Imran’s Faltering Start
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan failed in his first test of making Pakistan an inclusive society when he rescinded the appointment of noted economist Mr. Atif Rehman Mian as the new Government’s economic advisor. Khan buckled under pressure from Islamic fundamentalists who wanted the order of appointment to be withdrawn merely because Atif Mian belongs to Ahmadiya sect, which has been declared non-Muslim in Pakistan.
Atif eminently deserved the post. His professional credentials were impeccable and he could have brought about a turnaround in Pakistan’s doddering economy. He is the first person of Pakistani origin to rank among the top 25 young economists of the world. In 2014, the International Monetary Fund identified him as one the 25 young economists who it expected will shape the world’s thinking about the global economy in the future. He is known for his work on the connections between finance and the macro economy and is the author of the acclaimed book House of Debt (Chicago University Press) with Amir Sufi.
Imran Khan had promised to create a ‘Naya Pakistan’ (A new Pakistan) in his inaugural address. But he seems to be falling into the old rut of divisive politics which has often proved the nemesis for that country. Pakistan got into the sectarian quagmire with the declaration of Ahmedis as non-Muslim in 1974. It was a controversial decision by the then Government of that country, headed by mercurial Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who wanted to cap rising dissent and dissonance against him. There was no reason for a government to sit in judgment of one’s Islamic credentials when the group itself claimed adherence to the basic tenets of the religion. Secondly, diversity within the followers of a religion is a recognized norm all across religions. Fences cannot be raised around believers. Differences of opinion and divergence in matters of practice are part of the ever-evolving religious thought. People and ideas cannot be straitjacketed.
Even if the eminent economist did not fit the bill, according to some, in terms of his religious beliefs, there should have been no reason to reject him as a professional aide for economic affairs. The Islamic theologians do not tire waxing eloquent when claiming that professional expertise can be and must be accepted regardless of one’s personal beliefs. The instance of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his closest associate Hazrat Abu Bakar hiring a non-Muslim guide to escort them to Madinah during the Hijrah is often cited in proof of this doctrine. But the intensity of the sectarian divide in Pakistan often results in the mortgaging of sanity. A naïve Imran Khan has clearly fallen into the trap.