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Pakistan Appoints First Female Foreign Minister

Hina Rabbani Khar (right) with acting UN humanitarian coordinator Martin Mogwanja at the launch of a Pakistani Humanitarian Response Plan in Islamabad in May 2009.
Hina Rabbani Khar (right) with acting UN humanitarian coordinator Martin Mogwanja at the launch of a Pakistani Humanitarian Response Plan in Islamabad in May 2009.
By RFE/RL
Pakistan has appointed its first ever female foreign minister.

Hina Rabbani Khar, 34, who previously served as deputy foreign minister, is also the youngest person ever to be named Islamabad’s top diplomat.

Khar was sworn in by acting President Farooq Naik, as head of state Asif Ali Zardari was holding talks in Afghanistan.

A television anchor for state-owned PTV said Zardari had sent congratulations to the new foreign minister, saying she followed in the line of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

"President Asif Ali Zardari extended his congratulation to Hina Rabbani Kahr on her election as the first female foreign minister of Pakistan and said that the nation is proud of her," the presenter said. "The president said empowering women was an important part of slain Benazir Bhutto's struggle, and we are proud that the people's party's decision is in line with her wishes."

Bhutto was twice prime minister of Pakistan before she was assassinated in late 2007.

In becoming foreign minister, Khar fills a post that had been vacant for five months.

Former Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi was dropped in a cabinet reshuffle in February.

Tough Tasks

Khar will not have the luxury of an adjustment period. Pakistan's Foreign Ministry announced that she will head to Indonesia later this week for talks with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) forum.

Khar's appointment also comes exactly one week before crucial talks with neighbor and archrival India.

The July 26 meetings in New Delhi will mark the first foreign minister-level talks between the governments in a year, and are part of a peace process that has struggled since the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

Islamabad’s new top diplomat will also have to counter the critics who question whether she has enough experience to fill a position considered the second most important in the country after the prime minister.

In a message posted to his Twitter account, Pakistani politician Ijaz ul Haq, the son of former President Ziya ul Haq, wrote, "Will [Khar] be able to handle Pakistan's foreign policy with her degree in hotel management and experience running cafes?"

“Interacting with India and the United States is tough,” he wrote in another message. “The foreign minister post will be difficult for an inexperienced young lady.”

Khar will be tasked with navigating complex relations with Washington, which have hit an all-time low since Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed in a U.S. raid on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan on May 2.

Speaking during a press conference in India, U.S. Secretary of State Clinton said the United States wants a relationship with Pakistan based on full-fledged efforts to counter terrorism.

"We have made it clear that we want a long-term relationship with Pakistan based on common interests including a mutual recognition that we cannot tolerate safe haven for terrorists anywhere," Clinton said.

The relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan will also be high on Khar's agenda. Pakistani President Zardari held talks with his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai, on July 19 amid heightened tensions.

Some Afghan lawmakers have accused Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency of being involved in a string of recent assassinations in the country. 

based on agency reports with contribution from RFE/RL's Muhammad Tahir
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