Major (retd) Ikram Sehgal is not an ordinary columnist. He is the owner of Pathfinder
G4S, a company that employs 15,000 people, most of whom are retired military personnel. He recently bought out the shares of global giant G4S in Wackenhut’s Pakistan operation for a sum he failed to disclose in his Press Release to the Pakistan press.
Another factoid he did not reveal was that Bank Al-Falah, whom he thanked for making the deal possible, includes Mr. Sehgal as one of its directors.
According to London’s Financial Times, Mr. Sehgal paid around $10 million for the transaction.
Anyone with direct interest in the security business, who just bought out his partners with financing from a bank of which he is a director, should be careful not to pretend that his views on political matters are devoid of any personal interest. But Mr. Sehgal continues to write columns in The News as if he is a disinterested and legitimate policy analyst. Occasionally he also wants to exercise the “right” to pronounce on the patriotism of his fellow Pakistanis. And although he never desists from invoking his stint in the Pakistan army, he does not seem to like using his retirement rank as is common for army officers who write in Pakistani newspapers.
Recently Major ® Sehgal converted an address he gave at The East-West Institute in the U.S. into a two-part column. He seems to visit the U.S. frequently possibly because he has close family in the States. But he also wants to create the impression that he was invited to speak at some professional U.S. think-tank. The 2-part column based on his presentation at The East-West Institute was an obvious attempt at showing that these are the bright ideas he dazzled his audience with.
But, wait, Mr. Sehgal is also a Director of the East-West Institute.
Is he a Director there because of his intellectual brilliance or because he contributes money to the Institute? We do not know the answer to that question because the tagline on his column fails even to tell us of his connection to the Institute. Talk about lack of transparency and credentials inflation!!!!
In this two-part column Mr. Sehgal gives a detailed argument for why U.S.-Pakistan relations but not be broken even though no one has ever suggested that the two countries break off relations.
He refers to General Musharraf’s policies and his relationship with the US in the following terms: “His failure to negotiate a better deal with the US defined the subservience of the US master-Pakistan slave relationship.” According to Mr. Sehgal, “Instead of negotiating reasonable transit fees as well as adequate compensation for the degradation of our physical infra-structure like ports, roads and railways, what we did get for the slaughter of our soldiers and citizens was ‘conditional aid’.”
Mr. Sehgal says this today but in earlier articles he praised Musharraf as a “statesman.” The Pakistan Defence Journal, which is also owned by Mr. Sehgal, he listed all his articles praising the erstwhile military dictator and captioned these collected works “A Professional Soldier Becomes a Statesman”
In an article written in 2001 titled “Great Expectations,” he talks about being invited to meet with President Musharraf and how impressed he was by Musharraf’s working style. There was no mention of any conversation in which Mr. Sehgal informed Musharraf of his ‘flawed’ policy towards the U.S.
He simply heaped praise on Musharraf, no ifs and buts and certainly no mention of a short-sighted or flawed approach to dealings with the United States. Talking of a meeting arranged for opinion-makers with Musharraf, Mr. Sehgal wrote:
“Being invited to one such session, one expected at best a one-way monologue and self-justification on the newly anointed President’s part at taking this historic initiative. It was a revelation to find that a self-confident Pervez Musharraf was interested in genuine dialogue, that his mind was open to ideas and suggestions and that he had no ego problems. The result was, discounting the odd flattery from the traditional flatterers, a comprehensive debate between very interested participants where a virtual plethora of ideas were mooted and analyzed in open discussion, without rancour. What the President got in return was quite a few converts and a tremendous consensus. Making believers out of such disparate groups and individuals is no mean achievement. As a public relations exercise, the consultations series was outstanding, the resultant welding of the mandate behind the President nothing short of brilliant.”
In an article written in 2003 titled “”Civilizing” Parliament, “Civilianizing” Musharraf”, Mr. Sehgal asserted: “the fact remains that Pervez Musharraf has been an outstanding leader in most excruciating geo-political and domestic circumstances, that he did not take the easy route by taking tough measures associated normally with martial law speaks volumes for his self-confidence and maturity, a world class performance.”
In 2006 in repeated posts and blogs titled “Unkindest cut of all” and “A Time to Unite”, Mr. Sehgal asserted that there was a “well-orchestrated western media attack against Musharraf and Pakistan.” He made the argument that any criticism of Musharraf and his policies was a criticism of Pakistan as though the two were one and the same.
As late as 2008 Mr. Sehgal was part of a panel which hosted then Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and President Musharraf and the latter repeatedly referred to Mr. Sehgal as “my friend Ikram Sehgal”.
Where do Ikram Sehgal’s friendships and business interests end and an objective columnist emerge? And if Mr. Sehgal is not objective, why not say so? After all, it is perfectly legitimate for businessmen to run advertisements or sponsor a point of view as long as they declare that is what they’re doing. Hidden agendas have no place in a newspaper, including in its oped pages.
In his 2-part column on U.S.-Pakistan relations, Mr. Sehgal’s main purpose seems to be to discredit the civilian government and its former ambassador to the U.S. While criticizing the way that Musharraf had dealt with the USG and saying how the US had ‘used’ Pakistan, he was also making an appeal to the US government to continue supporting Pakistan’s military-intelligence establishment.
A major technique of Mr. Sehgal is to address an important or powerful individual to get his attention. This time he states that former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had “belatedly recognised Pakistan’s crucial role” and he asserts: “Can the US do without the Pakistan Army in the vacuum that will occur by the end of 2014 now?” This is not the first time that Mr. Sehgal has done that.
As pointed out by PMW in 2009 ‘American Contractor Praises Clinton: A Conflict of Interest?’ in two columns published in The News ‘Just Say No’ and ‘The Ultimate Defining Moment’, Mr. Sehgal singled out Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and her efforts for praise. As pointed out in that PMW piece we believe when Mr. Sehgal wrote this piece he should have been upfront and come clean about his own ties. Mr. Sehgal was head of SMS Security Company which was at that time tied up with Wackenhut Services, a US-based private security services provider. Wackenhut-SMS were one of the contractors who provide security to the American embassy and to Americans in Pakistan. And yet Mr. Sehgal refused to point out that there was a ‘conflict of interest’ in his acclaim for the head of the State department.
In a column written in 2010 titled “The Strategic Dialogue” Mr. Sehgal praised his close friend, Shuja Nawaz, who runs the South Asia Center at The Atlantic Council and claimed:
“What a wonderful ambassador for Pakistan in the US this outstanding and credible intellectual would make!” What Mr. Sehgal did not realize was that Mr. Nawaz is an American citizen and hence cannot be appointed as Ambassador to the US.
Soon after this column Mr. Sehgal has regularly been invited to speak at events at The Atlantic Council. Was his praise for Mr. Nawaz a solicitation for the invitation to speak?
What comes out very clearly is that Mr. Sehgal uses his columns to portray his views as opinions, to praise people he likes and label as unpatriotic people he doesn’t like at a personal level. One of the people he has often criticized in a personal way is former Ambassador of Pakistan to the US Husain Haqqani. In his latest offering. Mr. Sehgal makes the allegation that during his ambassadorship, Ambassador Haqqani acted against Pakistan’s army and against the ISI. He also termed Professor Haqqani’s recent article in Foreign Affairs titled “Breaking up is not hard to do” as “clearly anti-state.”
In his 2010 article titled “The Strategic Dialogue” in which Mr. Sehgal praised and recommend Mr. Shuja Nawaz as a potential ambassadorial choice, he also remarked about Mr. Haqqani: “In contrast, the present incumbent is not worthy of comment. With such people representing Pakistan in a crucial country like the US, what does Pakistan expect in a strategic dialogue?” He clearly does not like the former ambassador.
Mr. Sehgal has the right to disagree with someone’s views and policies but he does not have the right to label people unpatriotic, anti-state or anti-Pakistan. How does Haqqani or anyone else become unpatriotic or anti-state simply by writing a journal article on policy related issues even if his policy recommendation is not what Mr. Sehgal would like to see? Does that not presuppose that there is only one possible foreign policy for a country, the one supported by the State establishment, and proposing anything else is treasonous or anti-State? Is that not what happens in Fascist and totalitarian states, not democratic ones?
More important, however, is the question: why should a businessman have the right to write articles praising or critiquing people without letting his readers have an equal right to know about all his business and other interests? Pakistan Media Watch has consistently written about the fact that Mr. Sehgal has always had a problem with disclosing relevant facts and conflicts of interest related to his business ventures when talking to the media. It is time The News asks him to be transparent about his dealings before acting as judge of other’s patriotism.