By Arif Nizami
The PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) government has succumbed to forces of obscurantism and bigotry even before it could start resisting them. It was a pleasant surprise to notice that the government had included the name of an internationally renowned economist Atif Mian in the newly formed economic advisory council.
The only snag was that Mian based in the US belonged to the Ahmadi faith. Facing a barrage of criticism from the powerful religious lobby on his appointment, the government spokesman Fawad Chaudhry simply brushed it aside, saying: so what if Mian was an Ahmadi, we are not appointing him as a member of the Islamic Ideology Council.
Further pooh poohing critics, the information minister alluding to Jinnah’s Pakistan said, “Pakistan belonged to minorities as equally as it belongs to the masses.” Little did he know that his boss famous for his ‘U-turns’ kowtowing to the zealots would soon reverse his decision.
What made Khan change his mind? After all, while in the opposition he had chosen the highly qualified US based economist as part of his dream team. At the time there was a backlash from the bigots within his own fold who pointed out that he was an Ahmadi.
Khan quickly apologized feigning ignorance about Mian’s faith, promptly excluding him. But this time around while heading the government he again buckled under pressure.
Interestingly Atif Mian living in the US is a first time Ahmadi convert by choice. His late father who rose to the rank of a brigadier was serving as a doctor in the army.
Hence Khan knowing his own limitations should have not made the same mistake twice by appointing Mian on the advisory committee. But once appointed he should have shown the moral courage to stand by his decision, however flawed considered by critics.
Atif Mian who is a professor of economics at Princeton University and director of public finance at Woodrow Wilson School has very lucid and clear insight about Pakistan’s present economic woes. He spells them out in a paper published on Pakistan’s independence day. He states: “Independence Day 2018 why is the country still far from economic independence? (Seeking its largest bail out ever this year).”
He goes on to say that the ‘Dutch disease’ of borrowing incessantly at whatever cost is simply not sustainable. He singles out the previous government for its opaque and flawed economic policies of accumulating more debt without creating the capacity to payback as being unsustainable.
In the paper he is highly critical of the opaque terms of CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) claiming that it is a debt multiplier for Pakistan. Presciently he states, “ask a question (about CPEC) and you are immediately accused of treason.”
By itself it hardly matters if another Ahmadi falls on his sword. After all, so many belonging to Main’s faith living in Pakistan are persecuted and discriminated against almost on daily basis with the state hardly batting an eyelid.
But this about-face by the PTI dashes any hopes harboured by some people that the ‘new Pakistan’ will be different from the old. In his second tweet taking a complete somersault the hapless Chaudhry taking a cue from his boss said, that the ideal state according to the prime minister is of Medina and that the premier and his ministers holds Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) in high esteem.
While often reiterating his resolve to make Pakistan like ‘Riyasat e Medina’ Khan also often refers to the Quaid’s Pakistan. Jinnah while addressing the constituent assembly on 11 August 1947 had categorically declared, “You may belong to any religion cast or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the state.”
Ideologues belonging to the PTI instead of merely paying lip service to the Quaid should also be seen to follow his edicts. Lamentably the Islamic Republic today is a far cry from Jinnah’s Pakistan where officially encouraged and sponsored bigotry, intolerance and religious extremism has become the order of the day.
Ironically the hydra headed twin monsters of religious extremism and bigotry have been created in the name of mainstreaming them. What had started at the dharna (sit-in) in Islamabad by TLP (Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan) less than a year ago has come full circle. Now thanks to the mainstreamers it is a full-fledged political party that participated in the recent general elections and as anticipated deeply cut into the PML-N vote bank.
But at what cost? Just as the MQM created by late general Zia ul Haq and the Taliban during the first PPP regime later, the TLP now seeks veto power over how the state should function.
The PTI government seems happy to oblige. Are we inexorably headed towards becoming a theocratic state where certain elements will have virtual veto power over matters of the state and will determine how the citizens should conduct their daily lives?
One would have expected from the new PTI government to strengthen the 1973 constitution rather than submitting to those who consider themselves above the constitution. The present trend will only strengthen extremism and intolerance.
On martyrs’ day the Khan made a good speech in the presence of the Army Chief at the GHQ declaring that Pakistan would not fight anybody else’s war. Both stakeholders are well aware how the 20-point National Action Plan (to combat terrorism and extremism) largely remains unimplemented.
It is good to rightly claim credit for rooting out terrorism and that the terrorists are on the run. Contrarily no one talks about changing the narrative that has become increasingly retrogressive and intolerant.
Actions always speak louder than words. But unfortunately neither the politicians nor the deep state seem to be willing to walk the talk.
Even a large swath of the media fans intolerance and bigotry. It is only a minuscule minority that espouses at its own peril values that were so dear to the founder of the Nation.
(The writer is prominent journalist and Editor, Pakistan Today. He can be contacted at email@example.com.)