Imran Khan, Prime Minister of Pakistan (Photographer: Asad Zaidi/Bloomberg)

Imran Khan’s Party Asks Minority Pakistan Economist to Quit

(Bloomberg) -- Pakistan’s government asked an economist from a persecuted and minority Muslim sect to step down from an adviser role days after it defended his appointment in the face of criticism from a hard-line Islamist party.

Atif Mian, a professor at Princeton University, was asked to resign from the 18-member Economic Advisory Council, Pakistan Senator Faisal Javed Khan, a member of Imran Khan’s ruling Movement for Justice party, said Friday on Twitter. A replacement will be announced later, he said.

“For the sake of the stability of the government of Pakistan, I have resigned from the Economic Advisory Council, as the government was facing a lot of adverse pressure regarding my appointment from the Mullahs (Muslim clerics) and their supporters,” Mian said on Twitter.

The U-turn will likely be seen as a caving in to the right-wing Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party, which demanded Mian’s removal and has held violent street protests in the past year. The TLP came to prominence after it clogged up Islamabad in November over a change in a lawmaker oath seen as more accommodating the Ahmaddiyya, a sect that believes in another prophet after Muhammad and which the TLP sees as blasphemous.

Mian’s appointment had raised hopes that former cricket star Khan, who had fanned anti-Ahmaddiyya sentiment during this year’s election campaign, would run a more tolerant government and push back against religious extremism in the conservative Muslim-majority nation. In an address to the nation Friday evening, Khan didn’t mention the controversy surround Mian, instead choosing to appeal to overseas Pakistanis to repatriate foreign currency to fund dam projects.

“The government fails at its first real test against an entrenched and powerful lobby -- the religious right in Pakistan,” said Umair Javed, an assistant professor at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. It’s “providing further space to the religious right and emboldening them.”

Angry Outcry

The TLP, which advocates implementation of strict Islamic law and finished sixth in July’s election, held a short protest last month after Dutch nationalist politician Geert Wilders planned a caricature competition depicting the Prophet Muhammad. Wilders called off the contest after facing an angry outcry.

Mian’s appointment was also defended by the nation’s Information and Broadcasting Minister Fawad Chaudhry earlier this week.

“I do not understand where all this is coming from, should we put restrictions on minorities?” said Chaudhry. “This is a person who people say may win the Nobel Peace Prize in the next five years. He’s part of the Economic Advisory Council, not some Islamic council.”

The Economic Advisory Council was formed this month to help Khan’s government tackle a mounting financial crisis as Pakistan’s current-account deficit widens and foreign-exchange reserves dwindle at the fastest pace in Asia. The government needs a bailout of about $12 billion with a decision to be taken this month that includes a possibility of a loan from the International Monetary Fund, Finance Minister Asad Umar told Bloomberg last month.

Asim Khwaja, a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School, also resigned from the council in protest. “Grateful for chance to aid analytical reasoning, but not when such values compromised,” he said on Twitter. “Personally as a Muslim I can’t justify this.”

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