- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 27, 2011

ENVOY IS ‘POWERFUL STATEMENT’

Pakistan is sending an outspoken politician who supports religious freedom and women’s rights as its new ambassador to the United States, replacing an envoy who resigned in a diplomatic scandal that further ripped the already tattered relations between Washington and Islamabad.

President Asif Ali Zardari’s decision to appoint Sherry Rehman is a signal to Pakistan’s powerful military and intelligence service that his democratically elected civilian government is still in charge, some Pakistani analysts said.

His selection of Ms. Rehman is a “powerful statement, showing that [his government] has tight control over state affairs,” said political observer Muhammad Akram in Pakistan’s Daily Times.

Other analysts said Ms. Rehman is acceptable to the military and the spy service, despite her liberal views on social issues that Muslim fundamentalists in Pakistan find offensive.

As a member of parliament from the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party, Ms. Rehman has introduced legislation to promote civil rights for women, including a measure to ban honor killings frequently committed by fathers against daughters or husbands against wives.

Her support for a bill to end the death penalty for blasphemy against Islam brought death threats from Muslim extremists.

One of her opponents, lawyer Muhammad Azhar Siddique, has filed a legal challenge to her appointment because of her support for amending the blasphemy law. He also claims that ambassadorships are reserved for career diplomats, not politicians such as Ms. Rehman.

The High Court in Lahore is expected to hold a preliminary hearing on his complaint Monday.

Ms. Rehman’s selection surprised many observers who believed she was still in disrepute among her party leaders over an internal dispute that led to her resignation as information minister in 2009. She quit the Cabinet to protest Mr. Zardari’s attempt to censor a private television station that was critical of his administration.

“Her appointment … came as a surprise not only in diplomatic circles but also within the [party],” said the Pakistani newspaper Dawn.

However, it added that her “quiet diplomacy” with party leaders over the past two years restored her reputation as a loyal party member. In July, she was considered as a replacement to former Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi but was later appointed director of the Pakistani Red Crescent Society.

Ms. Rehman, a 50-year-old former journalist, was also close to former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, Mr. Zardari’s late wife. Ms. Rehman was riding in the same motorcade with Bhutto when terrorists killed her in 2007.

Ms. Rehman was appointed to replace former Ambassador Husain Haqqani, who resigned last week in a scandal surrounding a secret letter to Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, until his retirement in September.

Mr. Haqqani denied any role in the intrigue that involved a Pakistani-American businessman, Mansoor Ijaz, who claimed Mr. Haqqani asked him to arrange for the delivery of the letter to the Pentagon. Mr. Ijaz said the letter was written by Mr. Zardari. He said the president feared a military coup after U.S. Navy commandos killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May.

The development fueled suspicions in Washington that top leaders of the army and intelligence service have links to terrorists in Pakistan.

Ms. Rehman’s task of soothing relations between Islamabad and Washington grew more difficult after NATO forces Saturday killed 25 Pakistani soldiers near the Afghan border.

DIPLOMATIC TRAFFIC

Foreign visitors in Washington this week include:

Monday

• Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council; Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission; Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s representative for foreign affairs; and Karel De Gucht, the EU’s trade commissioner. They will meet with President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in a U.S.-EU summit.

Thursday

• Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Gryschenko of Ukraine, who discusses U.S.-Ukrainian relations in a 3 p.m. news conference at the National Press Club.

Friday

• President Pal Schmitt of Hungary, who addresses the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins University.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email jmorrison@washingtontimes.com. The column is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

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