Pakistani economist forced to step down from government panel for reasons of faith

Atif R. Mian is a member of the Ahmadiyya community, which has been historically persecuted in Pakistan and has suffered acts of violence from extremists

September 07, 2018 by Peoples Dispatch
The appointment of Atif Mian had provoked very angry reactions from religious extremists. Photo: Times of Islamabad

Just a week after the Imran Khan-led government appointed a 18-member economic advisory council that included seven government officials and eleven members from the private sector, one of its prominent members, economist Atif R. Mian, was forced to resign on Friday. His resignation was accepted by the government reportedly owing to the pressure from religious extremist groups that are opposed to the entry of members of the Ahmadiyya community in the government.

39-year-old Atif R. Mian, belongs to the minority Ahmadiyya community, who are followers of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qaidyan. The community has been historically persecuted in Pakistan, which even has a law that declares them non-Muslims and restricts their rights. There have also been many instances of violence against members of the community. Atif’s inclusion to the advisory community was appreciated by many as a progressive decision. However, the praise quickly turned into criticism as activists condemned the government’s capitulation, adding that it was unfortunate that prioritizing a certain belief system continued to be prominent factor in deciding who would hold major positions in Pakistan.

Atif, who studied at Princeton University, Department of Member Economics and Woodrow Wilson School of Public Policy, is the coauthor of House of Debt. In a tweet, he said, “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.”

On September 5, the information minister of Pakistan, Fawad Chaudhry, had defended Atif’s appointment, noting that those groups who wanted his resignation were extremists and the government “will not bow to extremists”. The minister even criticized individuals for creating online campaigns that targeted Atif for his faith.

“Protecting minorities is our responsibility. It is the religious duty of each Muslim, not just the government, to protect minorities and respect those that they live with,” Fawad had said.

However, a few days later, as Taimur Rehman of the Kisan Mazdoor Party noted, the government, including the information minister, made a u-turn by saying that the government wanted to take everybody on board.

Taimur noted the resignation was the outcome of lobbying by parties such as Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (a coalition of religious conservatives), Labaik Ya Rasool (a newly-formed conservative religious party), Pakistan Muslim League-(Nawaz) and certain members of Pakistan Peoples Party.

These lobbyist groups, Taimur said, only wanted the appointment of select individuals who came from the same belief systems as them to the main positions of government. “These groups have actually damaged the concept of merit in the country,” Taimur stressed.

“When it comes to Ahmadiyyas, in particular, such lobbyist groups are adamant in terms of creating campaigns that they are not going to allow Ahmadiyyas to take any positions in the government, in the military,  or the judiciary,” he said.

The resignation of the economist comes despite prime minister Imran Khan’s promise that he would give preference to merit rather than ethnicity, belief, caste, creed and color. “It seems the government has started taking u-turns and is going back on its promises. The resignation only shows that it has no courage to solve country’s biggest problem which is extremism,” Taimur noted.