Wednesday, August 10, 2011

All fizz, no substance?

Indian FM SM Krishna with Pakistan FM Hina Rabbani Khar  
The media always loves a sexy, feel-good story, especially when it comes to something as stodgy, dull and routine as India-Pakistan talks. But even I was bemused by the media’s take on Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar’s recent visit to India. I happened to be in New Delhi during her visit last month and witnessed first-hand the reportage of the trip to India by Pakistan’s youngest and first woman Foreign Minister.

There were the oohs and aahs about her stylish clothes, reams on her accessories (thanks to which I found out that the starting price of a Hermes Birkin bag of the sort favoured by Khar is $9,000) and much ado about her desire to open a “new era of bilateral cooperation”.

There was the breathless listing of brands and jewellery favoured by the 34-year-old Khar – including her Roberto Cavalli sunglasses and pearl necklaces. And then there were the headlines like Mumbai Mirror’s “Pak Bomb Lands in India”, which certainly wouldn’t have amused any self-respecting minister in town for talks on some very serious issues.

What the media, of course, glossed over was that little had changed despite a new face being ensconced in Pakistan’s Foreign Office. Within hours of landing in New Delhi, Khar met Kashmiri leaders like Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq to assure them of Pakistan’s political and moral support for their movement.

The talks between Khar and her Indian counterpart S M Krishna was followed by an anodyne statement listing all that had happened since the two countries resumed their peace talks in February after a hiatus of over two years. Except for a few small steps aimed at boosting travel and trade across the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir, the statement had nothing new to offer.Which didn’t exactly surprise me. What did surprise me, however, was the lack of meaningful analysis in the media about what role Khar could be expected to play in Pakistan’s Foreign Office and how much she could achieve, given the powerful army’s vice-like grip on foreign policy, especially on everything related to India and the US.

Some Pakistani analysts have even suggested that Khar was anointed as Foreign Minister simply because she would not go against the army’s line, unlike her predecessor Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who fell by the wayside because he refused to toe the General Headquarters’ line in efforts to resolve the Raymond Davis affair earlier this year.

Khar was thrust into electoral politics in 2003 simply because her father could not contest polls from his traditional constituency in the Punjab as he did not fulfil the mandatory condition of being a graduate. Formerly a part of military dictator Pervez Musharraf’s regime, Khar switched allegiance to the Pakistan People’s Party after the PML-Q did not give her a ticket for the 2008 polls.

Foreign Office insiders contend that it is Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir, who enjoys the confidence of the military, who is in the driving seat, and not Khar. All of which makes no difference to folks like a senior Indian journalist who gushed about how articulate Khar had been during her media interactions in India. Ah well.


  1. The media has made a lot about the fact that she is young and a woman. However, she never got there on her own and with hard work, she got there becasue of her family connections and that in itself says a lot about Pakistan's politics.

    People say women are sidelined and maltreated. I also refuse to believe this. It is not women, but poor women that are maltreated and sidelined. We have a 25% or higher reservation in parliament for women, most if not all come from wealthy families and are an extension of their father/brother/husband's interests. Like their male counterparts they too are above the law, and not much has been done to better the state of ordinary Pakistani women by any of these women MNAs.

    She went to talk about such a sensitive issue, but media mainly concentrated on her looks and youth. Yes it's good to have young blood in the dialogue process, but we need to move it on past giving staid joint speeches about nothingness. While the army remains in charge i dont know how she or any other FM can change things. She is just a veneer of the same old same old.

    As a Pakistani i would love to see normalisation of relations with India - it will have to happen one day sonner or later. But no ministry has presented a plan on how to acheive this goal.


  2. In 'democratic' India it is not a done thing for a politician representing the 'masses' to sport such expensive accessories at their public appearences even if they can afford it. Here politicians are expected to stick to simple cotton sarees and kurta pyjama while representing a country where 25% still remain in poverty. See it in context, and it is a new thing for Indians to see a politician openly sporting such expensive stuff. Mamta Banerjee gets praised for continuing to live in a small cottage in spite of becoming the CM of Bengal. But Jayalalitha gets criticised for sporting expensive Kanjeevaram Sarees. Call it hypocrisy but the 'public appearance code' that Indian Politicians follow is very different from their Pak counterparts. How many Indian PMs do you know who even wore suits in public? I can't think of any!

  3. first time here....
    i did not like how media had highlighted her bags more than her political agendas and potential.

  4. Perhaps it is Indian media that is all FIZZ and no substance.