‘Naya’ Pakistan has finally made its way to become a reality after years long political struggle of Pakistan Tehreek-i- Insaf (PTI). PTI stands as a distinct political party in Pakistan, that has actively upheld the (re)institution of a just and reformed political, social and economic order. In this view, the voices insisting on the dismissal of the stagnated or otherwise struggling state of affairs during the election campaign earned acceptance from substantial sections of the Pakistani society. This is so because perhaps regardless of our inability to emerge as a consolidated nation, our society has historically proven to be easy to engage. A little ray of hope delicately garbed under loud promises of progressive policies, economic upheaval, strengthened governance, and/or a rhetoric upholding the need for an all-inclusive social structure, appears as a perfect prescription to foster what can be termed as a state of ‘targeted-amnesia’. Past becomes a thing of the past – literally and thereafter fractions of the society tend to incline towards ensuring the access to the only fair deal left in terms of leadership.
Almost a month from Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) victory in the 2018 election and Imran Khan’s subsequent assumption of office, people have come to experience an expectation-reality detachment. This disconnect dawned on the people of Pakistan and more essentially on the voters (who had voted for PTI), with the disturbing exclusion of an internationally recognized economist Atif Mian from the PM-led Economic Advisory Council (EAC) on the basis of his religious affiliation. Weeks after the distressing announcement, disbelief coupled with enormous backlash looms in the academic circles and in the larger liberal faction of the society against this incomprehensible expulsion. Mian belongs to the Ahmedi sect and somehow this affiliation has come to blemish his remarkable credentials as a well-known author and has overshadowed his qualification as an experienced economic expert. As a matter of brief historical recollection, the members of the Ahmedi sect are the disciples of Mirza Ghulam Ahmed of Qadiyan and fundamentally differ from Muslim faith on the basis of their disbelief in the finality of Prophethood (which contrarily defines the very foundation of the constitution of Pakistan). The concerns attached with the Ahmedi community and the parallel anti-Ahmedi sentiments date back to the days of the partition. However, following the passage of several decrees after 1953, the community was declared as ‘non-Muslim’ under the 2nd Amendment to the 1973 constitution passed in the year 1974.
The concerns attached with the Ahmedi community and the parallel anti-Ahmedi sentiments date back to the days of the partition. However, following the passage of several decrees after 1953, the community was declared as ‘non-Muslim’ under the 2nd Amendment to the 1973 constitution passed in the year 1974.
The current case in point of Atif Mian’s expulsion based on his affiliation with the Ahmedi community has intriguing dimensions to it. To begin with, simultaneously engaging and concerning is the cleavage in the party policy and practice that has come to surface too soon in time. To explore this, the announcement of de-nomination that came in a rather unusual fashion must first be looked at. In the initial proposition of names for the EAC, PTI leadership seemed pretty confident in its decision and declared party’s resolve to deal with all (probable) religious pressures on the issue. However, alongside this superficial sense of determination, Atif Mian in a tweet revealed his (forced) resignation from the advisory post keeping in view the instability in the state of affairs that ‘might’ surface as a reaction to his appointment. As a face-saving explanation, the only argument that the leadership could make was that the decision was taken in an attempt to ensure a consolidated stance of all factions to avoid any further fissures. Such myopic and distorted understanding of the religio-political cooperation is the last thing that was expected out of a party in office, whose official vision reads ‘PTI has always dedicated itself to the welfare of all the people of Pakistan without discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, origin, gender, or religion’. The term ‘welfare’ perhaps needs some serious re-definition, to include under its auspices the appointment of individuals, indifferent of their religious beliefs. The disappointing blow from the decision is not just rooted in the contradiction in text and practice of the party’s vision but is also linked to the vehement claims by the party on establishing and nurturing a sense of unified national awakening. In that, if ‘national’ awakening lacks something as basic as accommodating religious pluralism, then another re-definition is in order.
There have been glaring instances of mounting anti-Ahmedi sentiment in recent times. For instance, the physics centre at Quaid-e- Azam University (QAU), Islamabad, named after Professor Abdus Salam – country’s first Nobel laureate, underwent a sustained campaign by Captain Muhammad Safdar. Last year, during an anti-Ahmedi outburst on the floor of the National Assembly, Safdar criticised the renaming of the QAU physics centre after Professor Dr. Abdus Salam on the grounds that the scientist followed Ahmedi faith. In a similar vein lies the upsetting incident of brutal rape followed by murder of a seven-year old girl from Kasur while her parents were away to perform religious duties. From a layman’s point, the incident served as a major insight into the popular pulse pertaining to religious dispositions of individuals. Given the criticality of the incident, the then Chief Minister of Punjab Mian Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif took immediate notice and a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) was formed to look into the matter and ensure timely provision of justice. However, to the surprise of many, the victim’s father requested for a replacement of the JIT head, for the devised authority to chair the investigation, Additional IGP Abubakar Khuda Bakhsh was a Qadiani by faith. In a statement requesting the said replacement, the victim’s father explicitly said, ‘we do not have trust in the head of the JIT. We want someone who is a Muslim’. The trail of events tainted with the unfortunate and gradual religious marginalization in the country now has an added chapter with the expulsion of Atif Mian.
A tough stance on this issue, however could have served as a major step forward in (re)establishing meritocracy over faith-based psychosis and religious pluralism over religio-centricism, the absence of which has marred our social scene for quite some time now.
Lastly, the most pertinent dimension to draw from Atif Mian’s (forced) expulsion is an imagining into ‘what could have been’; i.e. to conceive the wide array of possibilities that could have been achieved had the government taken a step forward to stand by and effectively justify an absolutely rational nomination, made solely to facilitate the planning and development of our very own economy. A resilient stance on not giving in to any pressures could have proved central in inducing the values of a non-partisan religious acceptance and a sense of integrated diversity that has otherwise remained absent from our national narrative. The debate on the non-existence and/or the ambiguities in the so-called national narrative is fairly a long one. But if observed closely, the entire EAC exclusion quandary is intrinsically linked to the flawed construction of Pakistan’s national narrative which in its true sense has historically remained subject to ‘event-based episodic awakenings’ without any special attention on fostering and valuing diversity in all realms. A tough stance on this issue, however could have served as a major step forward in (re)establishing meritocracy over faith-based psychosis and religious pluralism over religio-centricism, the absence of which has marred our social scene for quite some time now. Perhaps, the government does not realize as yet the burden of this lost opportunity and its role in taking the first step for a long delayed transformation of Pakistan’s social fabric.
As contended in the beginning, this nation is vulnerable to (and perhaps fond of) falling for amnesia; it is just a matter of another engaging distraction that this will be forgotten. Dawn aptly describes this tendency as ‘in no time at all, we will move on, distracted like a child is by a set of shiny keys being rattled’. If the PTI government truly wishes to transform the country to its core, especially in the context of nurturing a sense of ‘national’ awakening, it needs to alter the flawed wiring under its ‘re-start’ button for a ‘Naya Pakistan’ for ‘Naya’ must connote inclusive, participatory, non-partisan and a progressive Pakistan.
is a graduate from National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST), Islamabad. She holds MS degree in Peace and Conflict Studies. Her areas of interest include local politics, radicalization, terrorism & counter-terrorism and discourse analysis .She currently works as a Research Associate at the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research (CSCR), Islamabad.