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Unceremonious Removal of Ahmadi Economist Shows the End of Meritocracy in Pakistan

By Yasser Latif Hamdani

8 September, 2018

The unceremonious removal of Princeton economist Atif Mian by PM Imran Khan shows the end of meritocracy in Pakistan.

Atif Mian, the great Princeton economist who was unceremoniously removed from his position on Imran Khan government’s Economic Advisory Council, is not the one who lost out. It is Pakistan’s loss.

The story of Pakistan’s Ahmadis starts long before the creation of the country.  The Ahmaddiya Movement that started as a response to Christian missionary efforts in the late 19th century found many admirers amongst other Muslim sects. Allama Iqbal, the renowned Muslim philosopher, was an admirer of the founder of the Ahmadi movement and is rumoured to have joined it for a while as well before turning viciously vehemently and vociferously against it. Maulana Azad, the great Islamic scholar, considered the Ahmadis to be “Ghulat” i.e. a group that has transgressed the boundaries of divine faith but nonetheless is reported to have mourned the death of the founder of the Ahmadi movement.

When the Muslim League and Congress turned into bitter enemies in the late 1930s, Ahmadis soon became the subject of this tussle. Even though Jawaharlal Nehru had defended Ahmadis in a public exchange with Iqbal, Congress through Maulana Azad actively encouraged the anti-Ahmadi group Majlis-e-Ahrar-e-Islam, led by fanatics like Ataullah Shah Bukhari and Azhar Ali Mazhar, to attack the Muslim League for having Ahmadis amongst its members.

There was an Iqbalian group within the Punjab chapter of the Muslim League that wanted Ahmadis out as well.  They tried to introduce an oath that would require every elected member to work to get Ahmadis declared Non-Muslim. At this point, Jinnah intervened and resisted. The Punjab Muslim League’s oath was quietly shelved.

Jinnah unequivocally assured Ahmadis that they would be treated at par with any other Muslim sect. Jinnah himself was from a minority sect within Islam, and was mindful of the fact that this would open a can of worms that would damage Muslim solidarity like no other question. Jinnah’s close confidante and colleague was Zafarullah Khan, a leading Ahmadi lawyer, whose memo became the basis of Lahore Resolution. Majlis-e-Ahrar and even Maulana Madani of Jamiat-e-Ulema Hind continued to denounce Jinnah not just for his Westernised lifestyle but for having Ahmadis as his close advisers and as employees of his newspaper Dawn.

Principled Stance

Ahmadis were not the only target of their wrath. When Jinnah appointed Pothan Joseph, a Syrian Christian, as the editor of Dawn, Maulana Madani denounced it saying that Jinnah was a secularist and unfit to lead the Muslims. In May 1944, when Jinnah went to Kashmir, he was inundated with queries about the Ahmadis, especially the Qadiani subsect of the group. On 23 May 1944, Jinnah said that Muslim League was open to all Muslims and that his advice was not to raise such sectarian issues because it would hurt not just Muslims but all communities in Kashmir and India.

It was because of this principled stance that Ahmadis threw in their lot with Jinnah and the Muslim League.

Jinnah’s other main supporter was Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmood, the 2ndCaliph of the Ahmaddiya Community and Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s son. In 1946 elections, Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmood advised all of his followers to vote en masse for the Muslim League. During Partition, Mahmood moved his entire body of followers to Pakistan. When the Kashmir war broke out between Pakistan and India, it was the Ahmadi community that cooperated with the Pakistan Army and set up Furqan Battalion comprising entirely of Ahmadi youth to fight alongside the Pakistan Army in Kashmir. The services of the Battalion were recognised and there is a letter from the Pakistan Army praising their services.

Zafarullah Khan, a barrister, had been a president of the Muslim League in the 1930s.  His direct association with Jinnah came during the roundtable conferences. Jinnah called him a Muslim and praised his efforts in negotiating a trade deal for India in 1939. It was Zafarullah who represented United India in the inaugural sessions of the UN. Later, Jinnah acquired his services as a lawyer to represent Muslim League at the boundary commission hearings in Punjab, a job that even Zafarullah’s opponents praised him for.

Since Zafarullah was also the advisor to the Nawab of Bhopal, Jinnah wrote to the Nawab to release him from his duties because he was needed as a wise and trustworthy lieutenant. To M.A.H. Ispahani in New York, Jinnah wrote that there was no person more able and talented than Zafarullah who was needed in Pakistan immediately. In December 1947, Zafarullah returned to Pakistan to become its first foreign minister. Despite considerable pressure, Jinnah didn’t budge even an inch. At that time, Jinnah was also criticised for inducting a Scheduled Caste Hindu as Pakistan’s first law minister –Jogendra Nath Mandal. After Jinnah died, Mandal was ultimately driven out of the government in 1950. However on Zafarullah Khan, the government remained steadfast.

More Victims

Majlis-e-Ahrar, now having re-grouped after its pre-Partition defeat, started a nationwide movement to oust Zafarullah from the government and to declare Ahmadis Non-Muslim. Prime Minister Khawaja Nazimuddin, a Jinnah loyalist from East Pakistan, refused to accede even though he personally had no love for Ahmadis or their doctrine.

Ahmadis thus continued to enjoy the privileges as equal citizens including the right to identify as Muslims. Abdus Salam, Pakistan’s leading physicist and scientist, joined the Pakistan government and founded the Pakistani space agency. Under his guidance, Pakistan became one of the few countries in Asia to send a satellite into space in early 1960s. He also founded Pakistan’s atomic energy commission and trained a generation of Pakistani physicists. He was the Chief Science Advisor in the Pakistan government till September 1974 when he resigned in protest over the 2nd Constitutional Amendment brought by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party government to appease the Mullahs. Pakistan’s National Assembly had just voted to declare the entire Ahmadi community out of the fold of Islam. Majlis-e-Ahrar-e-Islam and Jamaat-e-Islami had finally won. Meanwhile, Salam went on to win the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1979.

One more victim of this policy was Mirza Muzaffar Ahmad, another Ahmadi educated at Oxford University. A leading civil servant, he opted for Pakistan in 1947. He was Pakistan’s most successful secretary of finance and later went on to become the chief advisor. In 1971, he was stabbed by a religious fanatic called Aslam Qureshi after which he joined the World Bank, living out the rest of his life in Washington DC.  Qureshi became an instant hero to the anti-Ahmadi groups in Pakistan and it was none other than Senator Zafarul Haq of Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN) who organised his legal defence and then used his disappearance as an excuse to get General Zia ul Haq to promulgate the infamous Ordinance XX of 1984, which outlaws religious practice and freedom of the Ahmadis.

Downward Graph

The list is long of Ahmadis who tried to serve Pakistan but were murdered in cold blood.

Ahmadis have served the country on the battlefield as well, often without recognition. Major General Iftikhar Janjua, for example, was for the longest time the only Pakistani general to die in battle for Pakistan. Then there were heroes like General Abdul Ali Malik and his brother General Akhtar Ali Malik. Abdul Ali Malik won the famous tank battle of Chawinda. Akhtar Ali Malik is said to have been on verge of taking Kashmir when Ayub Khan removed him from command replacing him with Yahya Khan, who was a poor military tactician. Pakistan Air Force too had many heroes, including Air Marshal Zafar Chaudhry. Ahmadis built Pakistan, and helped it survived.

The downward graph of Pakistan has interestingly followed Ahmadis’ marginalisation. This is not because Ahmadis are the only ones talented but because their marginalisation has also meant the end of meritocracy in Pakistan.

Pakistan will continue to lose unless it reverts to Jinnah’s wise words that religion caste or creed has nothing to do with the business of the state.

Yasser Latif Hamdani is a lawyer and former visiting fellow at Harvard Law School for religious freedom.