WE are two of a group of 11 independent economists who were honoured to join the Economic Advisory Council — a chance to serve our country at a critical turn in its economic path. Not long after the Council was formed, a fellow member, Professor Atif Mian, was asked to resign on account of his religious beliefs. We are united in our outrage and strongly condemn this. Not only is this bias unjust, it puts our nation at a very real disadvantage by depriving our leaders of the best available advice on how to deal with the present crisis.
As a result of this, a few of us have tendered their resignations. However, others have chosen to remain. Those who have resigned are being recognised as people of principle by some, and maligned as cowardly by others. Those staying are accused of being ethically challenged.
Yet, as individuals who have made different choices, we respect and support each other’s decisions. Our difference does not arise because we hold dissimilar values but due to small variations in how we weigh them.
There are two opposing factors at play. The first is the principle of non-discrimination. Every Pakistani should have the right to serve their country regardless of their religion, gender, or ethnicity. This is enshrined in our constitution. Any vetting should solely be on the basis of their professional merit. This was violated in asking Professor Mian, one of the most eminent and globally recognised Pakistani economists, to resign from the EAC.
The second factor is the moral imperative of staying engaged even when one disagrees. Entirely abdicating from contributing, especially when the situation is challenging to one’s beliefs, would mean allowing one set of forces to dominate the nation’s policy. The need for balanced, analytically informed and non-partisan advice is especially true now as our country faces a financial and fiscal crisis. In the coming weeks, very difficult economic decisions will need to be made. Handled incorrectly, this could adversely impact every Pakistani — on all sides of the spectrum — especially the poorest and the most marginalised. Were everyone on the EAC to resign, the disruption and likely loss of confidence would be substantial. We don’t believe our country can afford such disruption.
The focus should not be on who stays or leaves the EAC, but that we all uphold our shared value of non-discrimination, and that we enable the best, non-partisan, and economically sound advice to set Pakistan on the course of rapid, sustainable and inclusive growth.
Those of us who resign from the EAC must find alternative ways to help. All three who have resigned, including Atif Mian, have indeed affirmed their commitment to remain engaged. Those of us who remain, must work with the government to champion and empower those who face discrimination. A good start would be to invite accomplished female economists in the EAC. Diversity is a valuable end in itself and enables more balanced, thoughtful and representative decision making.
If we are to progress as a nation we cannot afford to get mired in partisan politics or vilify and demonise one another. In a world where dark divisive forces are ascending, we hope Pakistan can Insha Allah overcome these challenging moments and hasten the dawn that we all pray for.
Published in Dawn, September 11th, 2018