KARACHI: Literature and politics intertwined on the third day of the Karachi Literature Festival when veteran journalist Najam Sethi enthralled the audience in a refreshingly candid session filled with scintillating revelations and soothsayer-like predictions.
The indomitable impact of literature on the formative mind of a young Najam Sethi occurred during his first few months in England, when Frantz Fanon’s classic treatise on de-colonisation titled “Wretched of the earth,” transformed his world view.
“The Pakistan I grew up in and the Pakistan my children eventually grew up in was very different — we were the radicalised anti-Vietnam generation,” said Sethi.
“When my children would ask me to tell them a story, I would tell them of this doctor who loved children and ran a hospital for them — Che Guevara,” he added, narrating how the idealism and hope of those years informed his politics, and eventually his journalism.
Reminiscing about the initial stirrings which led him to a career in journalism, Sethi said, “I was imprisoned for the second time in 1984. When my wife told me that no newspaper had written about my abduction, I resolved to start a newspaper one day, which would speak for the voiceless in our country.”
“Citizens have a right to know the truth, which is why I feel that Julian Assange did the right thing when he made Wikileaks public, it allowed us to see the truth of our political elite,” said Sethi, noting that the private lives of public officials are open to scrutiny, within accepted norms of propriety.
Confessing that his friends in the highest echelons of the government, military and judiciary routinely shed light on the machinations of politics, Sethi revealed, “I once used the English phrase ‘a little bird told me’ for one of my sources, the term instantly caught the imagination of my listeners and since then my sources were referred to as chiryas (birds).”
When the session was opened for questions, a hearty laughter rang across the marquee when Chief Election Commissioner Fakhruddin G Ebrahim asked: “So what do your chiryas say about the forthcoming elections?”
Directing his response at the CEC, Sethi said, “The challenge will come after elections, if you stay firm and continue on the path of elections no one can undermine you. Fate has brought you to preside over the future of the country. You must be the strong.”
Sethi predicted that forces not in favour of a democratic government would exert pressure to extend the life of the caretaker government.
Asked to comment on the Balochistan crisis, Sethi said, “A narrative of deep-seated Baloch grievances exists and has been fed by successive military and democratic governments. However, a new dimension of separatism has now been added to this narrative and unfortunately violent repression grows when separatism takes root.” The solution lies in elections and mainstreaming Baloch parties, he added.
Later, while talking to The Express Tribune regarding upcoming elections, the CEC said he was not worried about the elections being delayed.
“I don’t have any apprehensions about the elections, I fear Muslims killing Muslims in the Islamic republic of Pakistan. No outside pressure has been exerted on me so far, and if the law and Constitution are not followed I will step down,” he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 18th, 2013.