- Atif Mian, an MIT-educated Pakistani-American economics professor at Princeton University, was recently named member of a new economic advisory council
- Mian is an Ahmadi, a religious minority which has long been persecuted in deeply conservative Muslim-majority Pakistan
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan premier Imran Khan’s government backed down Friday over its controversial decision to appoint a member of a persecuted religious minority as an economic adviser, underscoring the pressure it faces from hardline Islamists.
Atif Mian, an MIT-educated Pakistani-American economics professor at Princeton University, was recently named member of a new economic advisory council.
Mian is an Ahmadi, a religious minority which has long been persecuted in deeply conservative Muslim-majority Pakistan, and the announcement sparked swift backlash from Islamist groups.
Ahmadis consider themselves Muslims, but their beliefs are seen as blasphemous in most mainstream Islamic schools of thought. They are designated non-Muslims in Pakistan’s constitution.
Government officials initially defended the decision, but within days caved to mounting pressure from the religious right.
“The government has decided to withdraw the nomination of Atif Mian from the economic advisory committee,” Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry wrote on his official Twitter account, saying the government wanted to work with all sections of society, including Islamic clerics.
Blasphemy is a hugely inflammatory charge in Pakistan, and can carry the death penalty.
The state has never executed a blasphemy convict, but mere accusations of insulting Islam have sparked mob lynchings, vigilante murders, and mass protests.
Khan caused concern with his full-throated defense of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws during his election campaign earlier this year, with fears he was mainstreaming extremist thought which could deepen sectarian divides, empower radical groups, and even provoke violence.
Analysts have warned that Pakistan’s economy is the most urgent challenge facing Khan’s new government, as a balance-of-payments crisis looms.
The government has said it will decide by the end of this month if it needs to seek a bailout from the International Monetary Fund.