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Prime Minister Imran Khan. Photo: Muhhamad Reza/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Islamabad — Pakistan's government has asked a leading academic to step down as an economic adviser, the ruling PTI party announced Friday, after far-right groups objected to his appointment based on his faith.

Why it matters: Atif Mian, a renowned professor of economics at Princeton University who belongs to the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam, had been appointed to the Economic Advisory Council (EAC) last week and has now agreed to resign. Pakistan is home to roughly half a million Ahmadis, a long-persecuted minority who are not allowed by Pakistani law to refer to themselves as Muslims, facing prison sentences for doing so. They are also frequently the targets of mob violence as well as targeted killings.

  • Last year, hundreds of protesters blockaded a major highway into the capital Islamabad over a minor change in a parliamentary oath, accusing the government of having committed "blasphemy" by softening the language of the declaration against Ahmadi beliefs. During the election campaign in July, now-Prime Minister Imran Khan, the leader of the PTI, frequently raised the issue, saying his rival Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had committed "blasphemy" by changing the oath.
  • This is not the first time Khan has backtracked on appointing Mian to a senior position. In 2014, when he was in opposition, he named Mian as an example of the kind of academic expert he wanted in charge of Pakistan's economy, rather than career politicians. On being informed that Mian was a member of the Ahmadi sect, however, Khan backtracked, saying he only meant his statement to apply to academic experts generally.
  • Last week's announcement that the Princeton professor was to serve on the country's 18-member Economic Advisory Council (EAC) came as a surprise to many, given the earlier controversy. At the time, however, the government defended the decision, with Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry saying his government would not bow down to "extremists."

Go deeper: Read the full Al Jazeera report.

Go deeper

Supreme Court agrees to hear challenges to Texas abortion law

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear two cases challenging Texas' abortion law, which bans the procedure as soon as six weeks into pregnancy, but left the law in place in the meantime.

Why it matters: The court is moving extraordinarily fast on the Texas case, compressing into just a few days a process that normally takes months. And that schedule means the court will take up Texas' ban a month before it hears another major abortion case — a challenge to Mississippi's ban on abortions after 15 weeks.

Officials warn 5 key tech sectors will determine whether China overtakes U.S.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

U.S. intelligence officials responsible for protecting advanced technologies have narrowed their focus to five key sectors: artificial intelligence, quantum computing, biotechnology, semiconductors and autonomous systems.

Why it matters: China and Russia are employing a variety of legal and illegal methods to undermine and overtake U.S. dominance in these critical industries, officials warned in a new paper. Their success will determine "whether America remains the world’s leading superpower or is eclipsed by strategic competitors."

5 hours ago - Health

Pfizer says COVID vaccine over 90% effective in kids

Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Pfizer and BioNTech said their COVID-19 vaccine was more than 90% effective at protecting children between the ages of 5 and 11 from symptomatic infections from the virus, according to a study posted online by the FDA Friday.

Why it matters: Pfizer is seeking an emergency use authorization to vaccinate children — one of the last groups of Americans still largely ineligible to receive a coronavirus vaccine.