Breath of fresh air hits Pakistani politics
by Hoang Nhu Hoa
The appointment of Hina Rabbani Khar as Pakistan's new foreign affairs minister late last month has blown fresh air into the country's political life.
Khar, 34, took the oath of office on July 19 at the Aiwan-e-Sadr or Presidential Palace as the 26th Minister of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan, just days before important talks with India.
With her appointment she became the youngest and first woman foreign minister in the Muslim country.
Amid many challenges on the international front, President Asif Ali Zardari justified Khar's appointment, saying it would send "the soft image of Pakistan" to the world and demonstrate "the government's commitment to bring women into the mainstream of national life".
Pakistan Ambassador to Viet Nam Shahid M G Kiani said, "The appointment of Ms Hina Rabbani Khar by the leadership of Pakistan, which included the President and the Prime Minister, is indeed a significant one."
Soon after her appointment, Khar made her debut at bilateral meetings with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Yang Jiechi on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in Indonesia.
When asked if Clinton prodded her on tackling militants operating from within Pakistan, Khar was quoted by Reuters as saying: "We have the same strategic objective. Pakistan is the first one to suffer because of terrorism, because of militancy. Pakistan is doing it for itself. You don't need cajoling on that, that is in our national interest."
Her statement made an impact as a lady with a soft touch and a mature approach in conducting the country's foreign policy at a time of multifarious challenges facing the country, both domestically and abroad.
Khar takes the position at a time when Islamabad's ties with the United States have soured over several key issues, including the US special forces' raid to kill Osama bin Laden on May 2.
But the world paid more attention to the talks between Khar and her Indian counterpart, External Affairs Minister S M Krishna, who is 45 years her senior, in New Delhi last week.
It seems that she came to the meeting without the shackles of the past.
"A new generation of Indians and Pakistanis will see a relationship that will hopefully be much different from the one that has been experienced in the last two decades," the new Pakistani Foreign Minister said during the talks between the two arch rivals.
She told reporters: "We have learned lessons from history but are not burdened by history. We can move forward as good, friendly neighbours who have a stake in each other's future and who understand the responsibility both countries have to the region and within the region."
She also took the chance to visit a shrine in India where she reportedly prayed for further improved ties in South Asia.
Meanwhile, major Pakistani media last Thursday hailed progress in the talks and noted an advance in the dialogue process after a three-year deadlock over the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
"India and Pakistan's foreign ministers insisted relations were back on track on Wednesday after peace talks that highlighted a ‘new era' of co-operation over the ruptures of the past," the Daily Times reported.
The Dawn in its lead story said: "The foreign ministers of India and Pakistan revived the pursuit of an ‘uninterruptible' dialogue process on Wednesday, though both sides were aware of a nagging hurdle: their wavering trust."
Meanwhile, The Hindu of India said, "The talks were held in a candid, friendly and positive atmosphere and India reaffirmed its desire to work with Pakistan to reduce the trust deficit and move forward in a friendly manner."
Krishna was quoted by The Hindu as saying that Khar's trip was "productive".
These editorials indicate a positive signal of forward-looking optimism that acknowledges a joint responsibility to bring stability to South Asia.
Khar seems to have proved that her youth isn't a disadvantage.
"On the contrary," Satish Chandra, a former deputy national security adviser and former envoy to Islamabad, told Indo-Asian News Service, "she could provide an image advantage to Pakistan."
Young, beautiful and stylish, Khar is a new face to the world of politicians but she has been a prominent figure in Pakistan for almost a decade.
She entered politics in 2002 when she was just 25 and became a member of National Assembly of the PML-Q party, affiliated with then president General Pervez Musharraf.
She joined the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP) ahead of the February 2008 general election and was made Minister of State for Finance and Economic Affairs by the Zardari government in the same year.
In June 2009 she became the first woman to present Pakistan's budget speech in the country's National Assembly.
In February this year, she was appointed Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs after then foreign minister Shad Mahmood Qureshi refused to join the cabinet.
"Ms Hina Rabbani Khar has to her credit as being one of the few women in the National Assembly of Pakistan who were directly elected on a general seat, unlike many other of their counterpart women members who have been nominated by political parties on reserve seats," said Ambassador Shahid.
Like the late charismatic female Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, Khar hails from one of Pakistan's leading political and land-owning families in southern Punjab. Her father is veteran politician Ghulam Rabbani Khar and her uncle was a chief minister of Punjab.
Although Khar's youth may raise eyebrows of some veteran leaders and political analysts, she said she was comfortable about being in a senior post at a young age.
"Our culture reveres anyone who has the ability to work for the country and, young or old, it does not make such a difference as much as what your approach is, what your goals are and as much as how you approach a problem," Khar was quoted by Reuters as saying.
Yes, how she copes with her assignment and how long she stays will determine the wisdom behind her selection, but so far so good. — VNS