Thursday, Dec 01, 2022

The Woman Who Turned Heads

The Woman Who Turned Heads

Hina Rabbani Khar was the toast of the foreign capitals. But now, on the eve of Pakistan’s historic elections, she is literally ‘toast’— politically.

She was the toast of the foreign capitals. Hillary Clinton , a presidential ‘nominee’, called her ‘elected’ Pakistani counterpart a ‘tough cookie’. SM Krishna, while stepping down from office, recalled how he had ‘good chemistry and understanding’ with her.

She was the first foreign minister of Pakistan whose annual reception at the United Nations was attended by her Indian counterpart. Again, she was the first who gave clear instructions to the Foreign Office that she did not want to hear any ‘rhetoric’ against India, despite provocation.

“We engaged in three wars, so we said let’s give creating peace a chance. We decided that it was time to start changing the environment, the narrative and the mindset and to start investing in friendship, trust-building and serious mature relations with each other rather than investing in hostility and animosity,” she responded to critics who saw her too ‘soft’ on the ‘enemy’.

Not only was she Pakistan’s first and youngest foreign minister but also the first woman to present the budget speech in the National Assembly in 2009.

Hina Rabbani Khar in her signatory dopatta (“that never kept still”) , and string of pearls, had literally turned heads as she jetted around the world trying to defend the indefensible. “I have been to Kabul five times on official trips and only once to Washington. For us Kabul is the most important capital in the world as it is really the ‘heart of Asia’. I have been greatly influenced by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto’s vision for strengthening relations in the region”, she told Outlook.

In fact, at times, President Hamid Karzai saw her as a threat, as she headed delegations to meet with the Afghan opposition , in an attempt to gather them in the reconciliation process. Many were non-Pashtuns , like Dr Abdullah Abdullah, who refused to break bread with Karzai.

It was in her official residence that a crucial midnight meeting was held last summer, attended amongst others by Army chief, General Ishfaq Pervez Kiyani. The establishment had finally ‘cowed’ down in the face of continuing US pressure and decided to open land routes into Afghanistan for NATO containers after a mild US ‘regret’, for killing Pakistani soldiers.

Two years ago as she stepped by ‘default’ into the ministry of foreign affairs, a popular joke echoing in the corridors of power went: “Pakistan’s foreign policy is now in the hands of South Punjab”. Prime Minister Yusuf Reza Gillani, foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar and foreign secretary Jalil Abbas Jillani all belonged to South Punjab. Today only Jillani remains.

“If given a chance , yes, I will want to come back to the foreign minister’s office. The office has moved me and I am passionately involved with the foreign policy something I was not so keen on as junior minister of Finance”, she tells Outlook.

On her last day in office, as the lower halls of the Foreign Office were filled with pink gladiolas, as bureaucrats prepared to dine her out, Khar joked about how much she hated ‘pink’ gladiolas, but smiled when told that it will be a long time before the foreign office bureaucracy can think in terms of ‘pink’ again.

“HRK was gifted with a rare combination of intellect and charm making her a highly successful foreign minister. She had a major role in foreign policy formulation and effectively projected Pakistan’s point of view at all international forums. She brought about a fresh perspective to our dealings with regional countries and was willing to take initiatives in developing congenial relations. She was a team leader an absolute delight to work with,” recalls Foreign Secretary, Jillani while speaking to Outlook.

Many are writing the PPP off in Elections 2013, and Khar agrees that there have been highs and lows of her government. “Plus point of the PPP has been the 18th amendment where we managed to correct the fault lines. But we could not deliver an energy policy. On the issue of tackling militancy it was the opposition that did not cooperate even post Malala, when we wanted to bring in anti-terror policies. It is terrible for Pakistan that PML(N) maintain links with jihadis”, she says.

Khar received a standing ovation at home, when at an international forum. she raised the issue of the PPP- led government passing a law in Parliament which guaranteed stiff punishment for acid throwers. This despite the fact that it was the foreign minister's first cousin, Bilal Khar, who was behind defacing his wife, who eventually committed suicide in Italy. This and other similar crimes speeded framing the law.

Today on the eve of Pakistan’s historic elections, Khar is literally ‘toast’— politically. Her entry into politics was quite ‘accidental’ five years ago. Her father Ghulam Noor Rabbani Khar had been hit by the graduation clause to contest in 2008 from Village ‘Khar Gharbi’ located in Tehsil Kot Addu, in Muzaffargarh. With the condition no longer required, Khar says she has returned the ‘trust’ reposed in her by her father. “He is so proud of me and said even a son would not have brought so much honour to his constituency. I am his covering candidate and canvassing for him in what has been a very peaceful area with no violence,” Khar says.

The PPP has also not given Khar the reserved seat for women, though the former foreign minister says that she would, if given a chance, have preferred to fight it out on a general rather than a ‘safe’ seat.

For someone who rants endlessly on foreign policy, Khar maintains a frosty silence when asked about her future plans. “ I am really not in a decisive position to talk about my future plans”, she tells Outlook as political analysts push her out of the PPP political frame altogether.

“Days of her lucky charm are over. She was in politics by default but I do not see her around in future. But she is still very, very young so who knows?”, says political analyst Amir Mateen.

However, though the future looks hazy, if the PPP manages to return, chances of bringing back Khar through the Senate or as an Advisor are always there, after all Zardari still remains President.

“President Zardari has a 20 -20 vision on the future, is able to grab a situation and is spot on foreign policy. I have confidence in him. God has been exceptionally kind to me as I never had to jostle or fight for a position. I will not lose strength now”, she recalls of the time she spent in government.

In the meantime she has all the time in the world for trekking, horse- riding, climbing Nanga Parbat and K2 and managing her hotel business.