Punjab suddenly begin sounding rather wet around the ears when commenting on Karachi and the rest of Sindh.

Take for example Najam Sethi. An experienced journo and publisher from Lahore and certainly one of the sharpest and most perceptive men on TV and print journalism in Pakistan. Though a robust political animal when it comes to understanding and relating the politics of Islamabad, the military establishment, foreign policy, terror outfits and, of course, the politics of the Punjab, yet he can’t help but stumble whenever commenting on Sindh and its capital Karachi.

I have found a number of the most progressive intellectuals and media men from the Punjab flip-flop from being profound and articulate while talking about something else but then begin to actually prattle when it comes to commenting on the political cultures of Sindh and Karachi.  expect stunning insights from this far more experienced and worldly lot, but instead, all they can usually muster in this regard are a series of clichés.

On a side note, since I as a college student, was involved in various anti-dictatorship movements in the 1980s, the above-mentioned phenomenon has made me finally understand just why the bulk of the Punjab had remained silent when General Ziaul Haq’s tanks were mowing down one Sindhi village after another during the MRD (Movement for the Restoration of Democracy) agitation in Sindh in 1983. In his desperation to construct his very own constituency, Zia had begun to patronise the economic well being of Punjab’s bourgeois and petty-bourgeois. With Punjab’s economy booming and stomachs of its middle and lower middle-classes full, a democratic struggle against a military usurper meant little or nothing to them. To hell with Sindh! It’s full of terrorists and crooks anyway.

PPP activist killed by military during the 1983 MRD movment in Sindh.

So much has been written and discussed about the politics of Sindh and of its capital ever since the 1983 MRD movement and especially since the initial eruption of ‘ethnic violence’ in Karachi in 1986.

And yet one is still bound to face the most worn-out and clichéd claptrap about Sindh and Karachi from some of the most astute intellectuals and intelligent journalists from the Punjab.

For example, during a series of recent shows of his on Geo TV, Najam Sethi, while talking about the militant-wings of political parties in Karachi blundered on a number of fronts. In one of the episodes of his show, he confidently claimed that the Jamat-i-Islami (JI) did not have a militant wing. This was a stunning disclosure from a man so historically attuned and intellectually competent. Just how could he miss pinpointing a phenomenon that each and every student of a state-owned university or college has experienced for the last many decades? A phenomenon called the ‘Thunder Squad (Paracha, DAWN).’ Those who had been part of student politics in Pakistan’s state-owned universities and colleges are all well aware of such a squad. Long before any major political party constituted armed wings within their respective student units, the Thunder Squad was the first true manifestation of armed action that not only included student militants but common criminals as well.

To be fair, Sethi did change his claim (a bit), when in another episode of his highly rated show, he said that the JI did have a militant-wing – but not any more. Not exactly. The Thunder Squad is still very much alive, not only in Karachi but also (if not more so), in Lahore(Ballen P:126)! The only difference in Karachi now is that since the JI has almost completely lost its vote-bank in this city, especially among its traditional supporters of yore – i.e. the city’s trader classes (who have over the years mostly switched their loyalties to Sunni Tehreek) – JI militancy is struggling to find a turf it can call its own. But does that mean its militant wing has withered away? Not really. It was very much in the picture during the tragic May 12 episode in Karachi, as correctly highlighted by this report.

Sethi Sahib believes that in the next elections Karachi’s largest party, the MQM, will struggle because the population dynamics of the city have changed. Sethi is right to state that today there are more Pushtuns residing in Karachi than before and that the largely MQM-voting Mohajir (Urdu-speaking) population of the city has comparatively shrunk. This is correct. But then Sethi, for some inexplicable reason, went on to greatly exaggerate this change. He confidently said that once Karachi’s Mohajir population stood at “70 per cent,” and that now it is drastically shrinking, as opposed to the Pushtun population in Karachi which now stands at “30 per cent!” The fact is Mohajirs never constituted more than 57 per cent of Karachi’s population (according to 1951 census). This figure then stood at 48.52 (according to the 1998 census report). As for the Pushtuns, their population in the city stood at 11.42 per cent (1998 census). How on earth did Sethi Sahib come up with a figure like 30 per cent? Sociologists like Arif Hassan believe that the next census report may, at most, see the Pushtuns of Karachi now hitting a high of not more than 19 to 20 per cent, while the Mohajirs may shrink from 48.52 per cent to somewhere between 41 to 43 per cent.

[Similarly], to suggest that PML-N does not have any armed militants in its ranks is just plain naïve on Sethi sahib’s part. PML-N’s student-wing, the MSF, has been involved in a number of violent episodes ever since the early 1990s. To quote from a local English daily’s editorial of October 9: “The PML-N’s student wing, the Muslim Students Federation, has often enforced its authority on campus by resorting to violence. Many prominent figures in the party have also expressed support for militant outfits like the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan and even maintained links with banned Punjabi groups. If the ban Sharif proposes (on political parties’ militant wings) is to be fairly enforced, then it would have to include his own party.” After the economic patronage that the Punjab received during the Zia dictatorship began to recede, these organisations played the role of ‘protecting’ the trader classes’ economic interests just as the militant-wings of the political parties did in Karachi. The only difference was that by 2009, such a partnership had begun to haunt these classes in Karachi like a Frankenstein monster, whereas in the Punjab, it still continues, even to the point of the traders there being at least one of the main funders of sectarian organisations (Kamran, Journal of Islamic Studies). So was there any surprise in watching PML-N leader and Punjab’s law minister, Rana Sannaullah, hobnobbing with one of the head honchos of a (supposedly banned) extremist Sunni sectarian outfit? No. Sannaullah was merely holding the hand of a force that also draws its support and funds from the same ‘patriotic’ segment of the Punjab as does the PML-N, and maybe Imran Khan will in the future.

PML-N minister Rana Sanaullah seen campaigning with Deobandi sectarian leader, M A. Ludhianvi

Now, I want to ask my colleagues and seniors in the Punjab intelligentsia and media, how different really is the sight of a MQM/PPP/ANP worker in Karachi holding an AK-47 in his hand than a leader of a mainstream political party holding the hand of a person who heads one of the most hate-spouting and violent sectarian outfits in Pakistan?

Armed supporters of Imran Khan’s PTI

Alas, I’ll leave you with a little incident that should explain my dilemma.

Some two years while on a visit to Lahore, I was invited by a friend’s uncle to visit his factory in that city. This happened merely a few days after Lahore was rocked by a series of Taliban suicide attacks that had killed a number of innocent people. We shook hands and exchanged pleasantries (in Punjabi), until I was taken aback when the uncle asked: ‘So, how’s the situation Karachi? I heard things are really bad there?’ Yes, Karachi violence became the topic of the day and the suicide attacks in Lahore were never mentioned. Because after all, violence only takes place in Karachi, enough even for the CJP to take suo moto action.

Cities of joy

The foregoing demonstrates that the myth about Najam Sethi’s liberal, neutral and anti-establishment stance is no more than a carefully manufactured, baseless urban legend. Of course, Mr. Sethi is much more refined and subtle than other players (e.g. Ejaz Haider, Hamid Mir, Moeed Pirzada, Ansar Abbasi etc). Because of this very fact, Mr. Sethi and others of his ilk pose much greter danger not only to democracy but also to the evolution of an independent media.



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