Atif R. Mian was dropped by Pakistan govt days after he was appointed a member of Pakistan’s Economic Advisory Council.
Princeton professor Atif R. Mian has proved to be too hot for Pakistan’s Imran Khan government to handle. Days after Mian was appointed a member of Pakistan’s Economic Advisory Council, he has been asked to step down after what has been an unseemly controversy over his religion.
The move by Imran Khan has proved sceptics right and has indicated that his Naya Pakistan is cowardly when confronted with religious bigotry.
The storm was brewing in Pakistan over the appointment of Mian, who belongs to the Ahmedia sect, which was declared a non-Muslim minority by the Pakistani Parliament in 1974.
Mian is a renowned professor, writer and economist. But Pakistan chose to debate his religion instead for days – not his experience or qualification, nor his ideas on how to fix the economy and Pakistan’s myriad human development problems.
Mian teaches economics, public policy and finance at the Princeton University. He has previously taught at the University of California, Berkeley and the University Of Chicago Booth School Of Business. He is also the author of the critically acclaimed book House of Debt.
He is also a critic of how the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has been implemented in Pakistan by the previous government, which relies on foreign loans to undertake heavy infrastructure projects – Mian remains suspicious of what he calls opacity of the contracts between Pakistan and China.
If a person’s appointment were to be brought under such a sharp spotlight, it ought to be predicated on their qualification and policy recommendations.
But his religion is what got talked about. This is not just because of the Pakistani predilection for trivia and/or its penchant for manipulation of religion for political causes. This is, instead, a case of the poisoned chalice for the current government.
Imran had supported extremist cleric Khadim Rizvi when he held hostage the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi in November 2017 with his sit-in protest against perceived changes to the finality of prophethood law of Pakistan, which declares Ahmadis non-Muslims.
Rizvi was also successful in getting the government to completely surrender to the unreasonable demands, including the head of one minister, with the Pakistani military acting as an arbiter between Rizvi and the federal government.
Imran had not only celebrated the victory, but also proceeded to attend its Khatm-e-Nabuat conferences (finality of prophethood) and continued a bigoted and dishonest campaign against the Nawaz Sharif government at that time.
As soon as news emerged that Mian is an Ahmadi, all hell broke loose. Much of the opposition came from Imran Khan’s PTI party supporters. But some opposition senators also signed a calling attention notice on the appointment.
On Pakistani social media, the attack came from two fronts. The first attack came from the religious bigots who jump onto bandwagons to flay Ahmedis all the time and cannot see them in any office of public importance or authority. This class seeks vengeful persecution of Ahmedis.
The second category is what I would call ‘fake bigots’, who are merely seeking to score a political point against Imran’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) for its putrid campaign in the election. This lot wants to drive home the hypocrisy of the government, but its invective is pouring out as apparent religious hatred.
Public pressure mounted on cleric Rizvi to condemn Mian’s appointment. This resulted in a veiled video statement by him Tuesday against the appointment. This has attracted further instigation to hold Islamabad hostage again with another disruptive dharna, just as he did it during the previous Sharif regime.
قادینوں کی اعلی عہدوں پر تقرری کرنے والوں کیلئے ریاست مدینہ کی حقیقی جھلک pic.twitter.com/suJr1HrlmF
— Khadim Hussain Rizvi (@KhadimRizviReal) September 4, 2018
His commitment to Khatm-e-Nabuat is currently being questioned with jibes, especially by the ‘fake bigots’ who see him as a military stooge used for debilitating Sharif’s government.
Surprisingly, and admirably, the current federal minister of information Fawad Chaudhry stoutly defended Mian’s appointment Tuesday saying, “Should we put bans on public role of religious minorities; are we going to throw them out of Pakistan? The entire world is speculating that Atif Mian will receive a Nobel Prize in five years, we have appointed him to the EAC and not to the Council of Islamic Ideology… and Pakistan belongs as much to its minorities as it does to the majority”.
This was in response to the vicious campaign against Mian on social media, and the entirely illegal and unconstitutional demands to throw him out of the committee because of his faith.
Predictably, Chaudhry and the PTI government came under fire for dismissing the backlash against Mian’s appointment. Chaudhry, however, stuck to his guns Wednesday stating, “Our interpretation of the state of Medina is that Islam means security, peace and moving forward together… why was Pakistan created… because minorities were being persecuted in India… it is not just the responsibility of the government to protect minorities, it is the responsibility of each Muslim. Because of these things (persecution of minorities) the entire world makes fun of us.”
His defence is robust, logical, legal, and in line with all norms of decency and standards of human rights. However, such rare principled stance by Pakistani governments or individual officers in the past has normally resulted in grief for them.
Former interior minister Ahsan Iqbal (PML-N) said in a tweet that only “talent and competency” should matter and “merit should not be mixed with religion”.
In the end, Imran Khan did not have the spunk that even someone like Fawad Chaudhry did.
The author is a columnist and human rights defender based in Lahore.