Najam Sethi, CIA agents and professional journalists

US Ambassador Ryan C Crocker, Gen Jahangir Karamat, US Defence Attaché Col Gene McConville and Najam Sethi at the latter’s residence. (2007)

There are some points of merit in Mr. Najam Sethi’s editorial for The Friday Times (TFT, 6-12 Jan 2012).

While there are some crucial omissions, one must give Mr. Sethi credit for stating a few bold things. The problem is Mr. Sethi himself fails on many of these counts.

In the last year, he has:

1. Stated the following in his September 23rd editorial: “there is only one institutional force that can establish the writ of the state and restore law and order. That is the Pakistan Army.”

2. Promoted the works of a controversial Indian author who has sought to dilute the role of the Pakistan Army in the 1971 genocide in East Pakistan

3. Been a part of the “elite” panel of “journalists/analysts/ex-military bureaucrats that have argued for supporting the Taliban as an instrument of Pakistan’s (read military establishment’s) policy in Afghanistan

4. Shifted the blame for Pakistan’s military’s actions on to the elected government.

So it is heartening to see that Mr. Sethi has laid down a criteria that exposes himself; even if that criteria has omitted some crucial points.

For starters, when talking about the danger to journalists, Mr. Sethi has highlighted the name of a Punjabi victim of the ISI and not a Baloch or Pashtun victim! His discourse is typically Punjabi-urban centric and unfortunately often laden with contempt for the PPP which derives its electoral strenght from Sindh, Southern Punjab and many areas of FATA, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan.

Mr. Sethi has also conveniently omitted how the media along with the judiciary has played a crucial role in slandering all those journalists who have taken a line that differs from that of the establishment. It is the Punjabi-Jamaat-e-Islami dominated media that has reinforced the grotesque criteria used to malign journalists with a differing viewpoint.

The most troubling element in Mr. Sethi’s simplistic definitional article is the implicit false liberal-conservative binary and selective posturing. The false binary that comes across is that those who don’t brazenly reinforce the jingoism of the Urdu press are the victims, the CIA agents. Nothing could be further from the truth.

For starters, the psuedo liberal or life style liberal journalists who are being lionised in this false binary of being CIA agents are far more subtle and insidious in their support for the military establishment. Like Najam Sethi, they will continue to selectively undermine the elected PPP government, heap mostly unsubstantiated abuse on its leaders and like Sethi, occasionally offer token, diluted and vague criticism of the military establishment.

Hence the false binary that journalists like Najam Sethi are CIA agents is ludicrous on many levels. For one, calling someone a CIA agent is reflective of a conspiracy theory laden and xenophobic mindset and hence does not constitute a credible argument against the inconsistencies and pro-army scholarship of Mr. Sethi. Secondly, when viewed in the context of his career, Mr. Sethi comes across as a journalist who has preferred military dictators to elected governments.

Furthermore, the selective posturing is limited to highlighting the threats on Mr. Husain Haqqani’s life. There is little if any mention of the ongoing army-backed judicial coup and how the media and judiciary are cohesively undermining the PPP government.

Creating false binaries and selective posturing makes some of us skeptical of Mr. Sethi’s claims. However, unlike his insensitivity to elected PPP leaders, one should take him at his word and wish him the full security that is the right of every Pakistani. It pains many when Najam Sethi, Ejaz Haider and Hamid Mir engage in such acts being apologists for genocidal anti-Ahmadi, anti-Shia Deobandi militants (Sipah Sahaba Taliban). It disappoints us when they line up with the military establishment to heap slander on the PPP government. It is a matter of concern for us when in their intellectual dishonesty, they distort and omit crucial facts to shift the blame of the wrongs of the military on to elected governments.

Their blaming-the-victim tactics are a disgrace to journalism as is their participation in caretaker governments that followed the coups undertaken against the 1996 PPP government. However criticism against these characters must be based on principles and not silly slander (CIA agent allegations) and threats. We condemn both.


Appendix: Washington Post

Posted at 01:54 PM ET, 08/18/2011
Personnel Files: New America adds Najam Sethi and Jugnu Mohsin to work on Pakistan
By Allen McDuffee
The New America Foundation has announced Najam Sethi and Jugnu Mohsin as two new senior fellows to the think tank’s National Security Studies program.

Prior to joining the New America Foundation, Sethi and Mohsin co-founded The Friday Times, Pakistan’s first independent weekly newspaper as well as Aaj Kal, a liberal Urdu weekly paper.

The addition of Sethi and Mohsin indicates an increased commitment to the study of Pakistan.

“Najam and Jugnu are two of Pakistan’s most important public voices – courageous, analytical, and focused on the big questions that will shape their country’s future, said New America Foundation Steve Coll in a released statement.

Sethi has received the highest civil award of Pakistan, the Hilal i Imtiaz, in 2010, for public service and media freedom. He is also the recipient of three International Media Awards, the Golden Pen from the World Association of Newspapers, the Courage in Journalism from Amnesty International and the Press Freedom Award from Committee to Protect Journalists.

Mohsin has received the Press Freedom Award by the Committee to Protect Journalists. In 2005, she founded the Pakistani lifestyle magazine, Good Times. Mohsin is a founding member of the Women’s Action Forum, an organization set up to oppose gender discrimination laws in Pakistan.

By Allen McDuffee | 01:54 PM ET, 08/18/2011



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