By Rajiv Jayaram
September 11, 2018
Within three weeks of proclaiming the dawn of a tolerant, meritorious inclusive and progressive ‘new’ Pakistan by Prime Minister Imran Khan, the strongest evidence that the promise is bunk is in the public domain.
The forced exit of Dr Atif R. Mian — a Princeton University economist of international repute — from the government’s newly-constituted Economic Advisory Council within a few days of his appointment last week comes as a rude shock to anyone who believed Imran Khan’s all too frequent pitch that “this is my promise: Jinnah’s Pakistan, a new Pakistan”. The reason was that Dr Mian belonged to the Ahmadi faith, a minority community in Pakistan.
Dr Mian has been forced to step down from the Council by the government after a vicious hate campaign by far-right religious groups threatened to sweep the PTI government off with a crisis in which capitulation to the extremists would have been the only way out. The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government’s sudden decision to drop Dr Matin came hours after facile attempts to defend his appointment, saying that Pakistan “belongs to minorities as much as it belongs to the majority” and “we will not bow to extremists”.
The forced removal of the economist highlights the shamelessness and cowardice of Pakistani rulers, both civilian and military, when the gauntlet has been thrown down by religious fundamentalists.
The Ahmadis were declared non-Muslims in Pakistan through a controversial constitutional amendment passed in 1974 during the tenure of democratic elected Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. In 1984, through the infamous Ordinance XX of the Pakistan Penal Code, Gen Ziaul Haq, the military dictator who overthrew Bhutto and hanged him, made it a punishable offence for Ahmadis to call themselves Muslim or to refer to their faith as Islam.
The removal of Dr Mian ignited a firestorm of protests among Pakistani academics settled abroad. On September 8, London-based economist Imran Rasul has become the second member of the Economic Advisory Council to resign in protest against the exclusion of the US-based academic, saying that basing decisions on religious affiliation “goes against my principles or the values I am trying to teach my children.” Earlier, Dr Asim Ijaz Khwaja, professor of international finance and development at the Harvard Kennedy School, announced his decision to resign from the council, expressing similar sentiments.
This is a terrible setback just at the dawn of ‘new’ Pakistan the Imran Khan government is supposedly trying to build from August 18. From now, Prime Minister Khan should be better advised to think thrice before mouthing ‘new Pakistan’ and ‘Jinnah’s Pakistan’ because this is a setback the government will find it hard to recover from. The religious right has scored a resounding victory by just trying to test the new government.
The Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan, the religious group that took leadership position against the appointment from a man from the Ahmadi community to an advisory role in government, is widely believed to be a party formed and mainstreamed at the military establishment’s behest in 2015. However, the party bitten the dust in the July general elections, like all other religious parties, and had lost face. Therefore, it might seem that the government had no reason at all to surrender to religious fundamentalists and parties representing them. However, it is another stark reminder of their nuisance value and street power that the government had no alternative but to surrender meekly to their demand.
Before bowing down to pressure from religious groups, the Pakistan government has defended the move, saying Prof Mian was appointed as a member of the Economic Advisory Council and not the Council of Islamic Ideology. However, it was not how the appointment was viewed even by political parties which claim to be mainstream and win most votes in elections.
In a sign of intolerance in society, no mainstream parties defended the government’s appointment of a person of international repute from the minority community in government. Worse, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), the ruling party until May this year and the strongest opposition party now, was one of the parties that moved the call attention notice submitted in Parliament against the Dr Mian’s appointment.
Pakistan is dire economic crisis at present, which has prompted it to contemplate seeking another bailout package from the IMF. Even another bailout would be a respite unless the government moves to correct the perennial structural and macroeconomic anomalies in the country’s economy. In announcing his resignation from the Council on September 8, Dr Rasul rued that “if there was one academic on the EAC that Pakistan needs, it was him [Atif Mian]”.
How sad that the ‘new’ Pakistan is likely to be much like the old one.
DISCLAIMER: Views expressed above are the author's own.