Hina Rabbani Khar: ‘No gesture from India has gone unattended’

Conversation with Hina Rabbani Khar, Foreign Minister of Pakistan

Sanjay Kapoor Islamabad 

In just a few months, the Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Hina Rabbani Khar, has decisively proved a few things: that she has a lot more to her than an expensive Birkin Hermes handbag and Roberto Cavalli glares, and, second, that she is a fast learner who can negotiate adroitly the treacherous diplomatic minefields. Also, she has demolished a principle that defines the appointment of the foreign minister in many governments — including in the neighbourhood — that you do not have to be a doddering old man to occupy this position. More important, that foreign policy cannot be the sole preserve of the diplomatic and strategic community.

 

Her slight frame may convey an impression of vulnerability, but this view evaporates as soon as she starts to speak. Her unusually deep voice and clarity of thought leave no one in doubt about what, in her view, constitutes her country’s national interest. During her interaction with visiting Indian journalists she made it very clear that, at this juncture of Pakistan’s tumultuous life, its interests rest in restoring trade ties with India and ushering peace. In her reckoning, ‘military minds’ had done their bit in improving the environment, but only the ‘political minds’ can solve intractable issues. She was quick to clarify that there was no real contradiction between the army and the civilian government on core issues and they share the desire to use resources to build peace in the country. “We want to be a country that is willing to do business with a new mindset.” 

 ‘The US has crossed certain red lines. It is important to establish new rules of engagement with the US’

How is this new Pakistani mindset manifesting itself? It has meant trying to put together a policy regime that looks at life after the US troops depart from neighbouring Afghanistan. Cognizant of raging anti-American feeling in the country over drone attacks, the government, in an extraordinary move, decided to take the issue of Pakistan’s relationship with the US to Parliament.

Normally, foreign policy lies in the executive domain, but locating the debate as well as the decisions in Parliament was meant to tell the US that its resolve to stop non-lethal supplies to the International Security Assistance Force had the backing of the people of the country. 

Since the border incident on November 24, 2011, that left many Pakistani soldiers dead, the government of Pakistan had stopped passage of NATO supplies through their country to Afghanistan. “The US has crossed certain red lines,” Khar said. “It is important to establish new rules of engagement with the US.”

She was insistent that her country’s precarious economic situation would not make Pakistan change its stand towards the US. “We are less dependent on aid than it is hyped,” she said, cryptically.

She made it clear that Pakistan was not looking at Afghanistan for reasons of gaining strategic depth against India. “Afghanistan is a sovereign nation and we respect that. The concept of strategic depth has no meaning. However, due to a long border their problems spill over into Pakistan.” She took the correct position that the Afghan people would be able to decide their own destiny even after 2014. 

It was on India, though, that she seemed most bullish. She claimed that after the return of democracy in Pakistan, there has been a qualitative improvement in ties with New Delhi. “No gesture from India has gone unattended,” she said. Khar saw the improvement in ties with India as a big opportunity for both countries to fast-track growth. 

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: MAY 2012

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