Days after Pakistan's foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar contradicted President Asif Ali Zardari during a meeting with a visiting US diplomat, speculation is rife that her portfolio may be changed.
The speculation of the change was sparked by remarks of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani four days after the meeting.
Gilani took the top brass in the Foreign Ministry by surprise by saying during an interaction with reporters at his home in Lahore that a "fresh team" would carry forward talks with India to resolve outstanding issues like the Kashmir.
Reporters who attended the interaction did not make much of the remarks and Gilani did not explain what he meant by the term "fresh team".
The US delegation led by deputy secretary of state Thomas Nides was taken by surprise when Khar publicly contradicted the President during a meeting held at the governor's House in Lahore on April 4, diplomatic sources said.
Zardari was then camping in the capital of Punjab province to interact with workers of his Pakistan People's Party. Nides raised the crucial issue of Pakistan's participation in a conference on Afghanistan to be held at Chicago in May, and Zardari said his government was amenable to discussing the matter if Washington extended a formal invitation, the sources said.
At this point, Khar intervened and said the issue could not be taken up till a joint session of parliament completed an ongoing review of Pakistan-US relations, the sources said.
Any discussion on the Chicago conference could be held only after the review, she was quoted as saying.
The sources said the US delegation was surprised by the "argumentative" tone adopted by Khar in the presence of the President, who is perceived as the PPP's main decision-maker on crucial foreign policy issues.
The government ordered the review of Pakistan-US ties after a cross-border NATO air strike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November and the two countries have been unable to bring their relations on an even keel since then.
However, the remarks immediately triggered speculation in the Foreign Office that Khar's portfolio could be changed during an upcoming cabinet reshuffle.
Gilani and other PPP leaders have said a cabinet reshuffle will be carried out soon with an eye on the general election scheduled for early next year.
Speculation is doing the rounds in the Foreign Office that Khar may be given a new portfolio in the cabinet reshuffle and a new Foreign Minister would lead talks with New Delhi, The News daily reported today.
Another significant change in the Foreign Office was the recent appointment of Jalil Abbas Jilani, a distant relative of the premier, as the new Foreign Secretary.
Officials and diplomatic sources also pointed out that Khar was not included in Zardari’s entourage for his day-long visit to India on Sunday.
Though the visit was officially described as a private trip to offer prayers at a Sufi shrine at Ajmer, Zardari also held talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi.
Sources referred to the case of former Law Minister Babar Awan, who has been completely sidelined in the PPP just two months after being named the party’s vice president, and said Zardari hardly ever forgives anyone who goes against him.
Awan was sidelined after he refused to testify in support of Gilani in contempt proceedings in the Supreme Court. Reports also said that several PPP politicians from Khar's home constituency of Muzarffargarh in Punjab had ganged up against her under the leadership of parliamentarian Jamshed Dasti.
Dasti has expressed displeasure over the importance given to Khar in party circles. Sources close to Khar told The News there was no truth in reports of a change in her portfolio.
The sources, however, did not offer an explanation for her not being included in Zardari’s entourage for the visit to India.