There’s nothing in the slightest bit surprising about the government backtracking on the appointment of Atif Mian in the Economic Advisory Council. It was always going to happen – the actual question was, when.
And it is the answer to that particular query that is especially damning. For, that capitulation didn’t come after PTI ministers were being violently hunted down, or after the capital being held hostage for weeks. It actually came less than a week into the appointment itself with the greatest pressure exerted at that point in time being a few tweets.
Furthermore, what is even more atrocious is the fact that a circus was created about the violent bigotry on display by the current government. For, not only did they ask Atif Mian to step down citing pressure, it had done so after tall claims of never doing precisely what they ended up doing.
One therefore asks what was the point of Information Minister Fawad Chaudhary’s tall claims about not “bowing down to extremists” – or asking if the minorities should be dumped by the state – or saying that Pakistan “belongs to the minorities just as much as it belongs to the majority.”
Truth be told, all these words in support of an Ahmadi citizen’s right to hold a position in an economic advisory body were bordering on trailblazing themselves, such has been the persecution of the community. But that is precisely why the circus of bigotry has been damning over the past week or so.
Party insiders have revealed that the pressure on the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) led government wasn’t just external, but there were visible cracks within the party as well. This is the second time Imran Khan himself has made a mockery of the Ahmadiyya community and Atif Mian specifically after having backtracked on his claim in 2014 that he wanted to make the economist his finance minister after being informed about his religious identity.
Let’s not forget here that this isn’t a question about the rights of the community or the Ahmadiyya question itself. It is simply a question of whether or not an Ahmadi as a right to hold a government position, which as citizens of the country, they should be entitled to. The answer the government provided for that is a resounding No.
One would like to know what the need for this circus was if PM Imran Khan and his government were going to capitulate without nary a threat being fired. Surely they would’ve known the backlash was going to come, and surely they would’ve had some strategy in place to deal with it – that seemed visible from Fawad Chaudhary’s then admirable stance on the matter.
What has happened instead is that the likes of Tehrik-e-Labbaik Pakistan have now been emboldened to continue to pursue their radically ridiculous demands like sifting economists of certain beliefs and severing diplomatic ties with countries on the actions of a few people.
Evidently, the TLP wasn’t just thrown into the mix to dent the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz vote bank, they are already proving themselves to be more than capable in keeping the current government on its toes. And given that the PTI leads the government in the centre along with Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkwa, tools like the TLP will always come in handy when the civilians start feeling a wee bit more powerful than they are supposed to.
But most crucially the government has clearly informed the Ahmadiyya community that regardless of their services to the country, Pakistan will not own them. The likes of Dr Abdus Salam and Atif R Mian will forever be Ahmadis and not Pakistanis, let alone a part of the religious community they want to identify with or being recognised as the finest of minds that the country has produced.
The writer is a Lahore-based journalist.