Pakistani Ambassador Sherry Rehman resigned Tuesday, citing her party's loss in parliamentary elections as she plans to return to her South Asian nation where she faces a police investigation on charges of blasphemy.
The Pakistani Embassy in Washington said Ms. Rehman submitted her resignation to Mir Hazar Khan Khoso, Pakistan's caretaker prime minister.
"It is time a new envoy came in as quickly as possible so that there is no gap in the [U.S.-Pakistani] relationship," the embassy said in the announcement posted on its Twitter page.
President Asif Ali Zardari picked her for the Washington post in November 2011 after the previous ambassador, Husain Haqqani, resigned in a dispute over allegations of secret messages sent to the Pentagon that warned of a possible military coup in Pakistan. Mr. Haqqani, now director of the Center for International Relations at Boston University, repeatedly has denied he had any role in the scandal.
After learning of Ms. Rehman's resignation and plans to return to Pakistan, Mr. Haqqani expressed concern for her safety because of the blasphemy charges, which can carry the death penalty.
"I hope that she will take adequate measures for her safety and that the new government ensures her security in Pakistan," he told Embassy Row.
Ms. Rehman was a strong advocate of women's rights and religious tolerance when she served as a member of parliament from the Pakistan People's Party before accepting the ambassadorial appointment.
She supported removing the death penalty for violating the country's strict laws against defaming Islam — a position that brought a complaint of blasphemy from a Pakistani businessman and a court-ordered police investigation in February.
Her party lost in elections Sunday, as former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, a devout Muslim, and his Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) swept to power. Ms. Rehman is expected to return to her former position as president of the Jinnah Institute, a pro-democracy think tank in Islamabad.
In Pakistan, U.S. Ambassador Richard Olson met Tuesday with Mr. Sharif in Lahore, the country's second-largest city. He reiterated U.S. support for the nuclear-armed nation neighboring Afghanistan, where U.S. troops are preparing to withdraw and turn over the fight against Islamic terrorism to Afghan forces.
A TOLERANT VILLAGE
U.S. Ambassador Richard Morningstar found a pocket of religious tolerance in Azerbaijan, a nation widely criticized for bureaucratic harassment of Islamic and Christian worshippers.
"It is great when different people live together," he told a television station Tuesday after visiting the village of Nij in the northern part of the Caspian Sea nation.
The village of about 6,000 is home to most of Azerbaijan's Albanian-Udi Christian community, an ancient ethnic enclave in a country where Muslims comprise about 96 percent of the population of about 9 million.
"Peaceful coexistence between Muslims, Christians and Jews is an honorable fact for Azerbaijan," Mr. Morningstar said, despite repeated reports from the State Department and other organizations of routine religious discrimination by the Azeri government.
Although the constitution guarantees religious freedom and Azeris are free to convert to other faiths, the government maintains control through strict regulations of the three major faiths. It has applied the rules strictly against churches and mosques.
"There are burdensome registration requirements for religious groups that the government enforced," the State Department said in its latest report, which covered 2011. "Legislation passed during the year increased restrictions on religious groups."
• Embassy Row is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. James Morrison can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @EmbassyRow.
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