Islamabad: I didn’t know the man from Adam. In fact, the first time I heard about him was when a highly charged Imran Khan, in one of his typical emotional public outbursts during election campaign days, praised him profusely and posed the rhetorical question of why he shouldn’t appoint an accomplished economist like Atif Mian as his finance minister instead of someone like Ishaq Dar, who owed his job to his being the samdhi of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
Next stop for me, Google. And of course a few telephone calls here and there and the portrait of a world-class economist stared back at me. Woh, hold on for a minute right here, cause there was a religious niggle…the gentleman was an Ahmadi. Surely, Imran must know about this little critical bit, I thought, then said a silent praise for IK’s progressive and bold stance and forgot about the man. Till recently that is, when Atif Mian was ceremoniously nominated as member of IK government’s Economic Advisory Council, and almost as quickly and unceremoniously chucked out the moment he drew flak from the religious extreme.
Atif Mian could not serve his country because he was an Ahmadi, roared Maulana Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the self anointed protector and final authority on all matters relating to the holy prophet (PBUH). Information Minister Fawad Ch responded with admirable tenacity and defended the appointment, but only for a couple of days. The maulana threatened a long march towards Islamabad and the government’s defiance proved a shamefully short pause. Its stance proving little more than a castle built on shifting sands of political convenience.
A world-class economist, even tipped as a probable Nobel laureate, was shot down by someone who does not pay a single penny in taxes, contributes nothing to national economy, and yet decides who gets to help Pakistan and its economy. But hey, why bother with these little technicalities, right? What matters is that the maulana got his scalp, more wind under his fast expanding sails and surely he’ll be around for another crusade, another scalp, come next opportune moment. But this piece is not about the maulana or his aggression, but the regression of the IK administration.
Barring Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, no one else’s popularity stats come even close to Imran Khan as he assumed the office of prime minister. That he is immensely popular is an understatement. That the opposition may be large numerically but is insignificant impact wise is an undisputed fact. That the IK administration enjoys unprecedented level of comfort with the armed forces is open knowledge. To sum it up, the IK administration could not have even prayed for a better positioning at the starting line of the 500-meter (read: 5 year) race in running the country. It had all the makings of a government that enjoyed the political capital to start governing on its own terms and not be dictated to. And yet, it caved in to the first perceived challenge to its decision by the religious hardliners.
Talking to a federal minister I got a very interesting, or should I say pragmatic, response. Justifying the retreat he argued, “look, lets be practical here. If we had stuck to our guns then maulana sahib would have gotten the ruse to come to Islamabad and make a fuss and then either we would have had to use force or face humiliation. Either way we would have been on the losing end. Nobody is indispensable and so we dropped Atif Mian and avoided starting off on the wrong foot with religious parties”. At the level of political convenience, the gentleman indeed made perfect sense but want about the principle of issues. The question here is not of an individual but of principle(s).
Atif Mian the individual is irrelevant here, but not the issues of law and morThis episode has raised a number of questions, once again. Are religious minorities not allowed to work for the good of the country? Is a non-Muslim Pakistani citizen a child of a lesser God? Is Pakistan an Islamic state in real essence, or just a state for Muslims? Are today’s decision makers smarter than Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah who had a Hindu as his minister for law and an Ahmadi as his foreign minister? or will now even the man who gave us our homeland be branded a heretic as well? Was the progressive and all-inclusive world view of the founder of this country correct, or the bigoted one of the followers of that very religious right that had opposed the very creation of Pakistan, but today insist on being the custodians of its ideology?
We know where the rise of the religious extremism started and the fall of the nation started. It was Gen.Zia Ul Haque’s duplicity alone and his penchant for nurturing a religious flock of his own political device. The question now is, where does it end?
I agree with my defeated friend, the apologetic federal minister who justified the all-powerful government’s buckling at the knees, to the extent that probably the government was wise to avert an avoidable standoff. But do wish that in future it would think before it embarks on a certain course instead of making shameful U-turns. As for ending this streak of ‘religious coercion’ by those playing manipulative religious politics in a predominantly conservative population is concerned, the solution does not lie in ‘political mainstreaming’ of religious fringe elements. The present trend of ‘mainstreaming’ such groups and parties has only forced otherwise moderate political entities to harshen their religious rhetoric to match those of these fringe elements in a bid to strengthen their own ‘conservative Muslim credentials’. Unfortunately, instead of the many causing behavior changes of the few, it’s happening the other way around.
What needs to be done is the immediate implementation of the 21-point National Action Plan. The execution of the plan in letter and spirit will erase curses of bigotry, religious hatred, lies in name of Allah and Islam, and the list reads on. In brief, it will gradually rob the religious extremists of their tools of trade to mislead the ordinary folks and dismantle the seemingly legitimate platforms used to spread their message. NAP has to succeed if we want religious extremists forces to lose out in this country. Political mainstreaming of religious extremist groups must be preceded by their ideological reorientation to a minimum level at least or else they will pollute others as well. We can and must build our Islamic Republic by becoming better humans and Muslims, instead of running non-Muslims into the ground. The IK government must decide whether its Naya Pakistan will be based on the liberal Islamic ideology of Jinnah, or the bigoted manipulative distorted version espoused by the religious extremists. Oh one last thing, Riasat-e-Madina was famous for treating its minorities as equals, and not otherwise. But hey, who cares about these little technicalities, right?