Najam Sethi, according to some of his “urban liberal” colleagues (some of whom are employees/columnists of The Friday Times or Daily Times), is one of the most credible name in Pakistani journalism today. While the myth of Mr. Sethi’s credibility has been effectively shattered elsewhere, the aim of this post is to examine one last urban legend which is uncritically circulated about Mr. Sethi’s valuable services in the Balochistan movement in 1970s.
The legend is: Sethi bravely fought with the people of Balochistan in their struggle against the military establishment in 1970s. The reality, however, is much different, which was stated by none other than Asad Rehman, a veteran writer and political activist, who was himself a part of the Balochistan resistance movement.
Asad Rehman was a member of the Balochi resistance during the 1970s. Originally from Lahore, he and a number of his contemporaries (including Najam Sethi and Ahmad Rashid) supported the Balochi nationalist struggle. Asad Rehman spent a lot of time in Balochistan, and also fought against the Pakistan Army.
Here is a link to an interview of his (he rarely speaks to the media), which reveals a lot about Najam Sethi’s dubious role in the Baloch struggle, that how Sethi conveniently informed military about his own location in Balochistan and was rescued by a military chopper, after which he severed all connections with the Balochistan resistance movement. Whether Sethi’s rescue on a military chopper was an outcome of his NRO with Pakistan army or was he an army plant right from the beginning is something we would leave to the best judgement of the critical readers.
Here is a relevant extract from Asad Rehman’s interview:
Q: Who were the prominent members of the London Group?
Asad Rehman (AR): There was Najam Sethi, Ahmed Rashid, my brother, Rashid Rehman, Dilip Dass. These are the people who originally came to support the Balochistan movement. These are the names I am willing to disclose because they are well-known as having played a part in the Balochistan movement.
AR: In December 1978, Zia disbanded the Hyderabad Tribunal case and released all the Baloch leaders. Najam Sethi had been arrested in 1976. He was also in the jail and released with the Baloch and Pashtun leaders.
Q: How was Najam Sethi captured?
AR: He made a “very stupid” move –I call it a “stupid move”. As the cover we had in Karachi, Rashid was running an automobile workshop while Najam was with some architects and development consultants. Najam persuaded them to bid for some development projects in Marri area under Bhutto’s government. In the meanwhile, some people from the original London Group had been arrested from Karachi. They disclosed the names of all of us. He had at that time gone to Quetta and was flying in a military helicopter to go and see the site of a project that they wanted to build.
Q: How did he get into a “military helicopter” as you people were already fighting against the military?
AR: Now that is the whole question. We don’t know. Maybe the government gave them the consultancy and asked the army to take him there. I don’t know. The benefit of doubt has to be given over there. In any case, the message was sent to the pilot of the helicopter that Najam was flying in. Hence, the pilot turned back to Quetta where they arrested Najam and took him to the Hyderabad jail. After that, he had no role whatsoever in the Balochistan movement of the 1970s.