`Pak’s new foreign minister faces challenges`

Appointment of Hina Rabbani Khar as Pak`s new foreign minister has evoked mixed responses in Pak.

Updated: Jul 21, 2011, 13:21 PM IST

Karachi: The appointment of Hina Rabbani Khar as Pakistan’s new foreign minister has evoked mixed responses in the country, with some saying that she will essentially be a figurehead, and others describing her as the rising star of Pakistan politics.

At 34, Hina Rabbani Khar is the youngest Pakistan politician and foreign minister. The appointment, according to an editorial in the Daily Times, appears to have been rushed to enable India and Pakistan to have foreign minister-level talks next week.

She was previously the junior foreign minister for five months and minister of state for economic affairs and statistics.

“This will not be an easy ride because of the complex issues being faced by Pakistan and the way the foreign policy is formulated within the country, where there are many influence groups which she will have to work with,” said former finance minister Shaukat Tarin.

He added: “This will really test her maturity.”

“I think that she will be a figurehead. It’s nothing to do with her per se, it’s about the government’s capacity to wrangle control of foreign policy from the military,” said Ayesha Siddiqa, an expert on the Pakistani military and the author of `Military Inc`.

Siddiqa said much of the Foreign Ministry’s bureaucracy – headed by Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir, whose brother is the head of the Navy (Admiral Noman Bashir) – is geared to serve the military’s purposes.

President Asif Ali Zardari said in a statement that her appointment is “a demonstration of the government’s commitment to bring women into the mainstream of national life.”

He also said it would “send positive signals about the soft image of Pakistan”.

“Although international relations is complex these days, I am confident she will learn very quickly,” said Ashfaque Hasan Khan, former special secretary and now dean of NUST business school in Islamabad.

Tarin added: “My impression is if properly guided and coached by the seniors in the party, she will become an effective foreign minister.”

Hina is from a political family in southern Punjab; her father is a large feudal landholder from Muzaffargarh. She is Pakistan’s 26th and youngest foreign minister.

Reportedly, a keen trekker and polo-enthusiast, Hina owns Lahore’s upscale Polo Lounge, an elite club where the city’s wealthy and influential rub shoulders.

She holds a Masters in Hospitality and Tourism from the University of Massachusetts and worked in hotel management before turning to politics.

ANI