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ISLAMABAD: Within three days of its rhetoric about the rights of minorities, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government bowed down to pressure from religious groups and asked a renowned economist belonging to the Ahmadi community to step down from the Prime Minister-led Economic Advisory Council (EAC) only to lose another EAC member from the private sector hours later over the controversial move.

The government decision to withdraw Dr Atif R. Mian’s name from the advisory council was made public through a tweet by Senator Faisal Javed, who is also chairman of the Senate standing committee on information, on Friday morning.

“Atif Mian was asked to step down from the Advisory Council and he has agreed. A replacement would be announced later,” Senator Javed tweeted at 8.49am. Over half an hour later, information minister Fawad Chaudhry, who had strongly defended the appointment earlier this week, confirmed the development declaring that the government decided to withdraw his nomination from the EAC to avoid any controversy.

Another EAC member Dr Asim Ijaz Khwaja resigns over the withdrawal of Dr Atif Mian’s name from the advisory council after backlash from religious groups

However, the controversy deepened further when another EAC member, Dr Asim Ijaz Khwaja from the Harvard Kennedy School, on Friday evening also stepped down from the council over the withdrawal of Dr Atif’s name.

Explaining the circumstances that led to his resignation, Dr Atif said the government was facing tremendous pressure over his appointment from Muslim clerics and their followers. “For the sake of the stability of the Government of Pakistan, I have resigned from the Economic Advisory Council, as the Government was facing a lot of adverse pressure regarding my appointment from the Mullahs (Muslim clerics) and their supporters,” he tweeted.

Earlier on Tuesday, the government spokesman had strongly defended Dr Atif’s appointment to the EAC on the grounds that Pakistan belongs to majority Muslims as well as non-Muslim minorities. “What is wrong with the appointment of a professional economist as a member of the EAC?” said Mr Chaudhry while talking to the media. “He is a member of the Economic Advisory Council and not the Council of Islamic Ideology,” he remarked.

Three days later the government apparently succumbed to the pressure generated by the call attention notice submitted in both houses of parliament against the appointment of a person belonging to the Ahmadi faith and a petition filed in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) challenging his appointment.

The call attention notice was led by Maulana Asad-ur-Rehman, son of JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, in the National Assembly and by Maulana Ata-ur-Rehman in the Senate. The notice was signed by parliamentarians belonging to the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and even liberals belonging to the Awami National Party, National Party and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party. The Pakistan Peoples Party, however, did not support the call attention notice.

Explaining reasons for the government decision to withdraw the name, the information minister tweeted: “The government wants to move forward alongside scholars and all social groups, and it is inappropriate if a single nomination creates an otherwise impression.”

In another tweet, Mr Chaudhry elaborated that the ideal state, according to Prime Minister Imran Khan, was of Madina and that the premier and members of his cabinet held Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in high esteem.

“Imran Khan idealise ‘the state of Madina’, the prime minister and his cabinet members are the faithful lovers of Holy Prophet (PBUH), the finality of Prophethood (Khatam-i Nubuwat) is part of our faith and the recent success of the government over the controversy related to the blasphemous caricature competition is a proof of it,” he added. Later Dr Atif, a professor of Economics and the only Pakistani to be considered among International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) ‘top 25 brightest young economists’, tweeted: “Nevertheless, I will always be ready to serve Pakistan as it is the country in which I was raised and which I love a great deal. Serving my country is an inherent part of my faith and will always be my heartfelt desire.

“Moving forward, I now hope and pray that the Economic Advisory Council is able to fulfil its mandate in the very best way so that the Pakistani people and nation can prosper and flourish.

“My prayers will always be with Pakistan and I will always be ready to help it in any way that is required.”

An hour later, another EAC member Dr Asim Ijaz Khwaja, professor of International Finance and Development at the Harvard Kennedy School, announced his decision to resign from the advisory council. Dr Khwaja tweeted: “Have resigned from EAC. Painful, deeply sad decision. Grateful for chance to aid analytical reasoning but not when such values compromised. Personally as a Muslim I can’t justify this. May Allah forgive/guide me&us all. Ever ready to help.Pakistan Paindabad”

Meanwhile, Jemima Goldsmith, former spouse of PM Imran Khan, criticised the government decision in her tweet and stated: “The founder of Pakistan, ‘Quaid-i-Azam’ appointed an Ahmadi as his Foreign Minister.”

She said: “Indefensible & very disappointing. New Pak government asks renowned & respected Prof of economics to stand down because of his Ahmadi faith.”

Published in Dawn, September 8th, 2018