Why Imran Khan must think thrice before uttering 'Naya Pakistan'

The article has been co-authored by political commentator Rajiv Jayaram and New Delhi-based columnist Atul K Thakur.

 |  7-minute read |   10-09-2018
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Within three weeks of proclaiming the dawn of a tolerant, meritorious, inclusive and progressive ‘new Pakistan' by Prime Minister Imran Khan, the strongest evidence that the promise is bunk is in the public domain.

The forced exit of Dr Atif Rehman Mian — a Princeton University economist of international repute — from the government’s newly constituted Economic Advisory Council (EAC), within a few days of his appointment last week, comes as a rude shock to anyone who believed Imran Khan’s frequent pitch that “this is my promise: Jinnah’s Pakistan, a new Pakistan”. 

The reason was that Dr Mian belonged to the Ahmadi faith, a minority community in Pakistan.

atif_091018123419.jpgAtif tweeted that he resigned for the sake of the stability of the government and would always be ready to help Pakistan. (Photo: Twitter)

Dr Mian has been forced to step down from the Council by the government after a vicious hate campaign by far-right religious groups threatened to sweep the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government off with a crisis in which capitulation to the extremists would have been the only way out.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">With a heavy heart, I have resigned from the EAC this morning. The circumstances in which Atif was asked to step down are ones I profoundly disagree with. Basing decisions on religious affiliation goes against my principles, or the values I am trying to teach my children. (1/5)</p>&mdash; Imran Rasul (@ImranRasul3) <a href="https://twitter.com/ImranRasul3/status/1038305178531885056?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">September 8, 2018</a></blockquote>

The PTI government’s sudden decision to drop Dr Mian came hours after facile attempts to defend his appointment, saying that Pakistan “belongs to minorities as much as it belongs to the majority” and "we will not bow to extremists”.

The forced removal of the economist only highlights the shamelessness and cowardice of Pakistani rulers, both civilian and military, when the gauntlet has been thrown down by religious fundamentalists.

The Ahmadis were declared non-Muslims in Pakistan through a controversial constitutional amendment passed in 1974, during the tenure of a democratically elected Prime Minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

ahmadi_091018124051.jpgThe word "Muslim" has been painted over by vigilantes, on the tombstone of Pakistani scientist Abdus Salam, a member of the Ahmadi community and Pakistan's only Nobel laureate, in Rabwa. (Reuters file photo)

In 1984, through the infamous Ordinance XX of the Pakistan Penal Code, Gen Zia-ul Haq, the military dictator who overthrew Bhutto and hanged him, made it a punishable offence for Ahmadis to call themselves Muslim or to refer to their faith as Islam.

The removal of Dr Mian has now ignited a firestorm of protests among Pakistani academics settled abroad.

On September 8, Imran Rasul, a London-based economist, became the second member of the Economic Advisory Council to resign in protest against the exclusion of the US-based academic, saying that basing decisions on religious affiliation “goes against my principles, or the values I am trying to teach my children.

Earlier, Dr Asim Ijaz Khwaja, professor of international finance and development at the Harvard Kennedy School, announced his decision to resign from the EAC, expressing similar sentiments.

This is a terrible setback just at the dawn of the ‘new’ Pakistan the Imran Khan government is supposedly trying to build from August 18.

From now, Prime Minister Khan should be better advised to think thrice before mouthing ‘new Pakistan’ and ‘Jinnah’s Pakistan’ because this is a setback the government will find it hard to recover from.

The religious right has scored a resounding victory, by just trying to test the new government.

imran-khan-inside_091018123815.jpgIt's still dark: A terrible setback for Imran Khan just at the dawn of ‘new’ Pakistan. (Photo: Reuters)

The Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, the religious group that took a leadership position against the appointment of a person from the Ahmadi community to an advisory role in government, is widely believed to be a party formed at the military establishment’s behest in 2015.

The party had to bite the dust in the July general elections, like all other religious parties, and lost face. Therefore, it might seem that the government had no reason at all to surrender to religious fundamentalists and parties representing them. However, it is another stark reminder of their nuisance value and street power that the government had no alternative but to surrender meekly to their demand.

Before bowing down to pressure from religious groups, the Pakistan government had defended the move, saying Dr Mian was appointed as a member of the EAC, and not the Council of Islamic Ideology.

However, it was not how the appointment was viewed even by political parties, which claim to be mainstream and win most votes in elections.

In a sign of intolerance in Pakistani society, no mainstream parties defended the government’s appointment of a person of international repute from the minority community in government — worse, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), the ruling party until May this year and the strongest opposition party now, was one of the parties that moved the call attention notice submitted in Parliament against Dr Mian’s appointment.

Pakistan is in a dire economic crisis at present, which has prompted it to contemplate seeking another bailout package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Even another bailout would be a brief respite unless the government moves to correct the perennial structural and macroeconomic anomalies in the country’s economy. In announcing his resignation from the Council on September 8, Dr Rasul rued that “if there was one academic on the EAC that Pakistan needs, it was him [Dr Atif Mian]”.

Khaled Ahmed, Pakistan’s most respected columnist and a formidable expert on the ideologies of extremism, is a scholar who probably has done more soul-searching on Pakistan’s state of affairs than anyone else.

In the present context, it would worthwhile to recall his remarkable book, Sleepwalking to Surrender: Dealing with Terrorism in Pakistan, where he analyses the terrible toll terrorism and the state’s double-dealing have taken on Pakistan, and gives a glimpse of imminent disastrous outcomes.

While Khaled Ahmed credits Pakistan’s decades-old practice of using proxy fighters in the region, for keeping it on the brink of becoming a ‘failed state’, he comes down rather heavily when he counts and counters Pakistan’s two main power entities — the Army and the Taliban. The books and opinion pieces on Pakistan inform how a state with afflictions to ‘failure’ could damage the core of the polity, economy and social fabric. Today, what Pakistan exudes is not more than a caricature of the aim that brought it into existence with unprecedented bloodshed and displacement in 1947.

As a country, Pakistan’s biggest failure has been to not let its own civilian institutions function independently, free from fear of ‘non-state actors’. The reason: it is a cycle of violence and not law that more often commands Pakistan’s pulse.

At this time, anyone really could end up believing Salman Rushdie’s famous saying on Pakistan, that it was ‘insufficiently imagined’ – and came hurriedly into existence, with the late idea-churning that started in the 1930s and 1940s.

In a 2014 video, Imran Khan can be seen strongly pitching for Atif Mian as Pakistan's probable finance minister, if he comes to power.

Indeed, Pakistan’s founding father, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, didn’t aim at the outset to pitch for a separate country. Instead his politics was more focused on getting a negotiating tool to secure the rights of Muslims within a federal and united India. But, in the course of time, as he didn’t see this growing organically, he completely changed his liberal self and supported the divisive idea of a ‘Two-Nation Theory’ that made the South Asian region destined to suffer endless losses.  

The Pakistan Project got strained as early as 1948, with the premature death of Jinnah. The new country was jittery, and to justify its existence, the myopic feudal leaders couldn’t foresee anything more logical than sustaining and harnessing Pakistan’s obsession with Islamic fundamentalism.

In its present form, democracy in Pakistan cannot be seen setting apart precedents that actually shaped it effectively.

How sad that the ‘new’ Pakistan is indeed likely to be much like the old one!

The authors can be reached at: summertickets@gmail.com

Also Read: Why removal of Atif Mian from the Economic Advisory Council is neither a service to Islam nor to Pakistan

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