Hina Khar is one year old today — as foreign minister
Thirty-five-shy Hina Rabbani Khar is one year old today — as a foreign minister. She was appointed as the face of Pakistan’s diplomacy this day last year, becoming the country’s and currently the world’s youngest in the process.
The Birkin bag, oversized shades, Jimmy Choo stilettos and pearl necklaces were unlikely to endear her to ‘wiser’ heads back home even as the world went gaga.
Well, never mind the accessories.
Male chauvinists had lesser time to acknowledge that the achievement given her gender — she is the first woman to hold the portfolio in Pakistan’s nearly 65-year history — was worth acknowledging. Snide remarks about the ‘inexperience’ of the upend Lahore University of Management Sciences graduate continued to make the rounds.
Strictly speaking, these were more likely calls coming from the sour grape branch.
Hina was first directly elected an MP in 2002 and served as former prime minister Shaukat Aziz’s deputy finance minister. She carried a favourable impression in dealing with tough-nut world donor agencies and Islamabad’s trade partners.
She also became the only Pakistani woman ever to present a federal budget three years ago — an unnerving prospect at the best of times in a male-dominated, often raucous, parliament.
While criticism surrounding her “defection” in politics may have its takers — she left former military ruler Pervez Musharraf-backed Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid for the current ruling Pakistan People’s Party in 2008 — the fact is that she was denied a party ticket by the former and, therefore, felt entitled to make a career decision many in their respective spheres would have made.
Right from the time she was elevated to the top diplomat’s job after a few months as junior minister, Hina has had her share of detractors. This is fathomable: after all, her elevation meant the automatic elimination of wily silver-haired men who coveted the post.
Even before she laid a foot in the Indonesian beach resort of Bali, four days after her appointment for her debut assignment — the Asean Regional Forum of Foreign Ministers, which included a meeting with formidable US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the sidelines — she was written off as little more than a dandy with a mountain to climb.
Such unflattering references reached a crescendo once she headed for the dreaded old Delhi encounter: a meeting with a counterpart 46 years her senior.
The likes of Sardar Aseff Ahmed Ali, a former foreign minister from the PPP who has since defected to Imran Khan’s PTI, criticised the decision and dismissed any hopes Islamabad had of making its case, thanks to Hina’s ‘inexperience’.
From Pakistan’s standpoint, the security establishment-induced script was a given — what mattered was if Hina would be able to carry it and meet the least common denominator: generating the required momentum to continue the composite dialogue into the future.
It is fair to suggest the young foreign minister was able to achieve that and more. The “more”, admittedly, is owed to the aura she exuded with virtually effortless ease.
Small wonder, Hina was welcomed with warmth across the Indian political divide — a scenario diametrically removed from the cold shoulder her much “experienced” predecessor, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, received.
Any friend of peace between the two South Asian rivals could not have asked for better atmospherics.
It certainly helped that the Indian media went to town about the minister with journalists in Delhi virtually, falling over each other to best describe the newest sensation on the world’s diplomatic arena.
Amid such pervasive gaga, Rajiv Dogra, former Indian ambassador to Pakistan, urged Delhi not to be taken in by the “beauty regime” but also read the brains behind Islamabad’s diplomatic coup.
In an opinion piece, he warned: “Her age and her delicate frame are no handicap. She is backed by one of the most formidable realpolitik combination in the world today. She is the army’s chosen one; selected to do their precise bidding. And holding her hand in India is the caustic quip-a-minute foreign secretary Salman Bashir and the perpetually scowling Pakistani high commissioner Shahid Malik (sic).”
But there was no escaping the youth factor, which Hina employed to make her case. “I bring you the message of a mindset change in Pakistan that wants friendship with India,” she said.
News reports later revealed that her counterpart, S M Krishna, too, indulged the youth card at the delegation-level talks.
“Half of India, which is your age, looks towards you not just for your good looks but also dynamism and the fresh approach that you have brought to the table,” a source quoted Krishna as telling his opposite number.
The same source also added that Krishna tackled difficult issues like Kashmir in his prepared speech but graciously let Hina speak about issues closer to heart — such as what the youth in the two countries felt about ties binding their nations.
The real test of character came in the months following the ill-directed US blitz on a Salala checkpost that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. To her credit, she gave a solid account of herself during the testy seven-month period where Pakistan and the world’s pre-eminent hyper power were locked in a battle of attrition that threatened to upset the region’s equilibrium.
It was perhaps, fitting that the US chose Secretary Clinton to say “sorry” to Pakistan through Hina early this month.
The writer is a senior journalist based in Islamabad and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org