Ghosts, Goblins, and Shaheen Sehbai's Cloudy Crystal Ball

Shaheen SehbaiI will admit, what Shaheen Sehbai lacks in facts he certainly makes up for in tenacity. That man is relentless! Having spent some time reading the Wikileaks database, he has figured out a way to justify all of his mistakes over the past two years. But when you boil down Sehbai’s column to its essence, you find that no matter how hard he wishes, there is still no meat in the pot.

According to Shaheen Sehbai today:

The ghosts say when Ambassador Patterson conveyed the minus-1 formula to Washington, the delayed reaction was indifference and almost a tacit approval as if people would be much relieved if that happened in a constitutional or legal way, without direct military intervention or takeover.

This is essentially the same as what Sehbai wrote before:

The State Department, specifically Hillary Clinton, has almost categorically declared that they are no longer interested in saving President Asif Ali Zardari if he falls in his current battle for survival, waging in the superior courts of Pakistan.

Here is what the secret US diplomatic cable actually says:

3. (C) During Ambassador’s fourth meeting in a week with Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Kayani on March 10, he again hinted that he might, however reluctantly, have to persuade President Zardari to resign if the situation sharply deteriorates. He mentioned Asfundyar Wali Khan as a possible replacement. This would not be a formal coup but would leave in place the PPP government led by PM Gilani, thus avoiding elections that likely would bring Nawaz Sharif to power. We do not believe Army action is imminent. We do believe Kayani was laying down a clear marker so that, if he has to act, he can say he warned the U.S. in advance and gave us ample opportunities to pressure both sides to back down. Kayani is trying to leverage what he considers predominate U.S. influence over Zardari, instead of seeking a direct confrontation that could provoke an unhelpful civil-military clash.

Do you see the glaring problem here? Despite Shaheen Sehbai’s most wishful thinking, the fact remains that the cable says something completely different from Sehbai’s reporting. Actually, it says that Gen. Kayani ‘hinted’ to the US Ambassador Anne Patterson that he might have to ‘reluctantly’ persuade President Zardari to resign “if the situation sharply deteriorates” in the hopes that the Americans would influence the president to not make any mistakes. The cable concludes with a statement by the US Ambassador, “Zardari needs to win back the military’s confidence.” That’s a far cry from Zardari being removed by the Army with the blessing of the US State Department.

What the document doesn’t say is that the Army is planning a minus-1 ‘soft coup’. Neither does it say that the Americans approve – tacitly or otherwise – such a plan.

To understand this better, consider a topic besides back-room political dealings. Without having any contacts in the military or being privy to any secrets, it is probably safe to assume that there are contingency plans with both the Pakistani and Indian armies for the event of a nuclear war. These plans are, of course, discussed between the military and intelligence so that “if the situation sharply deteriorates”, no one is caught unaware.

But it would be beyond the pale to make the leap from, “the army has considered what could happen in a ‘worst-case’ scenario” to declaring that Pakistan and India will be in a nuclear war any day now. This is the style of Shaheen Sehbai – wishful thinking packaged in sensationalism. All spice and no meat.

What does begin to reveal itself, though, is how Shaheen Sehbai has been made a puppet of certain factions within the establishment who feed him rumours and leaks that they know he will package and publish in a manner useful to their plans. Perhaps these elements of the establishment must feel that Sehbai is not clever enough to realize the actual situation, or perhaps Sehabi is a willing participant.

What is clear is that Shaheen Sehbai is quite selective about his facts, carefully choosing certain sources who he is willing to believe without question – he calls these ‘ghosts’, and certain others whose statements he dismisses out of hand as nothing but cronyism – what he calls ‘power players’ but are clearly the ‘goblins’ in his fantasy tale. To Sehbai, the statements of these ‘ghosts’ that follow Pervez Musharraf to New York City are like gold form the tongues of Angels, while those who dare suggest that Sehabi does not have all the facts are merely ‘anti-Army zealots’ – a curious charge from a man with a well documented record of anti-Army headlines of his own. Of course, the fact that the tiger has changed his stripes now is simply another example of the double-standard that Shaheen Sehbai uses for himself.

It should also be noted that this is the same Shaheen Sehabi who wrote an article on 22 October 1999 for Dawn that describes Pakistan as a “patient” and Pervez Musharraf as the “surgeon”, and who wrote earlier this year that his sources for information about Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry were “circles close to General Musharraf in London and Washington”. It seems that these ghosts of Musharraf are sitting squarely on Shaheen Sehbai’s shoulders and whispering directly in his ears.

Shaheen Sehbai, having read through the Wikileaks database, has decided that his predictions over the two year past are vindicated because the American diplomatic cables have revealed that there are disagreements and tensions in the Pakistani government. He is encouraged by the ghosts of Pervez Musharraf.

Shaheen Sehbai writes almost 2,000 words describing an establishment and a political class deeply distrustful and suspicious of each other. Again, not exactly ground-breaking news there. But Sehbai conveniently ignores the facts – that the evidence in the Wikileaks cables proves that his predictions and his reporting were wrong from the very beginning.

Despite writing over two years ago that “the present Zardari-led set-up will not last long”, Asif Zardari remains president, and the PPP remains in government. Undeterred by an inconvenient reality, Shaheen Sehabi concludes his 2,000 words by making the same prediction he has been making since before day one – that Zardari will be removed from government.

It appears Shaheen Sehbai is using what is called the ‘broken clock strategy’ since even a broken clock is correct twice a day. Obviously, someday Zardari will not be president of Pakistan. It could be in 2013, it could be 2018…it could be sooner or later. But Sehbai knows that as long as he keeps predicting that Zardari is leaving office, eventually he will be correct. Rest assured that the day Zardari leaves office, Shaheen Sehbai will pen a column declaring himself vindicated again.

In the meantime, you’ll get better news by looking out your windows than Shaheen Sehabi gets from his crystal ball. And you won’t have to read 2,000 words to get it.

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One Response to “Ghosts, Goblins, and Shaheen Sehbai's Cloudy Crystal Ball”

  1. Mujtaba Ahmed says:

    The sagacious leadership of Pakistan People’s Party under President Asif Ali Zardari has brought Pakistan back from the brink with the help of all political parties represented in the Parliament. This country has barely started to become a nation but people like Sehbai have their own childish wishes which are contrary to the integrity of the country. We wish that Mr. Sehbai comes out of that Sehba and starts looking at the world in realistic terms. Mr. Sehbai is advised to correct his knowledge of political science as people of Pakistan, and not Pakistan Army, are the ultimate arbiters. He is further advised not to drag institutions of national security into his petty grudges. This will not serve any one. Mr. Sehbai should understand that journalism is not just about getting an office of profit which according to some insiders he strived hard for and started this ‘churnalism’ as revenge when the Government showed its inability to accommodate him. He should also know that he may get an official position in Washington (from where he claims to be editing a daily newspaper published from Pakistani cities) in a non-representative dispensation but such an adventurism would have disastrous consequences for the integrity of the country.

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