|Indian FM SM Krishna with Pakistan FM Hina Rabbani Khar|
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.