Why the Atif Mian controversy is bad news for Pakistan’s minorities
Mian is a distinguished economist and professor but he is also a member of the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam, and therein lies the problem. Pakistani laws view Ahmadis with hostility, and they have been subjected to violence and hate speech as a result
The departure of Atif Mian from Imran Khan’s Economic Advisory Council (EAC), allegedly because of his religion, has deepened the fear among Pakistan’s religious minorities that not all change is going to be for the better under the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government.
Mian is a distinguished economist and professor but he is also a member of the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam, and therein lies the problem. Pakistani laws view Ahmadis with hostility, forbidding them from calling themselves Muslim. Like Christians, they have suffered violent attacks for their faith.
Mian had somehow managed to rise above all the hostility and prejudice to gain a seat on the government’s EAC. But on September 7, he announced on Twitter that he was resigning from the council as a result of pressure from the Mullahs.
‘For the sake of the stability of the Government of Pakistan, I have resigned from the Economic Advisory Council, as the Government was facing a lot of adverse pressure regarding my appointment from the Mullahs (Muslim clerics) and their supporters,’ he wrote on Twitter. While Mian has done the government a service by politely stating that he resigned, the word on the street is that he was asked to step down. His departure was swiftly followed by the resignations of Dr Imran Rasul and Dr Asim Ijaz Khwaja in protest.
Explaining the decision behind his resignation, Dr Rasul wrote on Twitter: ‘Basing decisions on religious affiliation goes against my principles, or the values I am trying to teach my children.’ He added that Mian was, in his view, the most important member of the council because of his expertise in macro economics — a man with the brains to turn around Pakistan’s economic fortunes. ‘Resolving the macro and fiscal mess the country is in will lay the bedrock for social protection, poverty alleviation policies and other economic reforms the country also needs,’ he said.
I agree wholeheartedly with both sentiments. Is it any wonder that Pakistan cannot progress when brilliant minds are forced out of the places where they can best be used in service of the country because of utterly irrelevant factors like their religion?
Dr Imran Rasul wrote on Twitter: ‘Basing decisions on religious affiliation goes against my principles, or the values I am trying to teach my children.’ He added that Atif Mian was, in his view, the most important member of the council because of his expertise in macro economics — a man with the brains to turn around Pakistan’s economic fortunes
Imran Khan has vowed to change Pakistan, but I fear there will be no change for religious minorities and their status as second-class citizens. Indeed, it’s hard to see how the treatment of Mian this past week could be a sign of anything good. At best, the government made some effort in the first place by appointing him in spite of his faith and then initially defending his appointment when the hate campaign started.
As the online rancour of the hardliners grew louder, information minister Fawad Chaudhry said, ‘What is wrong with the appointment of a professional economist as a member of the EAC? He is a member of the Economic Advisory Council and not the Council of Islamic Ideology.’ If the government had stood by its initial sentiments, I would be writing a very different article right now. Sadly, the predictable happened and it was good-bye Mian.
After 70 years, Pakistan has shown once again that it does not accept its non-Muslim citizens as equal. Merit and Pakistani nationality are clearly not enough to serve the country at the highest level; you have to be a Muslim as well. Taking the events of the last few days into consideration, the claims of the party that it wants to change things and make Quaid e Azam’s Pakistan are starting to sound hollow.
Quaid e Azam stated very clearly, in his first presidential speech to the constituent assembly, that religion should have nothing to with the business of the state: “We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another…Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the state.”
Yet, we are failing to apply this golden principle and instead his words and ideas are being twisted to suit whoever happens to be in power. Since virtually the inception of Pakistan, bigotry and intolerance have been shown to the country’s non-Muslims. Quaid e Azam himself faced criticism for having non-Muslim friends and allies, but he never bowed to the extremists. Instead, he stood fast and never compromised on his principals. Minorities unconditionally supported Quaid e Azam in his struggle for Pakistan but they have been poorly rewarded.
It is sad that Imran Khan, who touted a return to Quaid’s Pakistan, has been unable to bear the pressure from extremists groups. There is no doubt that religious extremism has been on the rise for many years. Untold numbers of innocent people have been murdered in cold blood or thrown into prison for years on spurious grounds.
While the government has been weak, extremists groups have taken control of the public square. Divisions along ethnic and religious lines have been exploited, allowing extreme religious views to thrive. The result is a dire threat to the stability and security of Pakistan, while the international community looks on with suspicion and distrust.
At a time when committees are being formed and revised to address the urgent issues facing the country, I think it would be timely to form one that deals specifically with minority issues, including how to stop the growing hatred against them. Religious division is not going away, and it must be dealt with wisely and courageously, instead of sweeping it under the carpet.
Pakistan is already considered one of the worst countries for religious minorities. They live in fear for their lives and many have fled the country. We must re-visit Pakistan’s constitution and remove laws that discriminate against non-Muslims and curtail their freedoms. The dream of Quaid’s Pakistan cannot be fulfilled if the minorities continue to suffer, and the case of Atif Mian has once again made minorities apprehensive over their future in Pakistan.
The writer is a freelance columnist
Published in Daily Times, September 18th 2018.