Prime Minister Imran Khan, has had a strange relationship with the USA, and nothing illustrated more than the coincidence of the first visit of Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State to the region, with the Atif Mian affair. Part of the reason for the convergence is that Dr Mian is US-based, teaching at the University of Pennsylvania, which is US President Donald Trump’s alma mater.

Also occurring during the visit was the death of Maulana Jalaluddin Haqqani. As the founder of the Haqqani Network, and because of his ties to the ISI, he was a symbol of all that was wrong with Pakistan. It was partly because of the attacks the Network was supposed to have carried out against US troops that the USA had cut off the Coalition Support Fund reimbursement of $300 million. Haqqani was so-named because he was a graduate of the Jamia Haqqania at Akora Khattak, a madressa which had caused Imran Khan’s PTI to be mired in controversy when the party’s KP government (at that time the only place where it held office) had granted it Rs 300 million in 2016-17, and Rs 200 million from the CM’s discretionary fund this fiscal. The Jamia is headed by Maulana Samiul Haq, who is opposed to Maulana Fazlur Rehman, as the PTI is.

Apart from targeting its troops, the Network also raised US ire because it was making overtures to the Islamic State. That might well allow the ISI to claim relevance in the eyes of the USA, but it is hardly a return to the halcyon days of the 1980s, when the ISI was the lead Pakistani agency in the Afghan Jihad.

Imran’s attempt to balance out the ‘Taliban Khan’ image by naming an Ahmedi, Dr Atif Mian, to the newly formed Economic Advisory Council seems to have backfired badly, because his government itself has had to ask him to resign. One would not expect the USA to pay this blip much attention, but the issue of minorities is one which concerns the USA. Then there is the problem that the USA does not consider Ahmadis a minority. In the USA, they are considered just a Muslim sect. More relevant is that Dr Mian is teaching at a US university, and that too President Trump’s alma mater.

Initially, it seems, the PTI government was willing to brave it out, as the first reaction to criticism from the Information Minister showed. However, as criticism mounted, the government acted to get rid of Dr Mian. As a result, two other economists from the EAC announced their resignations. The need for an Ahmedi on the EAC is not easily seen, but the desire of the PTI to run with the hares and hunt with the hounds has provided another example of the kind of clash with high expectations that led to the transfer of the DPO Pakpattan over a clash with the first husband of Imran’s wife. The expectation that the PTI’s ascent to power would mean the end of the VIP culture was hurt by the DPO’s transfer. The expectation that the PTI was liberal and secular was dashed by Dr Mian’s resignation.

The PTI is a little like its principal backer, the Army, in not being sure of its religiosity beyond knowing that it does not favour religious parties. However, Imran repeatedly invokes the state of Medina. Ahmedis are not Muslims, which is something declared by the Constitution. It is paradoxical that those who question the validity of the Constitution on theological grounds are the most fervently opposed to Ahmedis, while those liberals who uphold the Constitution the highest are the most sensitive to the plight of the minorities.

It might be salutary to note that Ahmedis are not like other minorities, like Christians, Hindus or Sikhs. Those agree that they are not Muslims, that they have separate places of worship, and while they may not like how they are treated, make no claim to being Muslim, nor do they deny that Muslims are Muslim. Ahmedis, on the other hand, claim that they are Muslims. Further, they hold that Muslims are not Muslim. Indeed, it was this denial that turned the National Assembly against them when it declared them non-Muslim. It may need a refreshing of memory, but it should be remembered that they were declared non-Muslim after according a hearing to leaders of the Ahmedi community, by a National Assembly rattled but not panicked by the clash at Multan railway station which sparked an anti-Ahmedi movement reminiscent of that of 1953, which led to a mini-Martial Law in Lahore.

Therefore, it would not be right to say that a Christian, say, and an Ahmedi, are equivalent. A Christian may be a government servant, and no one would have any right to object even if he was to serve in a policymaking position. The question of an Ahmedi is different, going back to the original debate. He would not be merely a non-Muslim making policy for Muslims, but be a Muslim claimant making policy for a horde of non-Muslims. Still, there must be some provision for Ahmedi citizens allowing them to take some part in the state.

The problem may well have arisen because the original apostasy was tolerated by the Raj, but still now there are a large number of Ahmedis who committed no apostasy, and are merely following the faith of their fathers. Indeed, because proselytism is not permitted, the Ahmedi population is by now a majority of those who did not convert, but were simply born to Ahmedi couples. If those ancestors had been faced with a choice, as an Islamic state obliges, between execution for apostasy or recanting their heresy, they would not have had any descendants today.

It should be noted that Ahmedis do not form just a sect, like Shias, Sunnis and Ahle Hadith do. Though there is no shortage of scholars eager to declare members of another sect disbelievers, one can find scholars of each sect who will declare that followers of another are Muslims, even if severely misguided. However, even such scholars do not pronounce Ahmedis Muslims. Still, they are there, and a place must be found for them within the state.

It was for the PTI to determine what attitude it was going to take. If it felt that that role included one being on the EAC, then it would have made the appointment and stuck with it. If it did not, it would have not made it. As it is, the PTI has managed to offend both liberals and conservatives. It has appeared vacillating, which is the wrong impression to give in negotiating with the USA.

The Imran government managed to raise a needless controversy. It must be particularly disappointing after the Dutch blasphemous cartoons exhibition was cancelled, a cancellation for which it was quick to take credit. The PTI may be acting as the political surrogate for the military, but it has apparently acted in accordance with the wishes of its base. The problem is the Khatm-e-Nabuwwat issue is touch-button for all. The impulse which led to Ahmedis being declared non-Muslims was common to all, and seems to continue even today.

The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as executive editor of The Nation.

The expectation that the PTI’s ascent to power would mean the end of the VIP culture was hurt by the DPO’s transfer. The expectation that the PTI was liberal and secular was dashed by Dr Mian’s resignation.