It's a beauty contest of the political kind. And the contestants are two well-heeled members of Pakistan's National Assembly, Sherry Rehman and Kashmala Tariq.
A Benazir Bhutto confidante, Sherry is well recognised on the track II Indo-Pak circuit. On her part, Kashmala, a ruling PML (Q) legislator, acquired celebrity status after a special audience with President George Bush during his recent visit to the sub-continent.
But the brush isn't about who is more beautiful. Kashmala has declared war on Sherry for attacking the government in Parliament and seeking favours from it outside. Her case: Rehman's husband used his Citibank past to secure a license for setting up a micro-financing bank from Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. Another PPP MNA, Qurban Ali, is in her firing range over graft running into crores.
Sherry has since threatened to bring a privilege motion against Kashmala and drag her to Court for defamation. But the PML (Q) MNA refuses to relent. She says the PPP leader — who claims the license came in the normal course — must quit her seat in the national assembly.
The grapevine has it that Kashmala's moves are backed by a powerful PML(Q) lobby keen on killing two birds with one stone — Sherry and Shaukat, whose bid to befriend General Musharraf's detractors wouldn't go down well with the President.
A former editor of the Herald, a prestigious English-language monthly published by the Dawn group, Sherry detests the very idea of being bracketed with Kashmala, whose curriculum vitae is equally, if not more impressive. An alumnus of the London School of Economics, she worked with S.M. Zafar, a leading Pakistani advocate who was Field Marshal Ayub Khan's law minister before joining politics.
Moreover, Kashmala hasn't made it to Parliament -- unlike several other lady members -- on the strength of her family connections. Her party chief and former PM, Chaudhary Shujaat Hussain interviewed her for the job and isn't regretting the choice he eventually made. A cerebral match with Sherry isn't, after all, an easy proposition.
The jury is still out and Pakistanis are enjoying every bit of the drama. For his part, Qurban Ali, the lesser player in the game, has told journalists that he'd rather emulate Sonia Gandhi than live with the shame of Kashmala's 'baseless' allegations.