News Analysis |
Another highly qualified member of the Economic Advisory Council, formed by the Prime Minister nearly a week ago, has resigned in protest after Professor Atif Mian was asked to step down by the government. This marks the third member of the EAC that has stepped down before the Council could formally begin taking charge of its responsibilities. Initially, there was a sense of optimism that world-renowned experts would deliberate on Pakistan’s economic policy and that the experts were all Pakistanis.
In the 18 member Economic Advisory Council, 7 belonged to the government sector while 11 were from the private sector. Rational, evidence-based economic policy is the need of the hour for the country. Previous governments have given priority to political promises over the long-term health of the economy. The EAC seemed god-send. Unfortunately, 3 of its most qualified members have now resigned.
The Pakistani passport is already the fourth worst to have. There are only 25 countries where Pakistani can get visa-free access. This is just one example of how Pakistanis suffer due to the country’s “image deficit”.
Imran Rasul is a professor of Economics at the University College London. His main interest lies in labor, development and public economics. The work he has done has been published in leading economics journals such as the Journal of Political Economy, Quarterly Journal of Economics and the Review of Economic Studies. He was awarded the 2007 IZA Young Economist Prize. His list of achievements makes the country proud.
However, it is sad to see such a state of affairs that Pakistanis whose talent is renowned all over the globe don’t feel comfortable working for their home country. Yesterday, Asim Ijaz Khwaja, an economist, and professor of Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School also resigned in protest after Atif Mian had to step down. Professor Asim’s work has won acclaim internationally as well. He is the co-author of the book ‘Enterprising Psychometrics and Poverty Reduction. His areas of interest include economic development, finance, education, political economy, and institutions.
It is a loss for Pakistan to see both Mr. Asim and Mr. Imran resign. The country needs their expertise. Public opinion has been divided over their respective decisions to resign from the Economic Advisory Council. There are some who blame them for shirking their responsibilities, arguing that is not patriotic to leave the distinguished position accorded to them by the government in such manner. At the same time, many have appreciated them for their courage and for standing up for the values of tolerance, pluralism and individual rights that include religious freedom.
When Professor Asim resigned, he underlined his reasons for making the decision in a tweet. He said that his decision to leave the EAC was painful and deeply sad, adding that he was grateful for the chance to aid analytical reasoning but not when such values were comprised. Similarly, when Professor Imran Rasul resigned, he explained his rationale in a twitter thread. He said that basing decisions on religious affiliation was against his principles or the values he was trying to teach his children.
The mindset that leads people to question one’s religious affiliation before merit or competence is a gateway to sectarianism, intolerance and ultimately violence. The modern world has moved on from religious or racial prejudices, at least as far as the laws or popular mindset is concerned.
What values are they both talking about? Why did they resign? And how much do these values ultimately matter? In this landmark speech to the first constituent assembly of Pakistan, the father of the nation, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah said, “You are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed –that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”
The nation, however, seems to have forgotten his words. The religion of Professor Atif Mian did have something to do with the business of the State. This is not what The Quaid-e-Azam would have wanted Pakistan to become. “We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State,” he said. The great man could not have said it any more clearly.
It will be hard to find adequate replacements for the three members of EAC who have left. But their resignations-especially the reasons because of which they have resigned-are not just a loss for Pakistani domestically, but also doesn’t help Pakistan project its image abroad as a pluralistic, tolerant and inclusive nation. The Pakistani passport is already the fourth worst to have. There are only 25 countries where Pakistani can get visa-free access. This is just one example of how Pakistanis suffer due to the country’s “image deficit”.
In 2010, after the country was ravaged by floods, donor agencies were finding it hard to get funding to send aid to Pakistan. “We note often an image deficit with regards to Pakistan among Western public opinion,” said Elizabeth Byers, spokeswoman of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Similarly, Melanie Brooks, spokeswoman for the humanitarian group Care International said,” When it comes to Pakistan, the UN has to stress that the money being donated will not go to the Taliban or for funding terrorism. “..Information linked to Pakistan has always been linked to Taliban and terrorism,” she added.
One may go Ad nauseam about how the country suffers from its image. The mindset that leads people to question one’s religious affiliation before merit or competence is a gateway to sectarianism, intolerance and ultimately violence. The modern world has moved on from religious or racial prejudices, at least as far as the laws or popular mindset is concerned.
There is an opportunity here for Pakistan to change its course and embrace the values the father of the nation set out so eloquently for us. But as long as the government keeps towing to the pressure by far-right groups, the latter will only get emboldened and empowered. If that remains the case, Naya Pakistan won’t be so different from what we have had before.