Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan | Farooq Naeem/AFP/Getty Images
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan | Farooq Naeem/AFP/Getty Images
Text Size:

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.

Also read: Imran Khan shows his cowardice by dropping Princeton prof Atif Mian over Ahmedia identity

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 Zulfikar 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.

Also read: Ahmediya mosque razing in Sialkot is yet another operation clean-up against the community

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.

The author is a lawyer and former visiting fellow at Harvard Law School for religious freedom.

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it

India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.

But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.

ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.

Support Our Journalism



  1. An excellent article as always. One correction though General Abdul Ali Malik’s brother was General Akhtar Hussain Malik and not General Akhtar Ali Malik as quoted.

  2. It is not about right or wrong! It is a foundational conflict, a definition issue – who is a Muslim. The finality of prophet-hood – i.e., Muhammad – is one of the core ideas of Islam, and I guess is not negotiable, period. If you take it away, the entire system may collapse. People know that and therefore this violent reaction. The way out would be for Ahmedis to declare themselves as a separate religion, and not Islam. Of course Ahmedis made a fundamental error in judgement in choosing the land-of-the-pure over the impure communities in rest of India.

    • Say: O disbelievers!
      I worship not that which ye worship;
      Nor worship ye that which I worship.
      And I shall not worship that which ye worship.
      Nor will ye worship that which I worship.
      Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion.

  3. The Conversion of Prof Atif Mian to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Juma’at….. a faith inspiring story : in his own words.

    “ The greatest gift of Ahmadiyya teachings is that they introduce you to the true concept and reality of God.”

    (Prof Atif Mian, Chicago, Illinois USA)

    I was born in Nigeria in 1974 but grew up mostly in Pakistan. Looking back at my life, I have to admit that I have been extremely fortunate in many ways. I had the most loving and caring parents who sacrificed a lot for the education and proper upbringing of their children. I was the youngest in my family, with three older sisters. So you can say I was spoiled once by my mother and three times by my sisters. I would describe our household as moderately religious. My mother constantly taught me the value of good morals. I remember having a sense from a fairly young age that I was expected to do the “right thing,” i.e. tell the truth, respect elders, not be extravagant, and so on. My parents paid great attention towards their children’s education. They commuted long distances for six years just so we could go to school in Lahore where education standards were higher. When I was finishing my high school, my father encouraged me to apply to the U.S. for college. Luckily I got admitted to MIT and joined there in the fall of 1993 as a freshman. Life at MIT was quite difficult in the beginning. Classes were tough, language was a bit foreign, and culture was very different. There were adjustments to be made at many levels. It was perhaps the result of exposure to alternative ways of life, or perhaps the natural consequence of a maturing mind that I began to ponder seriously about the pre-suppositions of life that a child grows up with. I had been raised as a Muslim with a strong emphasis on the belief in God. I had never questioned what I had been taught thus far, but this now turned out to be an uneasy compromise. Should I believe in Islam simply because fate had me born into a Muslim family? Why should one take religion seriously when its primary determinant seems to be the flip of a coin that decides which family one is born into? Why should one put so many constraints on life because of a God that may or may not exist? The questions were many, but I struggled with finding acceptable answers. At the same time the conventional understanding of Islam seemed more and more intolerant and irrational to me. Muslims who advocated on behalf of Islam enthusiastically split hairs when it came to religious dogma, and yet seemed oblivious to the basic tenets of justice, tolerance and human civility. For example, otherwise sane looking people would actively support the idea that anyone who chooses to leave Islam should be condemned to death. I was beginning to be put off by religion. It was around these early years in college when I found out that an old friend of mine from high school, Hamid Sheikh, was an Ahmadi Muslim. I had known him for over eight years but never knew that he was an Ahmadi Muslim. My impression of Ahmadi Muslims at that time was quite negative, formed largely by the general social attitude towards Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan. In my mind Ahmadiyya Community was some weird cult devoid of common sense. Therefore, when I found out that a good friend of mine was an Ahmadi Muslim, I was quite surprised. At this point, however, I was less interested in the finer details of differences between Ahmadiyya Islam and Sunni Islam teachings. I had enough trouble trying to understand religion at a basic level and did not care much about complicated sectarian discussions. So I badgered Hamid with some general questions about God, religion and the purpose of man’s creation. We had some discussions, and Hamid gave me two books to read: Islam’s Response to Contemporary Issues by the Fourth Khalifa, and his biography, A Man of God. I had been searching for a logical and humane approach towards religion but was disappointed with what I had found thus far. However, reading Islam’s Response to Contemporary Issues was a totally refreshing experience. I was not yet ready to say that I believed in a particular religion, but I remember saying to myself after reading the book that if there ever were a religion worthy of following, it must look like the one described in that book. I loved the way the Fourth Khalifa approached religion. He spoke with the precision of a scientist. He always began with “first principles” and then gradually built his case through the rules of logic. There was also a deep sense
    of love, compassion and humanity in whatever he wrote or said. It is hard to express it in words, but I fell totally in love with his personality. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community began to provide me with the answers that I had been searching for. But conviction of the heart and mind are two separate issues. There were always more questions that I could have asked. At what point do I draw the line between skepticism and belief? I did not know the answer to this question. I was also perturbed by the idea of praying for myself. How could I do that if I were not willing to call myself a believer? Wouldn’t that be hypocritical? Even selfish perhaps? And then there was the chicken and the egg problem. If one needs to have faith to pray sincerely, and must pray sincerely to have faith, where should I begin? My solution to these conundrums was that I could only pray to a possible God. I would pray that if You are truly there then guide me to what is right and what is true. In my heart I already had the suspicion that the truth might be Ahmadiyya. Therefore, afraid that I might stay away from it because of the social sanctions against it, I would add that I was willing to pay whatever price it took to find and accept the truth. Over the next few years, I continued to read whatever I could on Islam Ahmadiyya. I did not discuss this much with others. I preferred to study on my own instead. The web was a great tool for me., the Community’s website, was just beginning to develop and I must have been one of its most voracious consumers at the time. My greatest attractions were the “Q&A” sessions conducted by the Fourth Khalifa, as well as his sermons. I could spend hours listening to him. While I found the message of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community very attractive, I was extremely repulsed by the attitude of orthodox clerics towards the Community. How could they lose all sense of humanity and prevent Ahmadi Muslims from practicing their faith in Pakistan? How could man become arrogant enough to decide who is a Muslim and who is not, as a matter of law? It was because of such attitudes of orthodox clerics that I never took them seriously in their allegations against the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. After finishing my undergraduate education at MIT, I decided to pursue a doctorate in Economics, also at MIT. I finished my PhD in 2001 and moved to Chicago to start my first job as an Assistant Professor at University of Chicago. While I was in Boston, I had stopped going to the local mosque for a long time because I could not pray behind an Imam who condoned an intolerant interpretation of Islam. There was an Ahmadiyya mosque near Boston but it was far and I did not have a car. So now that I had a car in Chicago, I thought I should look for an Ahmadiyya Muslim mosque. Once I found the local Ahmadiyya Muslim mosque in Chicago, I began going for Friday prayers. I might have done so for the rest of my life without becoming an Ahmadi Muslim. I had already acknowledged that the Ahmadiyya interpretation of Islam was the only one that made sense. Why then go through the hassle of conversion and all the social conflicts that come along with it? After all, what is the line beyond which one says, “I believe”? The human mind is a specialist when it comes to making excuses. However something changed in March of 2002. I cannot say how and why. The Holy Prophet Muhammad said that the key to a person’s heart is in Allah’s hands. So one day Allah changed my heart. There is no other explanation for it. I felt a strong desire that I must sign the initiation form. I had to do it. There was no other option for me anymore. Like a kid in the candy store, I had to have it. My parents were quite unhappy at my decision to become an Ahmadi Muslim. This trial has been the most difficult for me since the last thing I ever wanted to do was to upset my parents in their old age. It is all the more difficult given how much they have done for me. But life ultimately owes its existence to God, and I pray that we may all find peace in Him. While there are sacrifices in the path of a convert, these are overshadowed by the fact that man at his core is a moral being. There is nothing more rewarding than being truthful to one’s conscience. The greatest gift of Ahmadiyya teachings is that they introduce you to the true concept and reality of God. Everything that is pure and good is to be found in God. Therefore one can never be truly spiritual unless one tries to get closer to God by developing attributes that are in His likeness: developing compassion for humanity, being sincere, treating everyone with absolute justice, and saying the truth even when it may have negative immediate consequences. When one struggles to become better only to attain closeness to God, God never leaves such a person alone. This is the ultimate lesson of Islam Ahmadiyya and the ultimate gift for a convert. I have been fortunate to serve the Community in various capacities. One of my greatest joys has been the many friendships that I have formed through MKA. I have had the privilege of meeting many remarkable individuals whose sincerity, desire to serve humanity, and selfless dedication to work tirelessly for the good of others, leaves me awestruck. At a time when religion has been distorted to create mayhem in many parts of the world, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community provides a true picture of what Islam is supposed to be.

  4. Yasser buddy, we have interacted on chowk and dbb. What has happened in Pakistan with Atif Mian is beyond shameful. Let alone modern India, even in Mughal and Afghan rule of India centuries back, people of all sects, religions and national origin were appointed based on merit. Akbar’s main general was Maan Singh and his economist was Todar Mal and this was in the 16th century!! Aurangzeb’s army head was Raja Jaswant Singh. And now a government in 2018 cannot hire someone of a different faith!! We see religious bigotry in India too but on the fringes and not at a government level like this.

    This has clearly nothing to do with Islam or education since muslim rulers in the past have been more enlightened. It is basically a perverse result of the Two Nation Theory which may have wanted to safeguard muslim interests, but has instead taught recent generation of South Asia’s muslims to practice exclusion. It started with excluding non muslims and then expanded to ahmedis, shias, ismailis and even sub sects within sunnis. The only solution is to declare this theory dead and teach inclusion of everyone.

    The last battle of the Two Nation Theory is being waged in Kashmir where Kashmiri muslims are being brainwashed with Pakistani money and support to hate India because it is not a muslim country. We Indians are fighting back since we beleive that everyone should live together. Kashmiris have their own land, own government and own resources. So there is no need for them to leave India in the name of Two Nation Theory. This is where intellectuals like you can make a difference. If you influence Pakistan society to stop trying to break India and stop any further exclusion, and instead bring Pakistan closer to Indian in friendship, it will start undoing the damage of the past 100 years. Otherwise even midieval India looks like an enlightened paradise compared to Pakistan.

  5. Excellent points raised in the article. Hope for change is vanishing really fast in Pak. PM Khan is proving to be a gutless leader. Ahmadies have contributed to the succcess of Pak in every walk of life. We must recognize their contributions along with all the other minorities and give them the due respect. Also State has no business with one’s faith. A christian, a jew, a hindu, an atheist or a muslim should be all equal citizens and must be judged based on merit. Just look at successful countries in the world.
    Islam is a religion of peace and prosperity. Why is every muslim country a sh*t hole? A serious question which needs serious thinking!

  6. Person of every community has contributed. That doesn’t make Ahmadis, Muslims.

    Atif Mian left or was removed. Pakistan. Will do great without any of the people that left.

Comments are closed.