When it comes to the Ahmadis, we as a nation have lost our collective conscience and even our sanity
Raza Habib Raja
October 24, 2020
In 2018, just a few weeks after the formation of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government, renowned economist Atif Mian was inducted into the Economic Advisory Council (EAC), which is led by the prime minister. This was an excellent choice from every angle since Mian is a brilliant economist, a professor at the prestigious Princeton University, and is the only Pakistani to be included in the International Monetary Fund’s “Top 25 Brightest Young Economists”.
Given that Mian had been given an advisory position, and that too in a technical area, I did not foresee any controversy emanating from his appointment due to his religious beliefs. However, soon my presumption was shattered when some religious quarters started to question this appointment on the grounds that Mian is an Ahmadi.
PTI’s then Information Minister, Fawad Chaudhry, defended Mian’s appointment in a blazing press conference, and I was momentarily impressed. While I have never particularly liked Chaudhry, that day he spoke like a courageous individual and, for some fleeting moments, I began to think that perhaps the PTI government was what we really needed, and that I may have been wrong to have opposed the ‘selection’ of this government. Sadly, this fantasy also did not last long since the government quickly buckled under pressure and asked Mian to resign. I was dumbfounded at this total lack of courage by Prime Minister Imran Khan and his team, particularly after that show of bravado by Chaudhry. At that point, I wrote a piece for the Express Tribune in which I pointed out that Mian did not need that job and it was Pakistan who needed him. I stated:
“At the end of the day, we are our own worst enemy. What some of us did not realise while abusing Mian was that he did not need this post – we needed him. He is a brilliant academic presently teaching at one of the most outstanding universities in the world; he did not need this appointment at all.”
It appeared to me that the reason behind calling for his removal was so trivial and that the subsequent actions of the government were so cowardly that we as a society could not possibly degrade ourselves any further. But now it seems we have outdone ourselves.
Recently, The Institute of Business Administration (IBA) Karachi cancelled a Zoom lecture which featured Mian due to the “threats the university administration was facing from extremists”. Let that sink in. This time Mian was not offered an advisory position or required to work for the government in any capacity. All he was supposed to do was lecture a few students on Pakistan’s economic performance, and even that became the subject of controversy.
The university of course mismanaged this situation. The truth of the matter is that once they made it public that Mian would be delivering a lecture, the university, unfortunately, should have been prepared for some repercussions. Nonetheless, I seriously doubt that threats from extremists alone forced the university to cancel the lecture, and suspect that perhaps even some individuals belonging to IBA asked for a cancellation of the talk. Frankly, when it comes to discussing the rights of the Ahmadis, the distinction between extremist and ‘moderate’ Pakistanis blurs to such an extent that it is impossible to distinguish between the two.
Let’s not forget that a few days ago some students “proudly” sprayed black paint onto Dr Abdus Salam’s picture in the city of Gujranwala. By doing so, they were trying to prove their Islamic credentials. I still remember the video which shows a female Assistant Commissioner being hounded by some petty students and being forced to apologise for merely suggesting that all of us, including Ahmadis, should be united. I also recall that a few months ago there was an outrage when the government announced that Ahmadis who were “expelled” from Islam through the second amendment would be included in the minority commission. The irony was that Ahmadis were declared a minority by our own parliament, and yet decades later we were not prepared to consider them even that. The Punjab Assembly even passed a bill unanimously stating that Ahmadis should only be included in the commission if they openly accept that they are not Muslims. I still remember the deafening silence when the Ahmadi mosque was attacked in Lahore in 2010. And I remember the rebuke which Nawaz Sharif received when he condemned the incident and called Ahmadis our brothers. Additionally, there have been countless incidents where the graves of Ahmadis have been desecrated.
When it comes to the Ahmadis, we as a nation have lost our collective conscience and even our sanity. We are blinded by petty hate. In fact, both the opposition and the government try to outdo each other in whipping up hate against them. It is strange that our religious beliefs are so weak that they are ‘threatened’ by merely four million Ahmadis in a population of more than 200 million. It is truly puzzling to try and decipher how a Zoom lecture by Mian, easily one of the finest brains Pakistan has produced in recent years, is somehow putting Islam in danger.
I have never personally met Mian, but I know several people who have. Before joining the academia, I worked with the State Bank of Pakistan, and Mian used to frequently interact with members of the research department there. Those who have met him have nothing but praise for him. They have told me that not only is he brilliant but that he truly loves Pakistan and genuinely wants to contribute to the well-being and progress of this nation. This is incredible given the fact that he belongs to a religious community which is openly discriminated against in Pakistan.
In conclusion, I simply wish to make a personal appeal to Mian. Sir, the simple truth of the matter is that we as a nation do not deserve you. Stop caring for us. Let us rot in our misery and hate.
Raza Habib Raja
The writer is a PhD candidate in Political Science at the Maxwell School of Public Affairs, Syracuse University. He regularly writes for the Express Tribune, HuffPost, Daily Times and Naya Daur.