We don’t need maamas!

Published: October 11, 2011

The writer was a Ford Scholar at the Programme in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security at UIUC (1997) and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Foreign Policy Studies Programme

Let’s see how this works.

Pakistan is a troubled state; the country has multiple fault-lines which are deepening; it has suffered from, and continues to, a civil-military imbalance; its political parties are weak and the political actors are only beginning to evolve some rules of the game through trial and error (often, as Karachi tells us, violently); its literacy rate, human development indices and human rights record are bad to abysmal; the state’s writ does not extend to many areas in a physical sense and many more areas in other terms of governance (see, e.g., the low tax to GDP ratio); its economy is poor and is likely to remain so for several reasons including poor human capital; it has a military that, despite its professionalism, has done more harm than good; its intelligence agencies are reviled by its citizens; it has developed an ideology which is poisonous, exclusionary and supra-state and now threatens the very existence of the state by destroying its legal-normative framework; and, it is being attacked by terrorist groups that have claimed more than 40,000 lives, both civilians and soldiers.

I could go on and list many other problems. After all, we have just seen that the judge who sentenced Mumtaz Qadri has had to go into hiding for applying the law. We have just seen multiple sectarian attacks on the law-abiding, nonviolent Hazaras by that absolutely bestial terrorist organisation, Lashkar-e Jhangvi.

Of course we are not the only state that is troubled. All states, to some degree, have their share of problems. But when a state becomes incapable of governing and protecting the lives of its citizens, it comes perilously close to keeling over the brink.

But why do I write this?

I write this because in addition to the problems I have listed, we now have another one which, like Yeats’ description of decrepit age, is tied to us as to a dog’s tail: the penchant of trolls, ideologues and partisans, not necessarily separate categories, for branding people, kicking the player rather than the ball, ignoring the issues and trying to find some sinister motive. And far from feeling any sense of shame, they celebrate their idiocies, cowardice and grotesqueries.

For several days now I have been subjected to a string of calumnious emails that describe Najam Sethi, long-time friend and one of the best editors I have worked with, as an American agent. It has been said that Najam is presenting some ideas which are against Pakistan’s national interest and he is doing this because he wants to become an American citizen.

I have no interest in what Najam might be seeking, if at all, because I know nothing about that. I am interested in his arguments. When I worked with Najam I often disagreed with him. At the same time, I know of no other chief editor who would have let someone write as freely as I did. If there is one thing which I am certain of, it is this: Najam is a patriot through and through; certainly more patriotic than those who have chosen to mount low attacks on his person and his family.

And pray, what is national interest? As a realist I have one concept of the national interest; neoliberals or idealists have different concepts. Sometimes there are fundamental differences; oft times there are only nuances. Nothing is sacrosanct. Those who want to make discussion and debate on certain institutions and ideas taboo are out of touch with reality.

Let me give another example: Iftikhar Ahmed, a seasoned journalist, does an audience-based programme. A recent programme looked into Pakistan’s defence spending — should Pakistan spend more on defence? By the end of it, 81 per cent audience voted against more defence spending. For all his pains, Ahmed got abusive phone-calls. The callers said he was an Indian agent; he should not have touched this topic; he wanted India to walk over Pakistan etcetera.

I don’t like black-and-white propositions. The reality of what Pakistan should spend on defence is a complex one. But no one, I repeat no one, has the right to abuse or prevent the airing of ideas. The extremes in this country, both on the right and on the left, are the biggest threats to this state. As I wrote in this space, we don’t have a robust centre and that now presents a huge problem.

If one takes a centrist, realist position, one is an agent for the Pakistan Army or the ISI; if one is being a neoliberal or an idealist one is either an American or an India agent. The problem is that the issues confronting us defy linear causality. Hanlon’s Razor says that one should never ascribe to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity. But there are others who indulge in this game not because they are stupid but because they are outright malicious. They are not looking for debate, though they would, like all charlatans, cover their malice in the garb of the democratic principle of debate.

Should we debate issues like the civil-military imbalance, security sector reform, the role of the ISI, the conduct of the political parties, the idea of the national interest and where it is situated, the idea of the state itself? Absolutely. Yes, we can and should debate these and much more. Should anyone going against the dominant discourse be branded a traitor? Absolutely not. Can a Pakistani working in the US say some of our laws are foul and we need to change them? Yes. Should we reject what he says and brand him a traitor because he is based in the US? Hell no.

I have said all this; there’s much more to be said. Does this make me an American agent or a traitor? I proudly hold the green passport. That is my identity. But it is precisely this that would make me, and many others, say these things. As we say in Punjabi, we don’t need maamas to tell us what is good or bad for this country.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 12th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (52)

  • Adeel Ahmad
    Oct 11, 2011 - 10:24PM

    You could pretty much sum it up as lack of tolerance & patience in our society; BUT you forgot to mention that our entire society is being held hostage by a hard-line minority enforcing their ideology.

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  • Milestogo
    Oct 11, 2011 - 10:28PM

    Well said!

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  • Pakistani
    Oct 11, 2011 - 10:33PM

    The nation needs to understand, that under no circumstance would India/America be ready to attack Pakistan. They have nukes. Betteryet, to destabilise Pakistan would be also against their interests. The nation has evolved to become a emotional nation, indeed.

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  • N
    Oct 11, 2011 - 10:51PM

    We don’t need mamas but we need to make up our minds about Uncles. One day want our uncle to send us $7b in aid. But most days we think he Is our number one enemy. What about our bhaijaans in Fata Swat?

    Good defense of Mr. Selthi. One of the anchors has a thing for him. It is personal and outright hostile. Thanks for standing up for decent debate.

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  • Cynical
    Oct 11, 2011 - 10:55PM

    The extremity of positions taken on either side of the debates and intensity of the players are also a reflection of our time and the condition we live in.Recommend

  • Faisal L.
    Oct 11, 2011 - 10:56PM

    Excellent article. Freedom of speech and ideas should be promoted and encouraged at all cost!

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  • Realist.
    Oct 11, 2011 - 11:07PM

    Enough Said I Guess!
    a Nice read.

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  • Mirza
    Oct 11, 2011 - 11:27PM

    EH is back! I give full credit when and where it is due. Thanks for favoring an open and honest debate on all topics including the performance of govt servanst like army and ISI. They are the servants and we have a right to get the truth from them or fire them for lack of performance.

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  • Parvez
    Oct 11, 2011 - 11:50PM

    Agree completely. Intelligent debate on anything is a prerequisite for an open progressive society. Sadly our thinking has become so warped that if today I praise Mathira I’m immediately tagged with a disparaging label.

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  • John B
    Oct 12, 2011 - 12:06AM

    PAK establishment has been accusing some one or the other as CIA agent or India Agent to silence the voices.

    The sad part is the accused never get justice and the underlying hatred that holds the society cohesively throws out all reasoning. And the voices of the silent sane ones are never heard.

    I wonder how long it will be before the China or Afghanistan agent mantra start.

    The foundation of good citizenship begins in schools. Until that happens, there will be “O” level students on one side and regular students on the other side. The problem is the regular students are in large numbers.

    PAK has to redefine herself to move forward.

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  • Feroz
    Oct 12, 2011 - 12:23AM

    Pakistan should not follow in the footsteps of its friends Saudi Arabia and China, two totalitarian states where dissent cannot be voiced. It is through vibrant debates that change can come. Investing more on Education than on Defense can help reduce some of the pain the nation is suffering. Let the words and ideas freely flow. Moderator, please note.

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  • godfatheriv
    Oct 12, 2011 - 12:24AM

    as always a simple yet realistic and mature article.thank you for writing this, and in a society where questioning is considered rude and ill mannered its high time we open these debates.

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  • MD
    Oct 12, 2011 - 12:25AM

    Mr. Author, I would have appreciated your thoughts and added some of mine to your seemingly enlightened views. But, I am sorry to say that, I lost my appetite for writing/commenting anything on your articles simply because, if I am honest on my opinion it will never be published by the moderators of ET. Strangely, this happens only with your writings and no other writer on ET gets the same kind of privilege that you are bestowed with.
    Let me come back to what you wrote. And you wrote this “I have said all this; there’s much more to be said. Does this make me an American agent or a traitor?”
    Ooh! Yea, the problem is, nobody is calling you a traitor!!
    Yes, you are in desperate need to be called a traitor!
    PS: I will continue to write my mind irrespective of its being published or not. After all it is your prerogative.

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  • Danish
    Oct 12, 2011 - 12:34AM

    Huuummmm, Let me see, Abusive calls, Threatening words. Declaring a person as traitor. Oh, Come on, any blind person can see, from where its coming from. Well, from the same gang who has been holding Pakistan as a hostage for the past 60 years, for their own interest, “the real ghazzis”.

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  • Patriot
    Oct 12, 2011 - 12:45AM

    Agree on all counts Ejaz Sb. Great piece and keep it up!

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  • Oct 12, 2011 - 12:59AM

    calling names and branding them as foreign agents in the pak version of godwin’s rule ejaz:)

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  • Oct 12, 2011 - 1:07AM

    Do i need to repeat that PTI Trolls are even threatening me and calling me names for my just dealings and analysis of bound-to-be-failed policies of Khan?

    Why should I be subjected to black Taliban Shariah and Khan lives westernized life himself?!

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  • Wellwisher
    Oct 12, 2011 - 4:09AM

    Congrats Nice well written article Press should write more about what is going on in Balochistan and western borders Will they be allowed to do that?

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  • V L Rao
    Oct 12, 2011 - 4:39AM

    When you say “extremes in this country, both on the right and on the left, are the biggest threats to this state”, could you give readers some names of extremes on the left?

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  • Non conformist
    Oct 12, 2011 - 5:52AM

    I fully endorse your viewpoint. Voltaire had said something like, “I may not agree with what you say but I ll defend till death your right to say it”. Unfortunately the self-declared patriots in our polity do not believe in freedom of speech, especially when they are the subject of debate.

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  • gp65
    Oct 12, 2011 - 6:27AM

    Sir,
    I do not agree with many of your opinions. But as you say, disagreement should be based on concepts, logic and ideas. Just labeling someone as Indian agent or CIA agent or ISI agent does not constitute an argument.

    Specifically when it comes to Mr. Sethi. I am a huge fan of his and he is one of the most even headed journalists in the entire subcontinent – not just in Pakistan – and I say this as a proud Indian.

    Your editorial indicates that he and his family have been under some attack. That is very troubling. I hope that he and you and everyone that expresses their opinion stays safe.

    Kind Regards,

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  • Maulana Diesel
    Oct 12, 2011 - 6:45AM

    I support Najam Sethi. He is by far the best journalist and commentator in Pakistan. I watch his show regularly.

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  • F Khan
    Oct 12, 2011 - 6:55AM

    I agree to the article in totality. Moderates in Pakistan should come out ad speak out irrespective of the threats. Great article Ejaz.

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  • narayana murthy
    Oct 12, 2011 - 7:18AM

    I thought Najam Sethi was an Indian agent. I didn’t know that he also took money from CIA?!!!

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  • Shahid Jamil
    Oct 12, 2011 - 7:50AM

    Hmmmm…

    You seem to be a Pakistani agent working for Pakistan.

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  • Cynic
    Oct 12, 2011 - 9:21AM

    @narayana murthy: Lol! haven’t u heard “Muft hath aye to bura kya hai?” :)

    I love najam Sethi, especially for his great optimism and unbeatable sense of humour in the face of such hopeless circumstances in the country.

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  • MarkH
    Oct 12, 2011 - 10:12AM

    @MD:
    So what you’re saying is you’re on the opposing side of what he wrote. It lends to the credibility of it all. You did exactly what he said you’d do for the exact same reasons.

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  • An Avid Reader
    Oct 12, 2011 - 10:21AM

    Why are hate mails such a big issue? I am a nobody, still I get hate-mails. Learn to live with them, man! :)

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  • Oct 12, 2011 - 10:24AM

    Spot on!

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  • malik
    Oct 12, 2011 - 10:30AM

    AGREED!

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  • Hassan
    Oct 12, 2011 - 10:33AM

    @ EOH “Hanlon’s Razor says that one should never ascribe to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity. But there are others who indulge in this game not because they are stupid but because they are outright malicious.”

    Stupidity or Malice whats your excuse?

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  • Rehan Khan
    Oct 12, 2011 - 10:34AM

    Excellent Article, keep writing with same vigor.

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  • S.G. Jilanee
    Oct 12, 2011 - 11:14AM

    I, too, am a Najam Sethi fan ‘coz I have found him extremely tolerant of dissent.Of course, the way American arrogance has muddied the waters, anyone supporting it even for the right reason would risk being suspected as a toady. Therein lies the trouble. The fault is not with Najam but with Americans.

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  • Aakar
    Oct 12, 2011 - 1:03PM

    Who sent you those emails against Najam Sethi?
    Were they anonymous? If so, you have done damage to Sethi by proliferating gossip.
    Do you know who sent them? If so, you should have named them.
    And what were you thinking in writing: “I have no interest in what Najam might be seeking, if at all, because I know nothing about that.”?Recommend

  • Ishrat Salim
    Oct 12, 2011 - 3:55PM

    We hv proved ourselves as an ” emotional nation “….Eijaz Sb…u hv exposed the ” intellectual bankruptcy ” in our midst…..it is this class that has created mess in our society instead of being a ” nationalist “….with positive outlook….put these people on a debate stand & let the whole nation see the quality of mind that has evolved overtime representing the so-called civil society……at least I am prepared to contribute for such a ” project “.Recommend

  • Oct 12, 2011 - 4:26PM

    @Adeel Ahmad: Dear Mr Ahmed i have never seen such a short sharp comment that has covered the subject so well. I totally agree with you.

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  • Oct 12, 2011 - 4:36PM

    An excellent article

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  • Ali
    Oct 12, 2011 - 4:52PM

    It is an enlightening piece of writing by Ejaz. “Traitor”, “Kafir”, “agent”….such term has been coined and used in our society to block the rational approach in the county… but we need to be persistent to educate the people.

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  • Hasan Mehmood
    Oct 12, 2011 - 5:45PM

    @EoH:
    Why should I be subjected to black Taliban Shariah and Khan lives westernized life himself?!

    Thats the crux of matter. I generally respect Khan and would respect him more if he agrees to stop his sisters working / going outside as part of a grand peace deal he is consistently advocating.

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  • Yasir Mehmood
    Oct 12, 2011 - 6:54PM

    Sir agreed except the fact that I watched Iftikhar’s programme you misqouted the poll results majority voted for defence budget reduction almost 70%

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  • Pashtun
    Oct 12, 2011 - 7:49PM

    The anchor who started this whole thing against Najam Sethi,just watch his depth of knowledge,his arrogant conduct,his conspiracy theories and his lack of knowledge about history,political science,philosophy,Pakistan studies,Dinyat,world events etc etc.I am amazed that how come such an ignorant,self righteous and arrogant man is the anchor of a prime time show?This also reflects on the mentality of people of Punjab,believe me no one know him in KPK,FATA,Balochistan and Sindh.

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  • maqbool
    Oct 12, 2011 - 9:48PM

    now now… this is what happens when you write an open letter to Generals. The deep state gets back to you. Under pressure or threats you agree that in future you would only write keeping in mind the deep interests. Does it come to anybody’s surprise that shortly after the “open letter” article the author has taken a U turn in his articles? No matter what, I love your articles and hope your pen will be free. You are way too good, constructive as well as destructive.

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  • Arifq
    Oct 12, 2011 - 10:08PM

    I fully endorse Ejaz Haider on his views but would also like to remind him of the sacrifices people have to pay for democracy, rule of law and freedom of speech. A few phone calls should not or should I say cannot intimidate seasoned journalists like yourself and the esteemd Najam Sethi. Like many other concerned citizens, i believe there is more to these threats and dear Ejaz has been careful in his disclosures, we deserve to know more. Thanks

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  • Mukhtar Ahmed
    Oct 12, 2011 - 10:16PM

    Every one is free to express his views but it does not give you license to attack the existence of Pakistan Majority of so called anchors have had no training by the way any one who abuses government and criticizes army is big anchor We all know Indian propaganda machine including few TV anchors in Pakistan negatively commented that Chinese Deputy Prime Minister’s visit to Pakistan when US Gen accused Pakistan government’ for allegedly supporting Taliban in Afghanistan was not to express solidarity with Pakistan during period of crisis but to issue a warning to Pakistan for training terrorists who create trouble in Xingjan Province of China.Was the anchor part of Chinese delegation?Is it national interest? What would you call such persons?I leave it your judgement Pl don’t create misunderstandings and better to keep quiet if you have no point.China is our all season and time friend.Have pity on this countryRecommend

  • Nitin
    Oct 12, 2011 - 10:17PM

    I agree with lot of folks here. Najam Sethi is easily one of the best journalists in whole of south asia. I hate saying this (being an Indian) – I do not think any other journalist in India even comes close to Najam Sethi in terms of being balanced and far sighted

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  • Vikas S
    Oct 12, 2011 - 11:51PM

    I agree with lot of folks here. Najam Sethi is jewel of South Asia, I am an Indian and I dont see any journolist here even 10% as talented and visionary than Najam Sethi. Wish he was born in India…he would have definitly got Bharat Ratna.. Sad, that few Pakistanis are not respecting such a rare talent :(

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  • Hassan
    Oct 13, 2011 - 9:16AM

    @Hasan Mehmood, i think you need to re reead the article that is exactly the kind of thought process the writer is speaking against. We are judging Imran and calling him names without debating or trying the proposed solution, we are happy in our current way of killing with gay abandon in the hope that maybe all the bad guys will eventually die and we will rid ourselves of this scourge. Trying the same thing again and again while expecting a different result isnt a strategy its madness my friend!!!!

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  • Oct 13, 2011 - 10:58AM

    @Hassan:
    Same excuse as Imran Khan.. Recommend

  • saleem
    Oct 13, 2011 - 10:58AM

    Isn’t,is obvious that people who usually are intolerant, aggressive, hardline, militant are also mostly religious extremists, this phenomena is similar among hindu, jewish christian and muslim religious extremists, somehow they also hide behind the facade of nationalism.One can read and gauze this from comments in indian, pakistani arab and international newspapers and websites. Recommend

  • Oct 13, 2011 - 11:01AM

    @Hassan:

    As ever, Hassan, you have not responded to his real question. Why should I be subjected to corporal punishments by Taliban when Imran Khan himself is living a modern life?

    There is no room for Taliban Shariah in Pakistan. Hassan has not explain anything just the lame surrender theory.Recommend

  • antanu
    Oct 13, 2011 - 6:21PM

    @gp65:

    Extremism persist in all parts of the globe. Why…the other day Indian SC lawyer Bhushan was beaten in his chamber for his opinion in Kashmir. Well this does not make all Indian extremist…so is the case with Pakistan.But the problem is a case like NAJAM SETHI is repeated umpteenth time but a BHUSHAN does not deserve an space in next edition of the media.

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  • observer
    Oct 14, 2011 - 10:42AM

    @EH

    Your point about ‘not needing maamas’ is well taken.

    Now the issue is, What do we do with all the unwanted maamas that we already have amidst us?

    For example what do we do with the ‘analyst’ at war with SAFMA.
    And even more importantly, What do we do with the invitations to tea from certain quarters?

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