By Muhammad Zubair:
We’ve heard of rouge states but now we have a rouge journalist at hand. His name is Najam Sethi.
Sethi ran afoul of the Bhutto regime in 1975 for siding with the Baloch and was jailed for 2 years. Then he angered Gen Zia ul Haq in 1984 by publishing “From Jinnah to Zia”, a book the dictator didn’t like, and “The American Role in Pakistan”, a book the US ambassador to Pakistan didn’t like. The dictator sent him to jail. In 1999, he provoked Nawaz Sharif by exposing his corruption and spent a month in custody. Now he has enraged the ISI and MI by claiming that the former tortured and killed journalist Saleem Shahzad and the latter is responsible for the disappearance and dumping of hundreds of people in Balochistan.
No wonder Sethi is being attacked today by the agencies’ people in the media and internet as a “traitor” and “American agent”, two hate-allegations that are only second to the charge of “blasphemy” in inciting misguided Pakistanis to violence against their fellow citizens. Of course, it doesn’t help his case that he peddles his rogue theories and spins his information on Geo TV via a popular late night TV program thrice a week that is a must “enemy-watch” for the agencies.
But even Sethi couldn’t have imagined the extent to which “they” would go to undermine his credentials as a journalist. The “CIA agent” tag came in handy post-Raymond Davis. Sethi’s children were educated in the US where they work and live. So emails were hacked, phones were tapped and two properties in NY were discovered in the name of the Sethi family. In one, apparently, Sethi, his son Ali and wife Mohsin are owners; in the other, Sethi has a “power of attorney” from son Ali but isn’t even a part owner. Where did you get the money to buy these properties, you “traitor”, ask the agencies’ invisible twitterati. From the Americans, of course, comes their own dutiful response. Ah ha, now we know!
Do we? As one friendly tweet noted, Sethi and Mohsin are fairly well off. They own and manage a couple of magazines and a book publishing company. Mohsin is a scion of the Maratab Ali/Mitchells Fruit Farms family, which translates into a solid inheritance. And I’m sure Geo pampers Sethi. Both son Ali and daughter Mira work and live abroad. So if the parents have helped fund their kids’ flats in NY, what’s the big deal? How are they different from the 500,000 Pakistanis who do the same in America?
Plenty. When the agencies take a strong dislike to you in the “national interest”, they won’t stop until they’ve silenced you. That’s the problem. There have been reports in the Pak and foreign media quoting Sethi as saying that he has been receiving serious threats from “them” this past year. The husband and wife say they were forced to leave Pakistan for a few months last year when the interior minister formally advised them to do so because of the death threats to them. Since returning, the Sethis have been provided round the clock security by both the federal and provincial governments, Geo has built a studio in Sethi’s house for transmission of his program and the whole place is wired with surveillance cameras. He’s a prisoner in his own home and in his own country, say his friends.
But as the saying goes, “old rogues” never give up. Sethi continues to speak up and the agencies continue to turn the screws on him. There’s a hate-video on YouTube that’s clearly the handiwork of the ISI and is an outright incitement to violence against him. Naturally it’s anonymous. The “student” who posted it doesn’t exist. The latest twist in the saga is the appearance of Sethi’s name in an anonymous list of media persons who are alleged to have partaken of Thekedar Malik Riaz’s hospitality. Sethi has denied the charges. Now it turns out it is the figment of a PTI troll’s imagination. Still, it’s remarkable that an unsigned list that doesn’t offer any evidence can be floated on the internet and serve to undermine the credibility of those who run afoul of their media colleagues or the agencies or both. Sethi told a friend that he was ready to release details of his income and wealth as lodged with the tax authorities. “Don’t be silly”, the friend replied, “then they’ll say the Americans gifted them to you?”
Sethi should understand the message. He believed, like many liberals, that Musharraf and the military could be part of the modernizing solution in Pakistan. This was a “naïve” mistake then. Now he argues that the military is part of the problem. This is a “treacherous” mistake today.
This is not the end of the campaign to malign Sethi and his family. Sure, Sethi is opinionated and can be standoffish. He tends to remain aloof from much of the middle-class media, which is cause for resentment. But liberals should eschew their inter-personal issues and class prejudices. It’s time to stand up for one of their colleagues who is at the receiving end of the stick from the same secret agencies that call them all “liberal-fascists”.