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.

PTI



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

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