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September 9, 2018

Surrendering to bigots


September 9, 2018

Friday, September 7, 2018 was a day of shame. Dr Atif Mian, as PTI leader Faisal Javed Khan tweeted, “was asked to step down from the Advisory Council and he has agreed”. We know that this act of cowardice was prompted by the protest against the nomination of an Ahmadi on the Economic Advisory Council.

Now, imagine the coincidence that September 7 is the anniversary of the passage of the second amendment in the constitution of Pakistan. This happened in 1974, though the dark passions that this issue has aroused are somewhat of a recent origin.

One searing milestone in our journey into the lower depths of humanity was the assassination of Salmaan Taseer on January 4, 2011. There is a touch of a Greek tragedy – and also a certification of our insecurity – in the fact that the murderer was one of his own guards, professionally and morally bound to protect him. Add to this the ignominy of that person who fired the shots becoming a hero or some kind of a saint.

But we need to focus on this week’s saga of Atif Mian and the meaning of what has happened in the context of the decision-making process of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s new government. The message that has been delivered is to be deciphered carefully. The most significant feature of this episode is that only three days before, this government’s official spokesperson, Fawad Chaudhry had valiantly vowed that “we should not bow down to extremists”.

In light of what has happened, we should ask the PTI to remove ‘naya’ from its logo because it has quickly landed into ‘purana’ Pakistan. All that talk about ‘tabdeeli’, at least on this front, has withered away in the first flurry of harsh winds. So, they have not done things any differently from previous regimes.

Ah, but there is a big difference. The PTI should have known what was coming because it was fully aware of Atif Mian’s religious orientation. On the face of it, there was a resolve to confront bigots and socially regressive political elements on the professed grounds of merit and the constitutional edict of minorities being equal citizens of the country.

Yes, the challenge was formidable. The Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) of Khadim Hussain Rizvi has demonstrated both its street power and the patronage it receives, if you bear in mind that Faizabad Interchange sit-in in Islamabad. At the same time, Imran Khan has painstakingly cultivated the image of a fighter who can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

Here was an opportunity to take on a big band of extremists and win against them, irrespective of the bloody battle that could be necessary. That would change the country’s ideological sense of direction and truly herald a ‘naya’ Pakistan that is modern and enlightened. After all, Imran Khan draws a lot of his support from the modern, urban sectors and the educated youth, mainly women.

But another problem is that the PTI, like many other parties, had cynically played the Khatam-e-Nabuwwat card against the PML-N on the issue of a change in the oath for Muslim members of the National Assembly. Besides, the PTI represents various shades of political and ideological opinion. There is, for instance, the information minister in the Punjab government. He plays the role that Captain Safdar played in the PML-N, meaning that he can be very obnoxious.

Be that as it may, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry’s bravado on Tuesday was short-lived. In contrast to the confidence with which Fawad defended the choice of Atif Mian, the removal of the economist of global recognition from the Economic Advisory Council was revealed in a rather surreptitious manner when Faisal Javed tweeted early Friday morning. Fawad did (sheepishly?) defend it in his tweets but all seemed quiet and no top PTI leader seemed willing to speak his or her mind.

However, this was a bombshell for all forward-looking and progressive Pakistanis everywhere. This, by any measure, is not an ordinary development. It rattles one’s confidence in the intellectual and moral credentials of a party that has no reason to feel vulnerable. On Thursday, Imran Khan was the chief guest in the Defence Day ceremony held on the lawns of the GHQ. This was a veritable show of strength that was not facilitated for any other civilian leader.

So, when I learnt that the prime minister was to speak to the nation in the evening, the only guess I could make was that he would explain the Atif Mian embarrassment. As we know, he did not play ball. Sadly, I do not have the space to comment on what he actually said. This plan to crowd-fund a major dam also bears some evidence of how this government is struggling to find its feet and is not able to understand the complexity of governance.

In the same vein, the speech that Imran Khan made at the GHQ also demands meticulous analysis. It is interesting that he dismissed the civil-military divide as a myth, unmindful of the unfortunate history of Pakistan. In any case, the outcome of all this is that Imran Khan was not able to stand up for an appointment he had himself made.

It goes to Atif Mian’s credit that he has graciously accepted a decision that has unfairly dragged his name into controversy. One of his tweets: “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”.

Asim Ijaz Khwaja, a Harvard economist, was also appointed a member of the council. This was his tweet: “Have resigned from EAC. Painful, deeply sad decision. Grateful for chance to aid analytical reasoning but not when such values compromised. Personally as a Muslim I can’t justify this. May Allah forgive/guide me & us all. Ever ready to help. Pakistan Paindabad”. They were then followed by another member of the council, Imran Rasul.

This is what has happened within the first month of the new PTI government that was ushered into office by unbounded promises. Meanwhile, where do we locate the country that was founded by Jinnah and what has happened to the dream he had dreamt about religion not being the business of the state?

The writer is a senior journalist.

Email: [email protected]

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