The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government on Tuesday defended a leading international academic appointed by Prime Minister Imran Khan to the Economic Advisory Council (EAC), saying that Pakistan "belongs to minorities as much as it belongs to the majority".
The statement came from the Minister of Information Fawad Chaudhary amidst a vicious online campaign targeting the academic for his Ahmadiyya faith.
The appointment of Dr Atif R. Mian of Princeton University (Department of Member Economics and Woodrow Wilson School of Public Policy) to the 18-member EAC set up to advise the government on economic policy was opposed by some individuals and groups, including Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), who objected to his Ahmadi faith.
A social media smear campaign erupted against the economist's appointment, with many calling for his removal.
A large number of detractors, however, showed support for Mian, saying that one's religion should not factor into their professional qualifications or employment.
During a press talk in Islamabad today, Chaudhry asked: "Should there be restrictions imposed on minorities in Pakistan? Should minorities in Pakistan be thrown out?"
"What kind of people say things like this?" Chaudhry wondered. "This is a man who the entire world is saying will receive a Nobel Peace Prize in the next five years. He has been appointed to the Economic Advisory Council, not the Council of Islamic Ideology or something else."
"Pakistan belongs as much to minorities as it does to the majority," he added.
"I don't think anyone should have objections [to Mian's appointment], and those who do, they are basically extremists and we will not bow to extremists," he asserted.
"Protecting minorities is our responsibility. It is the religious duty of each Muslim, not just the government, to protect minorities and respect those that they live with," Chaudhry said.
He also took to Twitter so share a message: "Quaid e Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah appointed Sir Zafar Ullah as Foreign minister of Pakistan; we'll follow [the] principles of Mr Jinnah, not of extremists."
His thoughts were echoed by Minister of Human Rights Shireen Mazari, who tweeted: "Exactly. Well put indeed. Time to reclaim space for the Quaid's Pakistan!".
A call-to-attention notice had earlier been submitted in Senate today by opposition parties against Atif Mian's inclusion to the EAC.
The notice bore the signatures of the PML-N, Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal and the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party members.
No member of the PPP signed the document, with the party making it clear that it would not be part of a witch-hunt based on someone's faith.