New Delhi: When 34-year-old
Hina Rabbani Khar, Pakistan's youngest and first woman foreign
minister, holds talks with her Indian counterpart S.M. Krishna, 45
years her senior, the world will be watching to see how she
handles her first major diplomatic outing and navigates the
troubled waters of the India-Pakistan relationship.
Khar touched down here in a special flight Tuesday amid intense
interest. Will her relative youth and inexperience bring a whiff
of freshness to the perennially troubled relationship between the
two neighbours? Or will the young foreign minister, fond of polo
and trekking, struggle to hold her own in the talks that come
barely a week after her appointment was formalised?
The jury is out on that one.
Amid widespread cynicism in Pakistan's predominantly patriarchal
establishment, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari justified her
appointment, saying it would "send positive signals about the soft
image of Pakistan".
Khar, however, remains somewhat of a mystery in India. Curiosity
has been piqued by her unusual background that blends the feudal
and the modern.
A postgraduate in hospitality and tourism from the University of
Massachusetts, Khar comes from a wealthy feudal family in southern
Punjab and owns Lahore's posh Polo Lounge, a haunt of the rich and
the powerful. Her father is a large landowner from Muzaffargarh.
Her uncle Ghulam Mustafa Kar was the subject of "My Feudal Lord",
a biting account of patriarchal society in Pakistan penned by his
fifth wife Tehmina Durrani.
Analysts here are sceptical on whether Khar can make a real
difference to the course of the revived peace process between
India and Pakistan.
Satish Chandra, a former deputy national security adviser and a
former envoy to Islamabad, says Khar's youth won't be a
disadvantage. On the contrary, she could provide an image
advantage to Pakistan, Chandra told IANS.
"It will be a good photo-op, with an attractive young minister,"
he said. He added that given Pakistan's military-dominated
establishment it does not matter who is the foreign minister of
"The shots are being called by the army, and when it comes to
India-Pakistan relations, the script is always cleared by the
army," said Chandra.
Agreed G. Parthasarathy, a former high commissioner to Pakistan.
"It's good for Pakistan to have a young, attractive lady to
represent Pakistan in bad times when that country is being
increasingly seen as an epicentre of terrorism."
"Having entered politics through the military, she is likely to be
influenced by the military which calls the shots on India-Pakistan
relations," Parthasarathy told IANS.
Khar entered politics in 2002 and became a member of national
assembly of the PML-Q party, affiliated with then Pakistan
president Gen 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
economic affairs by the Zardari government in 2008.
Her rise has been meteoric since, propelled by favourable
circumstances. Barely four days after then foreign minister Shah
Mahmood Qureshi's removal, she was named minister of state for
Khar has become Pakistan's 26th foreign minister at a time when
her country is suffering perhaps the worst image crisis and is
being repeatedly singled out as a patron for terrorists and
On the India front, there is, however, a window of opportunity. If
her country can sustain the revived peace process, Khar, too, will
share the credit. For now, the expectations are minimal, and that
may well be Khar's big advantage in a country where over 67
percent of the population is below 30.
(Manish Chand can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)