By Zahid Hussain
The Pakistani government has fired a renowned economist from a newly constituted advisory body after his appointment sparked a backlash from right-wing political parties and Islamist groups.
Atif Mian, a Princeton University professor and a member of the persecuted Ahmadi faith, was named in an 18-member economic advisory council of Prime Minister Imran Khan, who rose to power after the July 25 parliamentary elections.
The appointment immediately became a subject of intense discussion on social media platforms because of his Ahmadi faith, which has been declared a religious minority under Pakistan’s constitution.
Hard-line Sunni groups Tehreek-e-Labaik and Pakistan Ulema Council and other parties supportive of the country’s draconian blasphemy laws demanded that Mian be removed from the council.
Government spokesman Fawad Chaudhry initially defended Mian’s appointment, saying he was only supposed to advise the prime minister on economic matters. “It is an economic council, not an Islamic ideology council, and those criticizing his appointment are extremists,” he told media on Sept. 5.
“Atif Mian was asked to step down from the advisory council and he has agreed. A replacement will be announced later,” Senator Faisal Javed, a government spokesman, tweeted.
Saleem ud Din, a spokesman for the Ahmadi faith, said the government had the right to use anyone’s abilities for the development of the nation.
“Love for our country is an integral part of an Ahmadi’s faith and we are always ready to serve our country in any way possible. Our prayers and best wishes for Pakistan and its future prosperity,” he said.
The government’s U-turn has drawn flak from journalists, human rights defenders and media commentators.
Nadeem Paracha, a columnist for Daily Dawn, tweeted that the government had succumbed to bigotry. “Back to square one. The same old fears and politics in Naya (new) Pakistan. What an anti-climax.”
Farzana Bari, a women’s rights activist, said Ahmadis had been declared non-citizens under pressure from religious fanatics.
Senator Osman Saifullah Khan said the concept of equality of all citizens had been “thrown under the bus of expediency.”
Human rights organizations describe Ahmadis as the most persecuted minority in Pakistan. They can be jailed for up to three years for referring to themselves as Muslims.
Ahmadiyya is an Islamic movement founded in India by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad in the late 19th century, which believes that the Prophet Mohammed was not the last prophet.