By Mehmal Sarfraz
The wait is over. We finally have a messiah for prime minister. We should be jubilant. We should be overjoyed. Those of us who are critical of this government are just people who want the corrupt mafia to rule Pakistan forever. This is the discourse of Imran Khan’s ‘Naya Pakistan’. There should be no objectivity; questions should not be asked; there should be no criticism; Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and Prime Minister Khan are the best. Every other politician and political party pales in comparison. Period.
Whatever PM Khan is doing is for the good of this country, and he cannot be questioned because he only wants the best for Pakistan. After all, as prime minister, Khan has reminded us ad nauseam that he had everything – fame, glory, money… everything. He didn’t need to join politics, he didn’t need to mix with the riff-raff of this country, he didn’t need to mingle with the masses, he didn’t need to do anything for this country’s political spectrum because he had everything. Yet he left everything the world had to offer and chose to serve Pakistan. And, after 22 years of his political struggle, he has finally achieved what he set out to do – become the prime minister of Pakistan.
Lo and behold, now he will change our country’s fortunes in the next five years. We will see foreign investment that we have never seen before, we will see our tax net grow manifold, we will never have to go to the International Monetary Fund or rely on foreign aid, corruption will be eliminated, our health sector will be top-rated, our education system will be revamped, poverty will end, so on and so forth. Or so we are made to believe by the current discourse on the mainstream media as well as on social media.
So what if PM Khan has asked Pakistanis overseas to donate 1000 dollars to the dams fund set up by the Supreme Court of Pakistan? So what if he thinks that running a country is like running a charity hospital or a cricket team? Skipper has done it before – made the impossible happen – and he will do it again. Right? Uh huh.
Let’s analyse what Prime Minister Khan has done ever since he formed his government. His cabinet had very few new faces, which is understandable given the fact that he inducted ‘electables’ into his party in order to come to power. Most of his cabinet choices were fine. Then came the decision to appoint the chief minister of Punjab, Pakistan’s largest province. After a decade of Shahbaz Sharif who was out there and always doing one thing or the other, we now have a chief minister whose name literally came out of the blue. PM Khan tweeted that he had decided on Usman Buzdar after “due diligence”; Khan “found him to be an honest man” with “integrity” and someone who stands by his “vision & ideology of Naya Pakistan”. Buzdar created quite a stir when he transferred the district police officer of Pakpattan, Rizwan Gondal, because of an incident involving the first lady’s former husband. Some TV commentators and journalists said Buzdar is quite close to the first lady’s family and this perhaps explains why he was chosen. One can only speculate.
It is quite the norm that many appointments made by governments are criticized. So let’s move on from the usual criticism and talk about something that really needs to be talked about. The PTI government appointed Atif Mian, amongst other top economists, to its Economic Advisory Council. Mian was the first economist of Pakistani origin to be listed as one of the “25 economists under 45 who are shaping the way we think about the global economy” by the IMF. This move was hailed by many Pakistanis. Yet there were those who were sceptical of it. And with good reason.
During his dharna back in 2014, Khan had announced that he would appoint Mian his finance minister if he ever comes to power because he believes in merit. A few days later, it was ‘discovered’ that Mian was an Ahmadi – a sect that was officially declared non-Muslim by the government of Pakistan in 1974. Since then, the Ahmadis have faced the worst kind of persecution at the hands of the State as well as religious zealots. When this was pointed out to Khan, he backtracked on his earlier pledge.
Almost four years have passed since then and now and when Mian’s name was announced as one of the key members in the EAC it came as a surprise. Many people thought that Khan had taken a wonderful initiative by nominating Mian as he was worthy of the position. Then came the backlash from the usual suspects, mostly on social media but there were some who turned it into a religious issue on the mainstream media as well. This decision was defended by a couple of PTI ministers but we did not see Asad Umar, Pakistan’s finance minister, utter a single word on the issue. As the backlash continued, PTI surrendered and how. On Friday, September 7, PTI’s senator, Faisal Javed Khan, tweeted: “Atif Mian was asked to step down from the Advisory Council and he has agreed. A replacement would be announced later.” The Ahmadis were declared non-Muslims on September 7, 1974.
Mian graciously resigned “for the sake of the stability of the Government of Pakistan”. Economists the world over criticized the State of Pakistan for its bigotry. Asim Ijaz Khwaja and Imran Rasul – two other economists appointed to the EAC – resigned in protest. The bigots celebrated while the moderates and the liberals were gobsmacked by the government’s capitulation. The PTI government has the most powerful institutions – the military and the judiciary – on its side as well as the media. Why did it give in to the religious Right? Why could it not take a stand? Mian’s appointment had nothing to do with his faith and everything to do with his expertise in the field of economics. Dawn asked an important question in its editorial: “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?”
A lot of us are now wondering if this is the beginning of the end, and if we are in for much worse. How do we defend our nation from this tide of creeping fascism before it is too late is a question we, as Pakistanis, must answer. And quickly.