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Needless controversy

Updated September 06, 2018

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WHAT ought to have been an uncontroversial appointment has turned into an acrimonious issue at the heart of which is a divisive disease that, if left uncured, can rend the very fabric of society.

The government’s decision to include Dr Atif Mian — an economist of international renown — in its new Economic Advisory Council has generated much controversy as the Princeton professor is a member of the stigmatised Ahmedi community.

Defending his appointment, however, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry rejected the criticism on Tuesday, saying that Pakistan belonged to minority communities just as much as it did to the larger majority. Stressing Dr Mian’s academic credentials, Mr Chaudhry rhetorically asked whether minority communities should be thrown out of the country. On Wednesday, Mr Chaudhry reiterated the government’s position.

Unfortunately, there are many sections of society that are hostile towards those who hold religious beliefs outside the majority faith.

Over the decades, the country has morphed from one where the contribution of minority communities to state and society were celebrated, to one where individuals are targeted on the basis of their belief and often subjected to the most condemnable forms of vigilantism.

The malaise has gone far beyond the religious right — and has now also taken a hold of those representing the political mainstream. Consider the calling attention notice objecting to Dr Mian’s appointment that was submitted to the Senate. Most of the 16 senators who signed it do not belong to the religious parties.

At best, this can be interpreted as a populist move. At worst, it shows that there is increasing prejudice against minorities even at the top political levels. The government’s approach is then commendable as it has attempted to send a message that personal beliefs should not come in the way of matters of governance and administration.

Indeed, there should be no room for discrimination against minority communities, especially in a country where the right to religious freedom is enshrined in the Constitution.

Published in Dawn, September 6th, 2018