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Fine diplomat

Khar still Paks a punch

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The word about town in the old city of Lahore is that Hina Rabbani Khar is dearly loved. Evidence of this is abundantly available : from people in the know in Pakistan, to posts on the web and social networking sites.

That Khar landed in New Delhi and was thronged by Indian journalists fascinated by her silk dupattas, Birkin bags and designer sunglasses is merely excess fodder for the Indo-Pak ability to state the obvious in order to make good copy.

It is true that Hina Rabbani Khar is attractive, poised, rich beyond my wildest dreams, and has a husky voice. She has also cultivated good opinion in circles well beyond her Punjabi baradari. In general diplomatic circles she is seen, I'm told, as quite the star.

Her problem, it seems, is that she is Pakistani and the prism through which the world receives anything Pakistani naturally distorts Khar's image as well.

This week there were more potshots directed at this landed lass. It was said HRK was going to face the axe because of a statement made by the erudite Prime Minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani. Gilani boldly announced the commission of a new foreign affairs team. I'm not clear - and I don't think too many others are either - what Gilani was talking about, but I'm told he had to step back very quickly because Khar marched into his office and demanded to know what was going on. The result was a mix of backtracking and damage control, and a mumble to cover up the awkwardness of the moment.

On the governmental akhara where the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister met, Khar emerged with gold.

Pakistan has a tendency to produce educated, rich, attractive and powerful women - Benazir Bhutto, Sherry Rehman, Fahmida Mirza, Asma Jahangir and now, Hina Rabani Khar. These are all privileged women with access to resources, power and accountability, but that shouldn't go against them.

"Why should Hina apologise for being rich, beautiful and fashionable?" demands Mariana Baabar, the Pakistani journalist who writes for Outlook magazine. "If Pakistan has produced women with those credentials, Pakistan should not have to be defensive about them. "

Baabar says she was frustrated by what the media missed in Khar's visit to India last July by obsessing over her couture. "It was such a historic visit for three reasons. For one, GHQ had a strategic shift to the Afghan border. Second, she was going with a new message from Pakistan. The commerce ministers were also meeting after 30 years. I was very disappointed with my colleagues in India. "

The announcement that Khar would take over from Shah Mahmood Qureishi when he resigned as Foreign Minister in February 2011 was met with suspicion about motivations (pretty woman), experience (age: 35 years) and background (a management degree). However, reality was that Khar had already had a long political career. She was elected to the National Assembly in 2002 from Muzzafargarh as a member of the pro-Musharraf party, PML-Q. She shifted political allegiance only in 2008 when she joined the PPP. It's true that Khar is Pakistan's youngest and first woman foreign minister, but breaking barriers is her specialty. She was 25 years old when she won her first seat in 2002 in a conservative bastion of her Punjabi feudal territory. Her father - brother to the notorious Mustafa Khar, whose ex-wife penned the best-selling book, My Feudal Lord - campaigned on her behalf. Not a single poster appeared with her face on it. Today, she is among the most visible people in the country and although she faces some opposition in her constituency, it is more resource-related than anti-women in nature.

In 2009, she was the first woman to present the budget in the National Assembly as Minister of State for Finance and Economic Affairs.

Apart from being a mother to two young girls, she is also a mountaineer with both Nanga Parbat and K2 on her CV, though I don't know if that means she has actually scaled them.

Friends and observers say Khar is a dedicated worker, that she studiously studies her briefs and makes cogent and well-worded presentations. Schools of diplomacy worldwide would present Hina Rabani Khar as an example of a fine diplomat. That she struts about in Jimmy Choos is something that is secondary to her merit-based accomplishments.

In a meeting with US officials at the Governor's House in Lahore, Khar clearly stated that Pakistan's participation in the Afghanistan conference could not be confirmed until other pressing matters relating to US-Pakistani affairs were addressed. The criticism on this issue has more to do with the current bilateral relationship than with Khar herself.

It seems she's not going anywhere soon.

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