The way renowned economist Atif Mian has been forced to step down from the Economic Advisory Council (EAC) because of his Ahmadi faith has come as a huge disappointment for the PTI’s young, forward-looking supporters as well as all those worried about a few extremist elements dictating their terms to the government. Two other eminent economists, Dr Asim Ijaz Khwaja of the Harvard Kennedy School and Dr Imran Rasool of the University College London, have since resigned from the EAC expressing disgust over the government decision. Just three days before Prime Minister Imran Khan succumbed to the extremist lobby’s pressure his Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry had strongly defended the appointment of Dr Atif – only Pakistani included in the IMF’s top 25 brightest young economists – posing pertinent questions at a presser: “Should there be restrictions imposed on minorities in Pakistan?” “Should minorities in Pakistan be thrown out?” “What kind of people say things like this?” He went on to answer his own question: “They are basically extremists, and we will not bow to extremists.” Those very questions are now directed at his own party, in particular PM Imran Khan, for bowing down to the extremists, all the more so considering his oft-stated commitment to Quaid-e-Azam’s vision of Pakistan.
Also Read: EAC meets for the first time
In his landmark August 11, 1947 speech to the Constituent Assembly, the Quaid had averred, “you may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the state.” In the ‘Muslim homeland’ he created almost singlehandedly, he appointed a Hindu as law minister and an Ahmadi as foreign minister. It is worth recalling that the religious parties in the pre-Independence era had all opposed the struggle for Pakistan, arguing that Islam being a universal religion could not be confined to the boundaries of a nation-state. Ironical as it is, the successors of those same parties have become self-appointed defenders of the so-called ‘ideological frontiers’ of this country. In the present instance, the campaign against Dr Atif was started by MMA legislators moving call attention notices in both houses of Parliament. Unfortunately, lawmakers from other opposition parties, except for the PPP, saw that as an opportunity to give grief to the government. The notice was signed by PML-N legislators as well as those from parties with liberal pretentions like the ANP, NP, and PkMAP. And, of course, the extremist group Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah which staged a destructive sit-in against the previous government, threatened to launch yet another agitation.
Times like these are a true test of a leader’s ability to steer the country on the right path. In making the decision he has, Imran Khan has demonstrated he is willing to make unsavoury compromises for the sake of political expediency. The message being sent out is that Pakistan’s is not a democratic, pluralistic, inclusive society where all citizens have equal rights. Members of minority communities cannot advance in professions on the basis of merit; instead they must live in perpetual fear of discrimination. And others wary of the growing intolerance and bigotry in society can stand up for the county’s founding ideals at the risk of their own lives. Nonetheless, those living abroad have no such constraints. In one stroke, the PTI government may have alienated non-resident Pakistanis a majority of whom it counted as its supporters, asking them to contribute to its economic revival plans. Accustomed to liberal values, many may have been put off by the present episode, making them hesitant to respond to appeals for help.
(This news/article originally appeared in Business Recorder on September 10th, 2018)