Why The Editor of The News Hates Pakistan’s President?

Aug 10th, 2009 | By | Category: Uncategorized

By Wasiq Ali
This article was written in response to Shaheen Sehbai’s article titled ‘The Limited Options of President Zardari’ on Jul 22, 2009

Regular readers of the Pakistani newspaper The News would by now know what is patently obvious. The paper’s group editor Mr. Shaheen Sehbai does not like President Asif Zardari and is anxious for the establishment to get rid of him. The question, however, is whether Mr. Sehbai is analyzing things as they are or projecting his wishes as a scenario.

Some of the criticism made by Mr. Sehbai is, of course, well within the boundaries of reporting. Others have also written about the Zardari government’s mistakes in choice of personnel and options. But no one speaks with certainty of the imminent collapse– the physical removal (hanging? murder?) of Pakistan’s elected President like Mr Sehbai. His writings reveal a pathological hatred of the man, something like the crazy and abusive postings on some blogs with clear ties to parties like Jamaat-e-Islami and Tehrik-e-Insaf.

Let us look at the headlines of Mr. Sehbai’s analyses published over the last 15 months. On May 24, 2008, his article was captioned,”Why Zardari has now jumped on Musharraf.” In this article he propounded his theory about how Zardari had been reluctant to take on Musharraf for personal reasons, ignoring the facts of the PPP leader’s gradual approach to securing democracy.

Then on August 29, 2008, he claimed that “a grave threat perception is fast developing in Islamabad’s key powers centers around Asif Zardari’s attempt to occupy the Presidency”. This was done in an article titled “Zardari has forced a confused establishment to decide quickly.” Quite clearly, Mr Sehbai was convinced that President Zardari was unacceptable to the establishment and that it would (or was it ‘should’) act against Mr. Zardari even before he became President.

On November 28, 2008, Mr. Sehbai’s situationer headlined “The winds blowing in Islamabad” once again spoke of strains between President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani and the undesirability of Mr. Zardari’s leadership. But the article in which Mr. Sehbai outdid himself was the one published on December26, 2008 under the headline “Zardari given enough rope to hang himself” – a reflection of extreme insensitivity given that a democratically elected Prime Minister had been hanged by the military establishment only three decades ago.

Now once again Mr. Sehbai is telling the nation that the countdown has begun for President Zardari. For all those who might be worried about the current government’s stability, here is the good news. Mr. Sehbai has a long history of predicting in very stark terms the demise of rulers who do not do as he advocates. His angry rantings disturb and disrupt but do not always materialize in concrete steps by anyone, including the actions of the establishment whose cause he implicitly advances.

Soon after General Musharraf took over the country in a military coup in September 1999, Mr. Sehbai drew up a laundry list of things he wanted Musharraf to do for “the sake of the country.”

In an article titled “The Patient and the Surgeon” published in Dawn on October 22, 1999, Mr. Sehbai described Pakistan as a patient and General Musharraf as the surgeon. Then he quoted some unnamed observers (most likely himself) as saying, “General Musharraf cannot dawdle and straggle any more as he is losing the critical strike time that could give him the advantage of an early sweep against the mafias and layers and layers of corrupt elements all over the place. His administration has a very soft face so far and this has not caused enough fear and panic in the ranks of the corrupt. Publicity of his image of a relaxed man sitting with his dogs may have waited until he had shown some results.”

Mr Sehbai’s article went on to advise Musharraf in language a bit like his earlier articles about Mr Zardari:

“He has been overawed by the responsibility he had taken on his shoulders and now he is trying to get a consensus on how to move forward. This is creating an impression that the general is not confident of what he is doing.

Unity and show of total solidarity with the general against a manipulative corrupt regime was one thing. Complete harmony in the military ranks on how he proceeds is another and the moment there is any sign of dissent, the general will be attacked by howling dogs from all over the place….He should immediately sign the CTBT…

“On accountability the General should ensure the credibility of the process and scrupulously maintain its transparency. How he can do that is by simultaneously initiating immediate investigations into all known and unknown scandals which involve the armed forces. The Ukraine tanks deal, the French submarines scandal and involvement of the naval officers in it, the PAF jets upgrades issue just before Benazir was sacked. Once he opens these cases, he can look into anyone’s bedroom and no one will raise a finger.

“He should keep every person, whether civilian or military, with even the lightest baggage, away from his administration. The moment he appoints someone with a controversial background, the Pandora’s Box of criticism will open and he will then not be able to handle it.

“He should understand that the forces that he has toppled were intact well entrenched mafias with deep roots and long arms. They may be on the run in the short run but the moment they get an opening, they will hit back with full force and with a vengeance.”

Mr Sehbai concluded with the dramatic words, very much like the ones he is now using about the imminent demise of the Zardari presidency:

“Gen Musharraf has the last available opportunity anyone will ever have to put this mess right. He has the best credentials that one requires, legally he has acquired all the needed powers, he has almost unanimous support of the people, he has total access to all records and data, he has all the culprits nailed, he can get services of all the best brains that he needs and, above all, he has all the time he wants. If he cannot do this surgery and waits endlessly on the operating table with a knife in his hand, the patient will die and there will be no second chance.”

That was in October 1999, ladies and gentlemen. Of course as everyone knows General Musharraf did not follow Shaheen Sehbai’s recipe and still went on to rule for 9 more years and Pakistan – the patient on whom Mr. Sehbai desperately sought surgery performed under his own able guidance – did not die. Pakistan is resilient and it needs a normal constitutional, democratic process. The process will sometimes result in incompetence and corruption but that can and will be taken care of within the system, not through surgery by the establishment under Mr Sehbai’s scheme.

Instead of being the permanent Prophet of Doom who wants to run the country from the shadow, perhaps Shaheen Sehbai should come out openly into the arena of politics and then his desire for cleaning up the country in his way with the help of the establishment can possibly be fulfilled. Until then, his writings will only be seen as part of the various power games that go on in Islamabad and involve many many shadowy characters of which Shaheen Sehbai is only one.

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