The report sent in by the Pakistani high commissioner in New Delhi, Ashraf jehangir Qazi, was the reason ostensibly behind Najam Sethi’s arrest. The following is an excerpt of the report as quoted by a Pakistani government spokesman in Islamabad while commenting on Sethi’s arrest. Reported in Dawn.
My own view is that Najam Sethi’s attempt to pose as a heroic liberal fighting against corruption and tyranny by portraying his country as an irrational, contraictory, corrupt, unstable and dangerous entity —and that too in India of all places! is an act of contempt against Pakistan amounting to the most contemptible treachery. Mr Sethi claimed Pakistan did not know what it stood for. Was it Jinnah’s Pakistan or Iqbal’s Pakistan? It did not know whether it was an Islamic fundamentalist or modern state. It did not know what was its relationship to the Subcontinent, and whether it was Arab or Persian or Central Asian or Afghan, etc. It was, in short, a confused state!
Mr Sethi claimed that law and order was non-existent, there was mafia rule and violence including ‘terrorism’ and the political system was completely corrupt and dysfunctional.
Mr Sethi proclaimed the economy bankrupt and that, but for emergency international assistance, the country would have gone into default.
Mr Sethi alleged Pakistan was totally isolated and its foreign policy did not represent state interests. He pronounced Pakistan as insecure and ‘obsessed with India’ and merely complained that India had done ‘an injustice to Pakistan’ by denying it ‘an honourable settlement’ on Kashmir.
Domestically, Mr Sethi said civic society had totally collapsed and various extremist and fundamentalist groups including ‘terrorist groups7 had completely taken over from the State. Corruption, hypocrisy, violence and indifference ruled the day.
In submission, Sethi announced that Pakistan instead of being a ‘national-state7 [sic] had become a ‘state-nation7 suggesting its artificiality, i.e. something that no longer represented the interests of its people. He then proceeded to suggest a series of solutions to Pakistan’s crises in the most sketchy, rhetorical and meaningless terms, and finally concluded that there was no hope of finding anyone who could implement any of his solutions to save Pakistan from itself. In other words, this ’eminent liberal scholar’ from Pakistan [told] an elite Indian audience that Pakistan was all but a lost cause.
In this vein, Sethi also alleged that Pakistan had become an ‘unstable nuclear state’ and that unless there was a Kashmir settlement, Pakistan was capable of doing anything. He used this condemnation of his country as an argument for India to consider ‘an honourable solution’ to the problem.
Sethi’s pathetic and treacherous condemnation of his own country was music to his audience’s ears. Sethi was not just criticising the government (which would have been his democratic right but utterly inappropriate in India anyway). Sethi was actually presenting an analysis of Pakistan that, without explicitly saying so effectively, suggested to his enraptured Indian audience that they were right to hold the belief that Pakistan should never have been created in the first place.
“Sethi was not revealing a state secret”
Listening to Najam Sethi’s Kewal Singh Memorial Lecture, my mind went back over several eras of Pakistani history. In the course of half a century of sovereignty, many dictators and autocrats had tried to suppress Pakistan’s inherent spirit of liberty and outspokenness, until a democratic polity finally dawned. Now though they occasionally experience difficulties, elected governments, a free press and courageous NGOs are still centrestage. The task of social transformation in traditional societies is onerous, particularly in the initial stages when the mask of cultural hypocrisy is laid bare. But Parliament can perform its role effectively only with the assistance of the media.
Najam Sethi was not saying anything that we in India had not heard before. Nor are our own shortfalls hidden from the gaze of neighbouring countries. Sat ellite television and the Internet have lit up previously dark corners, broadcasting to all and sundry the existence of wide chasms between the pretensions and practices of the ruling elite, who believe they can suppress independent views with the help of police and hoodlums, that government-sponsored propaganda can black out reality. But why talk of Pakistan? Here in our own country, we have witnessed our worthy minister of information expressing similar beliefs while eroding the autonomy of Prasar Bharati. In the era of social transformation, autocratic regimes and minds want to edit both history and news. Bold practitioners of the media whose only tool is their credibility are bound to resist.
Najam Sethi was only re-stating what he had already written in his newspaper. But a false sense of national pride overcame Pakistani diplomats: the spirit was “why say it here in India”, still “enemy country” despite all the bus journeys and the lauded Lahore Declaration. The Pakistani high commissioner in Delhi who filed the FIR against Sethi perhaps felt the need to protect himself lest he be accused of dereliction of duty. But this action and the leaking of his secret report by an Islamabad official only caused him immense embarrassment here. He will obviously be the main prosecution witness if and when Sethi is brought before a court.
Sethi was not revealing a state secret when he said the US sanctions were imposing a heavy burden on Pakistan’s economy. Nor did he tell us for the first time the agonising details of terrorist activities in Karachi and elsewhere. The gun is loud enough to be heard on its own. The cult of violence is causing anxiety to us as well; we recently saw the scion of a political family kill a girl who refused to serve him a drink. If this story were to be carried in Pakistani periodicals, would we brand it an “anti-Indian move”?
Sethi may have chosen sharp rhetoric. He used the word “crises” to describe a variety of challenges confronting Pakistan. Since I am temperamentally a moderate, I had counselled Sethi that the word “difficulties” may be more appropriate. Journalists tend to describe a spade as a sword; persons of my temperament call it a twig. All the same, overreacting to well-meaning utterances or writing does not serve the cause of democratic life, it is dissent and debate that generate progress. Otherwise, we would still believe that the sun revolves around a flat earth.
Excerpted from “Why Najam Is Necessary” in Outlook.