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Najam Sethi’s ongoing campaign against politicians and democracy

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While not unlike other liberal Pakistanis, I too appreciate Najam Sethi’s (carefully packaged) liberal learnings, however, often I notice he does tend to balance the equation in the favor of a change from the current democracy.

Here are my quick reflections on Sethi’s recent editorial in The Friday Times.

Revolution or anarchy?
http://www.thefridaytimes.com/04032011/page1.shtml
Najam Sethi’s Editorial

In most of the above referred article, Sethi is all critical of politicians and democracy, only to write in the end that “liberal-secular democracy must work”!

Some nuggets

“The third popular revolt was only three years ago when young lawyers and a free media swept the moderate government of General Pervez Musharraf from power.”

It is intellectually dishonest or naive to term the removal of Pervez Musharraf as a result of movement of lawyers and media! The political parties are not given credit.

Further, Sethi is completely off the mark (but true to his brief?) here:

“But the growing tragedy is that this sentiment is anti-democracy, anti-secularism, anti-liberalism and anti-pluralism because the system of political democracy a la Westminster has only served to sustain a game of musical chairs for corrupt politicians and grasping soldiers who have been living off economic rents and military handouts from the United States in pursuit of its foreign policy objectives in South and West Asia. Pakistani democracy is characterized by 3 Ds: dynastic, dysfunctional and discredited.”

Here Sethi completely ignores the fact (which should be seen in the context of his links with a powerful institution) that the particular institution has systematically ensured that democracy in Pakistan remains dysfunctional and discredited and that the corrupt politician mantra remains prevalent.

He writes:

“Nor is a technocratic regime a long term option because the media and judiciary will tire of the arrangement and challenge it.”

Here he is giving undue credit to media and judiciary ignoring that both of them are hand in glove with the other member of the three Jeem mafia (Teen Jeem). Also notice he uses ‘long term option’ but does not rule out short term option. This should be seen in the context of the short term option he supported in shape of Leghari’s revolt against Benazir Bhutto.

Here is yet another lie:

“Foreign policy is based on passion rather than interest.”

How conveniently he ignores that Pakistan’s foreign policy is made in the GHQ purely based on their economic and political interest instead of passion.

“The economy is wilting under the strain of corruption, debt servicing and defense spending.”

Here Sethi ignores that army is the single largest strain on economy and that army generals’ corruption (both financial and political) is far greater than that of the political class.

” Increasing religiosity and anti-Americanism are keeping foreign investors at bay.”

Sethi finds it hard to admit that the increasing religiosity is artificially manufactured by the Aabpara mafia and their proxies in madrassah and media. Deprive it from the GHQ’s support and the religious intolerance and anti-americanism will die because of the oxygen shortage.

Sethi writes:

” The mad scramble to stockpile nuclear weapons is ringing alarm bells everywhere. The proliferation of armed jihadi and Taliban groups is posing severe problems for installing liberal democracy, building peace with India and doing business with the West. If a war with India is provoked or there is conflict with the US, then all bets will be off.”

Will Sethi consider the fact that the above provocations are a part of the GHQ’s strategy?

Also, there are some factual errors in his piece. e.g.,

“Iran is ethnically united”.

Iran clearly is not ethnically united as it has a significant number of Azeris, Kurds, Baloch, Turks and Arabs in addition to the Persian majority. According to the Encyclopedia of Islam (Leiden) Iran’s ethnic groups are as following: Persians 65%, Azeris 16%, Kurds 10%, Lurs 6%, Arabs 2%, Baloch 2%, Turkmens 1%, Turkic tribal groups (e.g. Qashqai) 1%, and non-Persian, non-Turkic groups (e.g. Armenians, Assyrians, and Georgians) 1%.

About the author

Abdul Nishapuri

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  • Revolution or anarchy?
    http://www.thefridaytimes.com/04032011/page1.shtml
    Najam Sethi’s editorial

    The word “inqilab” or “revolution” is on every Pakistani’s lips despite the visible slide into anarchy as demonstrated by two top assassinations in two months – that of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer and the Federal Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti. The poor are hoping for it and the rich are fearful of it. Mr Altaf Hussain has compelled Mr Nawaz Sharif to clutch at it and the two have jointly propelled Pir Sahib Pagaro, a self-proclaimed GHQ man, to announce the dire necessity of a 40 year military interregnum to set things right! Is Pakistan ripe for it?

    No, it isn’t. The collapsing autocratic kleptocracies in the Middle East are being rocked by populist forces for democracy and freedom, much like absolutist Europe in the late 18th and early 19th century and Communist Eastern Europe in the late 1980s at the fag end of the Cold War. Each revolutionary wave was secular and each changed the global balance of power in the world. But no such secular revolutionary movement for “liberty, equality and fraternity” is churning in the bowels of Pakistan. Indeed, Pakistan’s history is littered with relatively successful, but non-secular, popular movements for democracy and liberation from dictatorships. The first student-led revolt in 1968 ousted the secular military government of General Ayub Khan. The second multi-party led agitation in 1977 chucked out the secular autocratic regime of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. The third popular revolt was only three years ago when young lawyers and a free media swept the moderate government of General Pervez Musharraf from power.

    That’s why, despite three decades of military rule and one decade of fascism under a civilian government, and unlike the states of the ME where non-Islamist (but not necessarily secular) democratic change is in the air, Pakistan has an established multi-party political system, regular and broadly acceptable general elections, a fairly consensual constitution, noisy federal and provincial parliaments and a fiercely free media and independent judiciary. So we have none of the political s suffocation and repression that has characterized much of the ME.

    Does this mean that Pakistan is immune from the winds of change blowing in the rest of the Muslim world? No, it doesn’t mean that at all.

    Some similarities with the ME are striking. Over 60 per cent of the population of Pakistan, like in most ME countries, is under 30 years. Most of it is unemployed, alienated and angry because the democratic system is not delivering. Like the ME, anti-Americanism is rife. And like the ME, there is outrage against the double standards of the West in supporting the decadent, exploitative and oppressive ruling elites in the Third World while simultaneously exporting ideas of democracy, freedom, human rights and liberalism.

    This suggests that the idea of “revolution, people’s power and radical change” is in the air even in Pakistan. But the growing tragedy is that this sentiment is anti-democracy, anti-secularism, anti-liberalism and anti-pluralism because the system of political democracy a la Westminster has only served to sustain a game of musical chairs for corrupt politicians and grasping soldiers who have been living off economic rents and military handouts from the United States in pursuit of its foreign policy objectives in South and West Asia. Pakistani democracy is characterized by 3 Ds: dynastic, dysfunctional and discredited.

    So is Pakistan headed for an “Islamic revolution” like Iran under Ayatollah Khomeni in 1979? No, it isn’t. Iran lent itself to an Islamic revolution because it was uniquely different from other Muslim countries. It is ethnically united and religiously homogenous. Also, it had a class of religious scholars who were all united behind one leader. But Pakistan is not ripe for such an Islamist revolution. It is ethnically divided and intensely sectarian, with strong regional sub-nationalisms and ethnic loyalties that cut into religious unity, as demonstrated by the secession of East Pakistan in 1971 and the failure of the MMA to make a dent in politics

    Under the circumstances, what sort of change is possible in Pakistan?

    A fresh election is not a sufficient condition for radical change. Nor is a technocratic regime a long term option because the media and judiciary will tire of the arrangement and challenge it.

    The flash points in Pakistan are deeply worrying. Foreign policy is based on passion rather than interest. The economy is wilting under the strain of corruption, debt servicing and defense spending. Increasing religiosity and anti-Americanism are keeping foreign investors at bay. The mad scramble to stockpile nuclear weapons is ringing alarm bells everywhere. The proliferation of armed jihadi and Taliban groups is posing severe problems for installing liberal democracy, building peace with India and doing business with the West. If a war with India is provoked or there is conflict with the US, then all bets will be off.

    The elements of a failing state are assassination, anarchy, civil strife, war, economic meltdown and secession. The only realistic option is for our political leaders to keep religious passion out of law and politics, anti-American outrage out of economic and foreign policy, and unaccountable corruption and inefficiency out of government. We must make liberal secular democracy work so that Pakistan can survive and prosper as a nation-state.

  • Thanks Abdul for highlighting the contents of Najam Sethi’s editorial in his own weekly. I personally admire the writings of Sethi and what he says, but his modus operandi is increasingly becoming 75% pro democracy whereas the remaining 25% is scathing against democratic disposition that a reader or a listener wonders as to who is right and who is not.

    I also want to ask Mr. Sethi one more thing. Is he a beneficiary of democracy or not? As far as I recall The Friday Times was launched in May 1989, which I can fairly say was a democratic period of MBB’s first term. The weekly has been going on for 22 years almost now and it is fair to say that it is an economically viable project. Could Najam Sethi and his wife launched their weekly during the dark days of Zia? I guess not.

    All we want is Najam Sethi to be honest in his analysis. He is much higher in stature than most of our journalists but half here and half there is not good for anyone of us.

    TFT is one of the most quoted paper from Pakistan internationally. The way Sethi is bringing in a twist would be quoted by international papers and Pakistan will get nothing but a bad name. Are you paving way for a strong dictatorship than the looli langri democracy?

  • BTW, my blood boiled when the credit for removal of Musharraf was given to the media and lawyers which in essence means that Iftikhar Chaudhry was the savior!!! Preparing for another dictatorship ala Black Revolution, Mr. Sethi?

  • Way back, when Nawaz Sharif ruled Pakistan, Najam Sethi was arrested (or kidnapped) by Agency men on the orders of Saifur Rehman, was brutally manhandled for his independent writings. At that time we adored him. Period. But that was then, this is now.

    Media men are on sale big time. Every journalist has their price. I do not know at what price Najam Sethi sold himself, conscience and concepts are weak thingies and can not prevent foul play with money behind, specially so when fearful impression is given by the vested interests that Establishment wants “this” happen any way.

    Whoever are behind those forces that want uprooting PPP government they would not get comfortable until “job well done” – and there are reasons behind it.

    In the past, only 26% to 30% were allocated to Defence head. But in reality, development and non-development expenditures remained only in books and bulk of their un-used allocated money were transferred to Defence head. Not now. Dollars, military equipment under Kerry-Lugar bill are under the direct hawk eye of USA. The Congress has unanimously agreed upon not to vouch on a single dictator but to support democratically elected civilian government. This is quite irksome for those vested interests because any military government can not prolong without the fat dollar support of USA. Those political parties that want wholeheartedly support the Establishment do not have vote bank like PPP. So, it is quite like a comedy of errors for non-ppp parties, Establishment, PPP government and powers that be in USA. Jasmine revolution wave in Middle East has made USA extra cautious, not for any cost to support a Military government – kind of blessing for the present government in Pakistan. So, media persons! keep on selling, the fate of poor people will remain the same, who cares any way, we all die alone.