A meritorious appointment has been undone for reasons that have nothing to do with professional competence or qualification.

Princeton’s Prof Atif Mian has stepped down from the Economic Advisory Council after a campaign by far-right religious elements threatened to engulf the PTI government in a crisis that, sadly, could have quickly spiralled out of control.

On Aug 11, 1947, Mohammad Ali Jinnah famously declared: “You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the state.” In 71 years, Pakistan has slipped far from Jinnah’s beautiful dream and it is not clear how and when the country can be returned to the inclusive and progressive path that the founding father envisaged.

The PTI has clearly erred in both strategy and political will, but none of the mainstream political parties in the country have emerged from the episode with any credit. The PPP did not join a Senate resolution calling for Prof Mian’s removal, but neither did the party publicly endorse his appointment. The political class will try and put the latest capitulation behind it quickly, but the effects will surely linger.

The historical record incontrovertibly demonstrates that concessions to religious zealots further erode the space for rational discourse and decision-making. With profound governance challenges, a divided polity and a political landscape that is plagued by anti-democratic interference and other problems, no one party can take up the challenge of confronting religious extremism. But as security policymakers debate the political mainstreaming of some extant militant networks, there has been a question whether it is, in fact, extremism that is being mainstreamed in Pakistan.

The religious far right in the country has been mobilised in a manner that ought to worry all right-thinking citizens: short-sighted concessions and manipulations by the state will have far-reaching consequences for society.

Pakistan was, is and will remain a diverse society. Efforts to erase cultural, social and religious differences will not succeed because the population is vast and the country large. But beginning at the margins, it is possible to make life intolerable for a growing number of people — if hate is not purposefully and determinedly countered.

A brilliant mind has been prevented from serving his country; what hope is there for the average citizen in the face of intolerance and organised hostility? Jinnah’s Pakistan is tolerant, progressive, inclusive and democratic. Will Pakistan’s leadership return to the vision of the founding father?

Published in Dawn, September 8th, 2018

Opinion

Discipline and punish

Discipline and punish

The larger issue is that many within the police and the state view the role of the police as not one of service but of control.
The truly worrying malware
Updated 27 Jul 2021

The truly worrying malware

It’s excessive to hope that governments will surrender even when caught with their hands on the till.
Appointing VCs
27 Jul 2021

Appointing VCs

For VCs of yore, it was more than a job assignment.
Giving peace a chance
Updated 26 Jul 2021

Giving peace a chance

So long as Afghan government forces do not collapse in the face of the Taliban’s military assaults, diplomacy will have a chance.

Editorial

AJK’s ugly elections
Updated 27 Jul 2021

AJK’s ugly elections

All party leaders focused on insulting their rivals instead of talking about issues concerning the AJK electorate.
27 Jul 2021

Refugee concerns

AS Afghanistan slips back into chaos with a rapid Taliban advance, the possibility of refugees spilling over into...
27 Jul 2021

ECP vacancies

FEARS of yet another deadlock between the PTI government and the opposition on the selection of successors for...
26 Jul 2021

Senior citizens’ law

FOR all the cultural emphasis on respect and consideration for our elders, the state itself extends little by way of...
26 Jul 2021

Grim Covid realities

YET another grim milestone was reached last week when we became the 30th country in the world to mark a million...
Islamophobia envoy
Updated 26 Jul 2021

Islamophobia envoy

By calling for the appointment of a special envoy to counter Islamophobia, US lawmaker Ilhan Omar has raised a pertinent issue.