That the wolves would soon be at the door should not have surprised anybody. What is surprising, however, is that Imran Khan’s people were not better prepared to deal with the hungry pack left out in the political cold. Despite the losers’ calling for mass rejection of the alleged rigging of the July 25 elections, they failed to mobilise the streets. Fazl-ur-Rehman’s vociferously fulminated that the new National Assembly (NA) would not be allowed to go into Session, but it did (without him). In an act of sheer hypocrisy he tried being elected from the same platform he condemned, but what’s new about that? Subsequently, when the “helicopter to Banigala” story failed to take traction, Usman Buzdar’s selection as the Chief Minister (CM) Punjab was made a point of contention. Barely twelve days into governance, incomplete staff homework led to the “Dr Atif Mian” fiasco. The opposition has been milking this heaven-sent opportunity for all its worth.

Religious extremists lost out to the Pakistan Armed Forces on the battlefield in their bid to take over the country through sheer force. Wiped out from their sanctuaries, the religious extremists also lost out big on the ballot box, however they remain a virulent, violent minority. Even moderate religious parties like the Jamaat-e-Islami have secured less than 12 percent of the vote nationally. Still, they continue to retain considerable nuisance value. They exercise this by clogging up choke-points in cities like Islamabad. But there is no religious issue more potent than the “Ahmadi” one.

Discriminating against a minority means violating the Constitution. Grievances are mostly manufactured and incidents staged to inflame public opinion. To quote extracts from an article of mine published on December 3, 2015, “Falsely accusing its security officer of burning pages of the Holy Quran, a violent mob consisting of people from the adjoining villages attacked the ‘Pakistan Chipboard Factory’ in Jhelum on November 20. Claiming most men in the mob were drunk and were only there to steal valuables. MPA Mehar Muhammad Faiz, sent by Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to investigate, said ‘Though it had nothing to do with religion, they stormed the factory on the excuse of blasphemy allegations.’” In the Dr Atif Mian affair, the government headed off a full-fledged crisis in the making by requesting the renowned economist to fall on his sword. To their credit, so did two of his colleagues from the Economic Advisory Council (EAC). All this left a bad taste in the mouth and opened the doors for future blackmail, particularly on sensitive issues related to religion.

While discrimination on the basis of sect, caste, race, religion or colour is unacceptable, Imran Khan cannot afford controversies threatening his government after less than a fortnight in power. In the prevailing environment, discretion has to be the better part of pragmatism. His excellent credentials notwithstanding, the cause for Pakistan would have been better served by not making Dr Atif Mian a “cause célèbre” for all the wrong reasons. The selection of individuals by the government must be by due process, both the advantages and the backlash must be analysed through active war-gaming.

Wiped out from their sanctuaries, the religious extremists also lost out big on the ballot box, however they remain a virulent and violent minority.

To quote my article “The Ides of March Again” on March 2013 “Captain Naseer Tariq and Lieutenant Hanif Butt (or Singawala as we affectionately knew him) vociferously volunteered to go with us into the unknown, cheerfully brave, fighting for country and willing to die for it. Being “Ahmadis”, they left the Army a few years later as Majors, retiring as outstanding soldiers. Iam proud that these courageous sons of the soil are still my friends 42 years later. Notwithstanding their shortened careers, they still swear by the uniform they wore and the country they boldly defended. Where were “the defenders of the faith” (of the warped version that is) when these two were willing to give the ultimate sacrifice?” And what answer do I now give to these two outstanding and selfless sons of the soil? That a small group of bigots are ex-communicating them as citizens misusing our religion for their own crass selfish purposes?

And then comes the matter of how Dr Atif Mian became a controversy. Writing in his blog, Haider Mehdi says, “This is not as much a failure of PTI or Imran buckling under the right wing threat, it is a manifestation of a serious lack of a professional, thorough, rigorous and robust, decision making process”. Relying on real-time correct information, this comprehensive process must be thoroughly analysed before a decision is made. Imran Khan must be kept safe from bad advice by a competent staff system. He cannot afford incompetence, corruption or conflict of interest in his decision-making circles. To quote Haider Mehdi further, “while he (Imran) probably had nothing to do with the initial decision, every screw up, every stupidity, every unprofessional act, every incompetence, every deliberate sabotage by any member of his team, whether deliberate or in ignorance will lie at Imran’s doorstep and tarnish his brand!” In the present circumstances, where the Pakistan Army has with great sacrifice won a victory on the battlefield in a sustained campaign against religious bigots and the electorate has given them a resounding blow at the ballot box, we should have been pragmatic and not given them the space they got.

Leaders must take action to protect the minorities. They must have the courage to go with their conviction. To quote David Seabury, “Courage and conviction are powerful weapons against an enemy who depends only on fists or guns. Animals know when you are afraid; a coward knows when you are not”.

The writer is a defence and security analyst

Published in Daily Times, September 14th 2018.