Not outward beauty, but beauty of diplomacy

Success in India: Pakistan's Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar

If glamour could galvanize diplomacy into action, then Bollywood-crazy India last week emerged as a country where it almost happened. Last week, India, especially its media, went gaga over Pakistan’s new foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar from the time she set foot on Indian soil on a mission aimed at giving a boost to diplomatic efforts which have for the past six decades failed to find solutions to many thorny issues.

If beauty is a feature of diplomacy, then history tells us that the Egyptian queen Cleopatra whom many of us have been conditioned to imagine in the body of young Elizabeth Taylor, may be the first to use her looks to achieve political goals.

However, a recent book released last month in the United States portrays Cleopatra not as the seductress who charmed Mark Anthony and Julius Caesar with her beauty. Cleopatra, according to the book by Pulitzer-prize-winning author Stacy Schiff, was “a commanding woman versed in politics, diplomacy and governance; fluent in nine languages; silver-tongued and charismatic.”

Although a comparison between Cleopatra and Hina Rabbani Khar from Islamic Pakistan is provocative and uncalled for or unwarranted, Pakistan history’s youngest foreign minister also has an illustrious bio data, which is probably marred only by her aristocratic or landlady background.

Hina Rabbani Khar was born on November 19, 1977 in Multan, Punjab. She is the daughter of Punjab politician and landlord Ghulam Noor Rabbani. She graduated with a B.Sc. (Honours) from the Lahore University of Management Sciences in 1999 and received her M.Sc in Hospitality Management from the University of Massachusetts in 2001.

Mother of two daughters, Khar was elected to the National Assembly from the pro-Pervez Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League (Q) in 2002 from the Muzaffargarh-II constituency in Punjab. When the PML-Q denied her a ticket for re-election in 2008, she ran on the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) ticket and won with more than 84,000 votes.

She served as the State Minister for Economic Affairs in the cabinet of Yousaf Raza Gillani and became the first woman to present a budget in the National Assembly in June 2009. In a cabinet reshuffle in February this year, she was appointed deputy foreign minister but within days became the acting foreign minister when foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi resigned in protest over the government’s compromise in the case involving the US spy-turned killer, Ramon Davis. In July, she was officially appointed foreign minister with President Asif Ali Zardari describing the move as his government’s “commitment to bring women into the mainstream of national life.”

The appointment, however, drew sharp criticism from many analysts in the Pakistani media. They asked how a young and inexperienced person could tackle the all-important foreign affairs ministry at a time when Pakistan was being hit by diplomatic storm after storm on the US front and relations with neighbours India and Afghanistan were in turmoil. How could a young woman deal with foreign affairs in a country where the military also defined what foreign policy was, they asked.

On the contrary, a large segment of the Indian media, apparently driven by the ever-increasing influence of Bollywood, failed to note the wisdom and virtues of Khar. Going overboard with the glamour aspect, they talked about her Birkin handbag, Hermes purse and Roberto Cavalli sunglasses with some newspaper headlines stooping to the extent of screaming “First they sent bombs, now they send bombshells” One journalist tweeted she was Pakistan’s weapon of mass distraction while another said she was more glamorous than Catherine Middleton.

True such comments fall within the range of freedom of expression, but they also emerge as a sorry indictment on the Indian media which have produced great journalists such as Kuldip Nayar, Khushwant Singh, Palagummi Sainath and Praful Bidwai.

However, there were exceptions. The Economic Times on Sunday, for instance, ignored her glamour and hit out at her. It said: “Nervous stuttering was her claim to fame when she delivered the budget speech in parliament as state minister for finance. It is only the intellectual poverty of the PPP-led government that it can’t find an abler woman than the novice Hina Rabbani Khar, or indeed a man, to be its foreign minister because a few people of substance would want to be associated with the ruling party as we speak. Pakistani women have been in politics and civil service just as long as their Indian counterparts, and there’s no dearth of talent in that domain.”

But in the final analysis, Khar should be judged not by her looks but by the manner in which she will tackle dicey diplomatic disputes, especially those involving India.

In her first major assignment as foreign minister, Khar who was given the acronym HRK by the Indian media like actor Shah Rukh Khan is called SRK and foreign minister S.M. Krishna SMK, indeed came out strong, virtually getting the Indians to fall in line with Pakistan’s position of restoring the composite dialogue process to discuss all issues including the highly explosive Kashmir dispute. She also succeeded in meeting pro-freedom Kashmiri leaders, sparking angry protests from the Bharatiya Janatha Party.

She managed to convince her Indian counterpart Krishna on the need to revive people-to-people contacts across the Line of Control that divides Kashmir.

Given the usual mutual mistrust between the two nations, her achievement vindicates her appointment. However, Krishna and Indian policymakers are also not naïve to be bowled over by Khar’s beauty or googlies. The talks, from India’s point of view, signalled a renewal of efforts by New Delhi to normalise ties with Islamabad — ties that have been tarnished by India’s allegations linking Pakistan with the Mumbai terror attacks and Pakistan’s suspicion of India’s growing role in Afghanistan and allegations that India foments separatism in Baluchistan.

About ameenizzadeen

journalist and global justice activist
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