Qureshi out, spotlight on Hina Khar | delhi | Hindustan Times
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Qureshi out, spotlight on Hina Khar

There is a vacuum at the top in Pakistan’s foreign office, with cabinet minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi's summary removal and the appointment of Hina Rabbani Khar in a junior slot in the high-profile ministry. Vinod Sharma writes.

delhi Updated: Feb 15, 2011 01:53 IST
Vinod Sharma

There is a vacuum at the top in Pakistan’s foreign office, with cabinet minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi's summary removal and the appointment of Hina Rabbani Khar in a junior slot in the high-profile ministry.

Explanations vary as to why Qureshi was dispossessed of the portfolio — foremost among them being his refusal to play ball with the US to grant diplomatic immunity to undercover operative Raymond Davis. The American is being tried for the recent murder of two men in broad daylight in Lahore.

In protest, Qureshi refused the option of working as minister for food and agriculture or water and power. He told a farewell reception in the foreign office that he lost his job for refusing to declare Davis a diplomat in contravention of an official brief on his real status.

It remains unclear if a full cabinet minister will be appointed anytime soon — talent scouting for which would have to be done in consultation with the army.

A graduate from the University of Massachusetts in the US, Khar, who left a faction of the Pakistan Muslim League to join the Pakistan Peoples Party before the 2008 elections, did reasonably well as minister of state for economic affairs, even standing in for the finance minister to present last year’s budget in parliament.

Like Qureshi, she belongs to a well-known political family of southern Punjab. Her uncle, Ghulam Mustafa Khar — who served as governor of the politically crucial province under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto — is better known as the colourful protagonist of his ex-wife Tehmina Durrani’s best-selling biography, My Feudal Lord. “She did well in the economic affairs ministry.

But foreign affairs is a different ballgame,” said veteran Pakistani commentator Afzal Khan. He said a clear contender was yet to emerge for Qureshi’s slot.

It wouldn’t be surprising if the incumbent on whom consensus emerges between the civilian and military leadership, is brought in through the Senate route. Qureshi’s refusal to be part of his cabinet shouldn't unduly worry Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, who always viewed him as a formidable rival.

Both hail from Multan and are scions of families that are keepers of popular shrines. In fact, the Cambridge-educated foreign minister lost the prime ministerial race to Gilani for the very reason that made him more suitable for the job. President Asif Zardari found it expedient to lend support to the lesser contestant to eliminate any future challenge to his authority.

So Qureshi was sacked for defying the US and seeking to leverage with the PM his proximity to powerful sections in the army. That only raises the possibility of Rawalpindi hand-picking his successor. Till then, the PM will run the show with the young and pliable Khar as his point person. The arrangement wouldn't in any way dilute the army's diktat.