HIMMAT is starting off as a blog by Rajmohan Gandhi who has written on the Indian independence movement and its leaders, South Asian history, India-Pakistan relations, human rights and conflict resolution. His latest book is Modern South India: A History from the Seventeenth Century to the Present (New Delhi: Aleph, forthcoming).

Defending a minority

Though South Asia’s Ahmadis (also spelt Ahmedis, Ahmediyas, Ahmediyyas, etc.) are among the most devout disseminators of Islam’s sacred book, they have faced persecution in Pakistan, where laws compel all citizens to affirm that Ahmadis are not Muslims.

The right of individuals to give themselves and their children a name of their choosing is recognized in most lands. If asked about their religious belief, individuals in many nations are free to describe it in words of their choice. But Ahmadis in Pakistan cannot say they are Muslim, and non-Ahmadis too are required to declare that Ahmadis are not Muslims.

Though not so far reduced to a governmental law, the RSS’s insistence that India’s Muslims should call themselves, and be called, ‘Hindus of the Islamic or Muhammadi sect’ carries a similar odour of imposition.

When Pakistan’s new Prime Minister, Imran Khan, named 43-year-old Atif R. Mian, a brilliant economics professor at Princeton, to his Economic Advisory Council, it seemed that Ahmadis in Pakistan might start to breathe more freely, for Mian is an Ahmadi.

But the impression was too good to last. Mian was quickly dropped. The Pakistani government explained on 7 September that it ‘wants to move forward alongside scholars and all social groups, and it is inappropriate if a single nomination creates an impression to the contrary’.

More information can be found at https://thewire.in/south-asia/imran-khan-atif-r-mian-pakistan-pti. 

Within hours of the withdrawal of the nomination, two Pakistani economists named to the EAC along with Mian tweeted their decision to leave the high-level panel: the Harvard-connected Asim Ijaz Khwaja and London’s Imran Rasul.

Through their swift step of protest, Khwaja and Rasul have signalled that Pakistani professionals can possess independent minds and are willing to pay a price for their convictions. 

While Khwaja declared, ‘Personally as a Muslim I can’t justify this,’ Rasul said: ‘Basing decisions on religious affiliation goes against my principles, or the values I am trying to teach my children.’

The public steps taken by Khwaja and Rasul will hearten all lovers of individual liberty. Pakistan’s leading newspapers too have adopted encouraging positions.

Dawn comments, ‘Atif Mian’s removal has dealt another blow to Jinnah’s vision of a tolerant & inclusive Pakistan.’

The Nation calls the decision to drop Atif Mian a ‘pitiful surrender’ and thinks that pressure from extremist groups on Imran Khan’s party, PTI, ‘will only become more violent and active, now that their demands are met’. The paper adds: ‘This classical U-turn by the government will only come back to haunt it in the future.’

Making a similar comment, The News writes, ‘This blatant cowering to the religious Right does not bode well for the much lauded EAC, which was supposed to comprise the cream of Pakistan’s economists and the private sector.’

Imran Khan’s climb-down is disappointing, but it is of interest that he named Mian in the first place, and also that at least some of Imran’s PTI colleagues were enthusiastic in support.

The Atif Mian story is of wide relevance, including to India. 

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