ISLAMABAD: Despite his firm resolve till the last moment to retain Dr Atif Mian as a member of the Economic Advisory Council (EAC), internal dissent, coupled with “reports” of possible countrywide violent protests by religious organisations, forced Prime Minister Imran Khan to take back the decision.

Highly-placed sources told Dawn that the government had to swallow the bitter pill of taking a U-turn on the issue of Atif Mian’s nomination as EAC member within three days after receiving reports that some religious groups were planning to stage sit-ins in Islamabad on Friday (Sept 7) at a time when foreign dignitaries from China and Saudi Arabia were scheduled to arrive here.

Moreover, the sources said, some members of the federal cabinet, including the religious affairs minister, suggested to the prime minister to review his decision and warned him that the situation could become ugly for the government at a time when it was still in the process of settling down.

Prime Minister Khan was told that the government could face an embarrassing situation if the protests continued in the presence of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Saudi Minister for Information Dr Awwad Bin Saleh Al Awwad in Islamabad.

Non-availability of political support on the issue, mainly from the two major opposition parties, also played a key role in forcing the government to review the decision, the sources added.

On the other hand, the opposition parties claim that the government had appointed Dr Atif Mian as EAC member without consulting them and, later, withdrew his nomination in haste, again without taking them or the parliament into confidence.

Within three days of its rhetoric about the rights of minorities, the PTI government bowed down to pressure from religious groups and asked Atif Mian, who belongs to the Ahmadi community, to step down from the prime minister-led EAC.

It was on Friday that PTI Senator Faisal Javed and Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry announced that the government had asked the US-based academic to step down from the EAC, following criticism of his nomination from various circles, mainly from the religious groups and parties. The PTI leaders said that the government had made the decision to avoid any controversy.

However, the controversy deepened further when two more EAC members — Dr Asim Ijaz Khwaja from the Harvard Kennedy School and Dr Imran Rasul, a professor of economics at University College, London — also quit the EAC over the withdrawal of Dr Atif Mian’s name.

The sources said that the government had apparently succumbed to the pressure generated by calling attention notices submitted in both houses of parliament against Atif Mian’s nomination in the EAC and a petition filed in the Islamabad High Court challenging his appointment.

The calling attention notice in the National Assembly was submitted by Maulana Asadur Rehman, the son of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman and, in the Senate, it was moved by Maulana Ataur Rehman, the brother of the JUI-F chief. The parliamentarians belonging to the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and even liberals and secular nationalist parties from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces had also put their signatures on the notice in the Senate. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), however, did not support the move and its members flatly refused to sign the notice in the Senate.

A PML-N senator later claimed that he and some other members of his party had also refused to sign the notice, adding that those PML-N members who had signed the notice had done so in their individual capacity as the party had no such policy.

The sources in the ruling party said that besides Prime Minister Imran Khan, a number of senior PTI leaders and some federal ministers felt “depressed” after the withdrawal of the nomination of Atif Mian, a professor of Economics and the only Pakistani to be considered among International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) ‘top 25 brightest young economists’, and resignation of two other members from the EAC.

Even Jemima Goldsmith, the former wife of PM Imran Khan, criticised the government decision in a tweet: “The founder of Pakistan, Quaid-i-Azam, appointed an Ahmadi as his foreign minister.” “Indefensible & very disappointing. New Pak government asks renowned & respected Prof of economics to stand down because of his Ahmadi faith.”

Talking to Dawn, a PTI leader termed the situation “unfortunate”, saying that the move had damaged the party’s image. He said the party had taken the decision keeping in view the last year’s incident when the previous PML-N government had to accept most of the demands of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan after its sit-in at Faizabad against proposed changes to the Khatam-i-Nabuwat declaration for election candidates.

The PTI leader admitted that his party had not supported the then government at that time due to political compulsions and now the opposition had done so in a “tit-for-tat” move.

In a Twitter message, Senator Sherry Rehman of the PPP opposed the calling attention notice though another leader of the party, former deputy speaker of Sindh Assembly Shehla Raza, had earlier criticised Prime Minister Imran Khan over Dr Atif Mian’s appointment, calling him a hypocrite as he had appointed the great grandson of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the founder of Ahmadi faith, as his adviser.

Sources in the PPP said that the party leadership had taken note of Shehla Raza’s tweet and reprimanded her.

Published in Dawn, September 10th, 2018