Imran Khan’s government caves in to pressure over minority economic adviser

Pakistan premier Imran Khan’s government backed down Friday over its controversial decision to appoint a member of a persecuted religious minority as an economic adviser. (AFP)
Updated 07 September 2018
0

Imran Khan’s government caves in to pressure over minority economic adviser

  • Atif Mian, an MIT-educated Pakistani-American economics professor at Princeton University, was recently named member of a new economic advisory council
  • Mian is an Ahmadi, a religious minority which has long been persecuted in deeply conservative Muslim-majority Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan premier Imran Khan’s government backed down Friday over its controversial decision to appoint a member of a persecuted religious minority as an economic adviser, underscoring the pressure it faces from hardline Islamists.
Atif Mian, an MIT-educated Pakistani-American economics professor at Princeton University, was recently named member of a new economic advisory council.
Mian is an Ahmadi, a religious minority which has long been persecuted in deeply conservative Muslim-majority Pakistan, and the announcement sparked swift backlash from Islamist groups.
Ahmadis consider themselves Muslims, but their beliefs are seen as blasphemous in most mainstream Islamic schools of thought. They are designated non-Muslims in Pakistan’s constitution.
Government officials initially defended the decision, but within days caved to mounting pressure from the religious right.
“The government has decided to withdraw the nomination of Atif Mian from the economic advisory committee,” Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry wrote on his official Twitter account, saying the government wanted to work with all sections of society, including Islamic clerics.
Blasphemy is a hugely inflammatory charge in Pakistan, and can carry the death penalty.
The state has never executed a blasphemy convict, but mere accusations of insulting Islam have sparked mob lynchings, vigilante murders, and mass protests.
Khan caused concern with his full-throated defense of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws during his election campaign earlier this year, with fears he was mainstreaming extremist thought which could deepen sectarian divides, empower radical groups, and even provoke violence.
Analysts have warned that Pakistan’s economy is the most urgent challenge facing Khan’s new government, as a balance-of-payments crisis looms.
The government has said it will decide by the end of this month if it needs to seek a bailout from the International Monetary Fund.


Sri Lanka expands visa-free scheme halted after bombings

Updated 59 min 50 sec ago
0

Sri Lanka expands visa-free scheme halted after bombings

  • Sri Lanka initially projected a 30 percent dip in the number of foreign holidaymakers after the attacks
  • Sri Lanka welcomed a record 2.33 million tourists in 2018

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka has re-introduced and expanded a visa-free entry scheme for visitors in a bid to revive its flagging tourism sector after the deadly Easter bombings, officials said Wednesday.
The concession for tourists from 39 nations was suspended after militants bombed three churches and three luxury hotels in Colombo on April 21 killing 258 people, including 45 foreigners.
“As the security situation has improved, the cabinet of ministers decided to revive the visa-free scheme and also extended it to seven more countries,” the government said in a statement.
A tourism official said foreign governments have relaxed travel advisories for Sri Lanka since the attacks.
There has also been a lift in the number of arrivals, which nosedived soon after the bombings blamed on a home-grown militant group, the official said.
The new countries added to the expanded scheme — which already allows travelers from the European Union, Australia and the United States to enter Sri Lanka without a visa — include China and India.
Visitors still have to obtain a visa on arrival, but the government has waived the $35 fee from August 1.
Sri Lanka initially projected a 30 percent dip in the number of foreign holidaymakers after the attacks.
The following month the number of tourists plunged to 37,800, down from 166,975 in April, according to official figures.
But they improved last month with some 63,000 visitors, although numbers are still down from 146,828 in June 2018.
Sri Lanka welcomed a record 2.33 million tourists in 2018, and was named the world’s top travel destination for 2019 by the Lonely Planet travel guide.