The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf political party led by Prime Minister Imran Khan pandering to far-right religious groups sends a dangerous message, considering that it has barely even been a month since PTI took charge of the government.
The inclusion of Atif Mian, a renowned Pakistani-American economist, in the Economic Advisory Council (EAC) of Pakistan was met with severe criticism due to his membership in the Ahmadiyya community, one of the most marginalized groups in Pakistan. Despite his level of competence, his faith became a target not just for far-right religious groups but to an extent PTI’s political rivals as well, who rather than applauding the representation of someone belonging to a minority community joined the criticism.
Atif Mian happens to be the first and only person of Pakistani origin so far to be included in the International Monetary Fund’s list of “Top 25 bright young economists.” He is the John H Laporte Jr Class of 1967 Professor of Economics, Public Policy and Finance at Princeton University, among other qualifications. Sadly all of his qualifications are irrelevant in Pakistan’s political landscape simply because he belongs to the marginalized Ahmadiyya community.
The EAC should be criticized for not including a single woman, but instead criticizing its inclusion of a man who despite his level of expertise was targeted because of his faith was a rather odd spectacle in “Naya (New) Pakistan.”
It is certainly not surprising to view this level of bigotry in a country where the religion card dominates the political atmosphere. However, the PTI continuously used to talk about change and its vision of a Naya Pakistan that included protecting the rights of minority communities. Seeing the party retract its statements simply because far-right religious groups are dissatisfied with something means either that PTI is incompetent to be running the government or that far-right religious groups have such a massive influence that whatever they say goes.
Despite defending Atif Mian’s inclusion in the EAC a few days ago, PTI had to remove him after being pressured to do so as many religious groups were not supportive of his inclusion because of his Ahmadiyya faith.
The Ahmadiyya community is a minority religious group in Pakistan that has often been an easy target for extremist groups. In May 2010 two Ahmadiyya places of worship in the city of Lahore were subject to attacks in which many people were killed or injured. Nawaz Sharif, then the leader of the political party Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), faced criticism from far-right groups after he expressed solidarity with the victims of the attacks.
Ahmadis consider themselves to be Muslims, but the Constitution (Second Amendment) Act of 1974, which is part of the constitution of Pakistan, views them as non-Muslims. This is the subject of a violent debate that continues to this day in Pakistan. Members of the community are not only targeted by extremist groups but have faced discriminatory behavior from law-enforcement officers and even ordinary citizens. This discriminatory behavior has forced many of them to hide their identity.
The removal of Atif Mian from the EAC is an unfortunate path that Pakistan has taken, one that it may regret later on. It also serves as a warning signal to Ahmadis and even other minority communities in the country that the government may not always be able to protect them despite its responsibility to do so.
The inclusion of a person belonging to a marginalized community could have not only served as a sign of hope for the oppressed communities in the country but would have also set an example for future governments that a person should be judged on the basis of merit when assigned a prominent position in government, or any sector for that matter, rather than his or her personal beliefs.
The disappointing position that PTI has taken on this matter makes one less hopeful for what lies ahead and also shows how far far-right religious groups will go in order to prove not only their relevance but their dominance as well in the country’s political landscape.