Sherry Rehman is Pak`s new envoy to US
Last Updated: Wednesday, November 23, 2011, 20:56
Islamabad: In a surprise choice, Sherry Rehman, a senior politician who earned the wrath of militants for her opposition to Pakistan's harsh blasphemy law, was on Wednesday named to the key post of the country's Ambassador to the United States.

50-year-old Rehman will succeed Husain Haqqani who was forced out of office yesterday following his suspected involvement in a memo handed over to the US, seeking support for President Asif Ali Zardari to avert a military coup after the American raid in which Osama bin Laden was killed on May 2.

The controversy over the memo dubbed by the media as "memogate" cost Haqqani his job, in a victory for the powerful military.

Rehman, a former federal information minister and a well-known journalist, was a senior politician belonging to the ruling PPP. She was close to former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and also regarded as close to Zardari although she resigned in 2009 following differences with him over dealing with the media.

Rehman had been involved in track-II diplomacy with India and attended last month's discussions in Bangkok between non- official representatives of India and Pakistan.

She has been a strong advocate of women's and minority rights and faced death threats for her calls to reform the country's blasphemy law.

"The Prime Minister is pleased to appoint Sherry Rehman as the new Ambassador to the United States," said the spokesman for the Prime Minister's office, Akram Shaheedi.

Rehman has played a key role in foreign policy issues, including those relating to Afghanistan, through her NGO 'Jinnah Institute'.

Her appointment as Ambassador to the US indicated that President Zardari and the PPP want to retain influence on Pakistan-US relations by having an independent-minded envoy, analysts said.

Rehman was elected to the National Assembly or lower house of Parliament twice, in 2002 and 2007, on reserved seats for women.

Earlier reports had suggested that Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir, perceived to be close to the military establishment, was among the contenders for the post of Ambassador to the US.

Others believed to have been in the running for the post earlier included Ambassador to the EU Jalil Abbas Jilani, a close relative of Prime Minister Gilani, and former envoy to the US and Britain Maleeha Lodhi.

Gilani directed Rehman, who currently heads the Pakistan Red Crescent Society, to "contribute fully" towards strengthening Pak-US relations by focussing on trade ties.

Raza Rumi, a prominent commentator, said Rehman's appointment came in the wake of a national crisis that could have "endangered the future of Pakistan's fragile democracy".

"She is being viewed as a consensus candidate who has support within important power constituencies of Pakistan," Rumi said.

"Her record as a committed democrat and human rights defender implies she will articulate the voice of the civilian government within US power centres."

When Rehman submitted a private bill in Parliament late last year to amend the blasphemy law by removing the mandatory death sentence, she received no support from Pakistan People's Party (PPP). Gilani later forced Rehman to withdraw the bill.

After receiving death threats from extremists for criticising the blasphemy law, Rehman largely remained confined to her home in Karachi and was rarely seen in public earlier this year.

In recent months, Rehman focussed on her think tank the Jinnah Institute, which was set up in 2000 and launched several initiatives aimed at influencing foreign policy issues, especially relations with Afghanistan and India. She also authored several bills on women's empowerment, honour killings and prevention of domestic violence.

Rehman's new assignment will see her playing a crucial role in guiding Pakistan-US relations, which plunged to a new low this year due to several crises.

The trouble began when CIA contractor Raymond Davis was arrested in Lahore in January for killing two armed men believed to be linked to ISI.

Though the matter was settled some months later when Davis was released in exchange for millions of dollars paid as "blood money" to the families of the dead men, bilateral ties were hit hard when the US carried out a secret military raid in Abbottabad that killed bin Laden.

The US subsequently stepped up pressure on Pakistan to take action against the Haqqani network, a Taliban faction that the then American military chief Admiral Mike Mullen described as a "veritable arm" of the ISI.

The US actions appeared aimed at nudging Pakistan to play a positive role in ending the conflict in neighbouring Afghanistan ahead of the pullout of American troops.

Pakistan-US ties continue to be frosty and Washington has held up millions of dollars in military aid.

Rehman will now have to take up the work that was begun by Husain Haqqani to bring ties back to an even keel.

"Though, Haqqani's loss is irreparable, Rehman's new role has been welcomed by the intelligentsia of Pakistan. Mind you, they are quite different and there will be a change in both the style and substance of the Pakistan-US engagement," said commentator Rumi.


First Published: Wednesday, November 23, 2011, 12:24

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