Hina Rabbani Khar’s candour is good, but won’t change India-Pakistan reality

Islamabad June 29:Back in 2011, when Hina Rabbani Khar had flown into India as Pakistan’s first female foreign minister, Indian media swooned over the swish 34-year-old’s oversized Hermès Birkin bag, Roberto Cavalli sunglasses, pearl jewellery and model-like looks. Beyond the style though, there was substance. And a refreshingly new liberal approach.

During the joint news conference that had followed with her 79-year-old Indian counterpart SM Krishna, Khar impressed with her positive words and mature vision. She didn’t pick up the Kashmir issue even once and promised to usher in a new era in bilateral ties by announcing 14 new confidence-building measures. For an India still suffering the aftershocks of the 26 November. 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, this was a pleasant surprise.

Five years down the line, it is evident that Khar, who remains a Pakistan People’s Party member and delivers lectures on foreign policy — even though she has retired from active politics — hasn’t lost her breadth of vision.

Khar’s interview to GEO News channel is remarkable because it is perhaps for the first time on a public platform that a former Pakistan foreign minister has taken the lid off crippling insecurities that the state nurtures beyond the rhetorical template that largely defines its foreign policy vis-à-vis India.

Her pragmatism, while talking about the stickiest issues plaguing Pakistan, shone through. It was also a pointer to the liberalism that had marked her stint in public office in a country which remains steadfastly closeted.

In 2010, President Asif Ali Zardari promised that Pakistan was ready to wage a 1,000-year war with India over Kashmir. And the woman who was appointed by Zardari as Pakistan’s youngest and first woman minister of foreign affairs, holds that Islamabad can never conquer Kashmir by going on the warpath.

“I believe that Pakistan cannot conquer Kashmir through war, and if we cannot do that, the option we are left with is dialogue; and dialogue can only proceed with a partner with which we have normal relations and a certain level of mutual trust,” Khar said in the interview.

She urged the Nawaz Sharif government, which has a majority, to do much more to lessen the hostility that marks Indo-Pak relations, claiming that the PPP government despite being a coalition had tried its best to normalise ties with India through relaxation of visa rules and by normalising trade ties.

Khar’s advice of reconciliation fits in well with Narendra Modi’s vision. The Prime Minister has received a lot of flak for what has been termed as a blow-hot, blow cold Pakistan policy but during a recent interview to Times Now, Modi explained the rationale behind his consistent diplomatic overtures, holding that Pakistan has little to lose if India cancels talks.

Khar was also bang on in her assessment that a recent downturn in Pak-US ties and Obama administration’s tilt towards India (which earned a sarcastic reaction from China), has everything to do with India’s perception of a force being driven by economy, market and a counter-balance to China.

“Now let us ask ourselves, is US moving towards India because India is a nuclear state, or because it is a military power, no, it is people power and their democratic traditions, if we want to compete, lets compete on these grounds,” said Khar.

The maturity is perhaps only to be expected of a woman who despite coming from one of the poorest parts of Pakistan has broken through a lot of glass ceilings. With a background in economics and an MSc from the University of Massachusetts, Khar entered politics almost by default at the young age of 24 —contesting her first elections in 2002 on a family seat as her father Ghulam Noor Rabbani Khar, wealthy landowner and former parliamentarian, became illegible to participate in polls under a new law because he didn’t have a college degree.

As a former minister of state for finance and economic affairs, two-time MP and one who earned nomination for Young Global Leader award, Khar strangely has always been considered as a bit of an outlier back home. Doubts were continuously raised over her un-Pakistanness and she was, unfairly, considered lacking in gravitas as a foreign minister.

Her comments on Pakistan’s ideological crisis amply demonstrates why she isn’t exactly a popular figure.

“In 60 years, we have taught our children that our national identity is to hate someone, and we are doing it with those who are physically the nearest. Hostile with India and now hostile with Afghanistan,” said the former foreign minister.

The candour is breathtaking.

It tackles the core problem of Pakistan. Is it, in fact, a country, or a site for an Islamic experiment in welding together the spiritual and temporal into a state, as General Ayub Khan had argued.

Pakistan’s raison d’être is hatred and fear of India. It is a country that defines itself in terms of India. In her book ‘Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War‘, academician and South Asian political and military affairs wonk C Christine Fair has extensively written on how Pakistan views India as a “Hindu” nation because that makes it easier for them to set up a civilisational battle. These are well-documented arguments.

But Khar, a former foreign minister, deserves full respect for her disarming sincerity. Beyond that, however, whether it will have any effect at all on Pakistan’s relationship with India is doubtful.

Even as Khar gave the interview, the very office which she occupied once, gloated on Monday how Pakistan’s intensive diplomatic lobbying, including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif personally writing to 17 prime ministers, prevented India from gaining entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

FP

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