A curious colleague of mine made a pointed query as the hype around Hina Rabbani reached a crescendo last week. “Why has such a featherweight been appointed as the Foreign Minister?” he asked, bewildered.
Given her lack of experience in diplomacy and a mismatched degree in education, his question was a pertinent one.
Why, after all, would Zardari and Gilani pick a greenhorn from the wilderness for a job that is extremely sensitive as well as crucial for the Islamic republic, now more so than the span before?
The reasons are numerous; each more curious than the question posed.
Firstly, and oddly enough, because she is a featherweight! The last thing that the Pakistan Establishment wants is a thinking Foreign Minister who would want to push an agenda independent of its game plan. They want someone who would be happy just being something as important as the Foreign Minister!
Her naivety is apparently well known in her country. Of what one hears, it was on full display when she fumbled through jargon while presenting the budget as a junior Finance Minister. This was before she was shifted to External Affairs. Her first statement after taking over reigns of Foreign Affairs was considered a perfect foot-in-the-mouth sample. At her maiden conference at Bali, while admitting that India’s clout was going up, she said Pakistan would not accept hegemony in the region. "Pakistan's role in the region is by no means inferior to India," she added blunderingly. Some smirked, others recoiled in horror.
And in New Delhi, Hina Rabbani sounded not any more impressive than Sarah Palin. Her pablum in India was more like a delivery of a stream of words learnt by rote. In fact, between the foreign ministers and secretaries who addressed the media, Nirupama Rao came out on top with the best articulation of thoughts.
Secondly, the reason our dear lady has landed such a top notch job is because she belongs to a family which is a part of the Establishment. The Khars are a landed family with a feudal mindset and one which has deep roots in Pakistan’s polity. Both her father and uncle have held important positions of power. The non-Income Tax paying young Khar obviously owes fealty to the system. Anyone who hails from the well entrenched order will not question either the flawed democratic set up or the cloak and dagger policies that they pursue. Pakistan, today, functions through a ‘wheels within wheels’ mechanism, where multiple power centres operate covertly and autonomously. Any Foreign Minister worth his salt would want to represent a well defined government; a stooge hoisted from ‘within’ will limit himself to parroting lines given to him.
Thirdly, because Hina Rabbani has soft power. At a time when Pakistan is synonymous with terror, what better an ambassador than the delicate Ms Khar? As a newspaper said, by putting its ‘best face’ forward, Pakistan seeks to mislead the world into thinking that Pakistan does not belong to the dark ages. That it is not about tribals, warlords and sectarian hoodlums, but is a progressive society where women walk shoulder to shoulder with men.
If the book written by Hina’s aunt Tahmina Durrani, My Feudal Lord, is any indication, we know just how forward looking a country Pakistan is and how liberal is the Khar family! I would want to believe that the Khars have moved on from those days mentioned in the book, but consider this: When Hina Rabbani first stood for elections, after her father was disqualified from contesting as he didn’t have a college degree, her conservative family allowed no picture of hers to be printed on posters. And all the campaigning is believed to have been done by her father on her behalf, while she was confined to the four walls. And her photograph in a pair of jeans which by chance came into public domain, created a fair buzz about indecency!
As a leader who wishes to be taken seriously, Hina Rabbani Khar expressed her displeasure about too much attention that was paid to her pricey Birkin bag and Cavalli glasses and accused media of being sexist. She said “she was unwilling to be apologetic about who she is”.
In this statement, she inadvertently exposed herself wholly more. Sure, she need not be apologetic about her way of life in her personal space. But when you are in public domain, you need to be in tune with what and who you represent. Given the troubled times Pakistan is facing, any seasoned politician would have chosen not to display the bling. Queen Elizabeth has no less money than the Khars, but during recession she switched off lights of palace rooms just to set an example. Catherine and Prince William, despite the grand occasion that their wedding turned out to be, tried to downplay it. And even our own Sonia Gandhi had travelled economy during the downturn.
Rabbani’s unapologetic approach lays bare her disconnect with millions of her countrymen, her foggy notion about what her office needs to uphold and about her being more a part of the elite whose stock goes up when Indian paparazzi chases you!
Her being a featherweight is Hina Rabbani Khar’s biggest qualification. It fits the JD just so well.