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Economics and Religion

Editorial |

It is unfortunate both for Pakistan and its economy that the Imran Khan government has buckled at the threshold to the resonant rumblings and the ramped up pressure of the orthodox segment. It thus comes about that at a direly critical juncture ~ when the new establishment contends with a stuttering economy ~ the aggressive cricketer at the helm has had to play on the backfoot on what has turned out to be a rather treacherous pitch.

Not surprisingly for an Islamic country, the government has decided to drop its decision to include Dr Atif Mian, the renowned economist of Princeton University, in the new Economic Advisory Council. The contrived connection between economics and religion is as oddly communal as it is quirky. Prof Mian has been dropped from the expert panel for no cogent reason but the cavil of the clerics that he belongs to the stigmatised Ahmedi sect, one that also gave to the country one of its founding fathers in Muhammed Zafarullah Khan.

Sure Prof Mian is an Ahmedi, but what has that got to do with the essay towards shoring up the torpid economy? Palpable is the utter condescension towards the minorities, provoking the information minister, Fawad Chaudhury, to reject the criticism of the scheduled appointment, couched in the critical assertion that “Pakistan belongs to minority communities just as it does to the predominant majority”. That remarkably liberal construct, contextualised with the Prime Minister’s liberal credentials, has regretfully cut no ice. The government will be expected to walk the talk.

Mr Khan’s Naya Pakistan may yet be a long way away. Principally, the consummation to be devoutly wished for can hope to attain fruition if the grievances of all minorities, notably the occasionally persecuted Christians, is suitably addressed. This makes an inclusive policy imperative, a compulsion that has been accorded the short shrift by Pakistan as indeed all or nearly most Muslim countries.

In the larger canvas, the blasphemy law cries out for reflection not the least because of the resultant killings over the past few years, including that of the Governor of Punjab province. The Ahmedis languish in isolation, and it is fervently to be hoped that the current fiasco over Prof Mian’s appointment will spur rethink and redressal. As often as not, they are targeted by the extremists and their places of worship vandalised.

Sad to reflect, the line between religious orthodoxy and the discipline of economics has been blurred by the hardliners. No less distressing must be the reality that these hardliners have come to influence government policy.

Imran Khan may have grudgingly conceded the fatwa, but he has blighted his premiership at the threshold. He has had to lose the services of the only Pakistani to be considered among the International Monetary Fund’s “top 25 brightest young economists”. More’s the pity that the appointment has turned out to be an acrimonious issue, with the divisive canker of injustice at the core.