Focus on Politics, Not Pearls

SM Krishna and Hina Rabbani Khar

On July 27th, Pakistan’s groundbreaking Foreign Minister, Ms. Hina Rabbani Khar, met her Indian counterpart Mr. SM Krishna. FM Khar traveled to Delhi, and the talks covered a wide variety of topics. The meeting concluded with “small but significant concessions to ease tensions in the disputed border region of Kashmir and pledging to work toward closer ties between their mutually wary, nuclear-armed countries.”

Both countries firmly stated their desire to carry on with the meetings in the wake of the tragic Mumbai bombings just a couple of weeks ago. Both sides ignored the extreme right-wingers in their respective countries, and pushed forward a peace-oriented agenda. It was, as FM Khar said “a new era in bilateral cooperation.”

But unless you were reading international coverage of this momentous visit, you missed it. South Asian media outlets (both in Pakistan and India) gave their audiences two options:

1. Either they were heavily dissecting Ms. Khar’s fashion (from her bag, to her sunglasses, to the pearl necklace she wore in Delhi, nothing was ignored) or

2. Pundits mocked Ms. Khar’s qualifications, in thinly-veiled commentary meant to paint her appointment as Foreign Minister as a joke

It’s really stunning that this is what the high-level talks were turned into in the media. Trivialization or outright sexism…pick your poison, folks!

Ms. Khar has an accomplished political career. She was elected to the National Assembly in 2002 on the PML-Q ticket, and ran in 2008 after switching to the Pakistan People’s Party. In the 2008 election, she won with an overwhelming 84,000 votes. She has served as State Minister for Economic Affairs and Statistics in 2009. Most notably, she has served as Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs since February 2011.

Where were her critics in 2008, 2009, and in February of this year? This only leads me to believe these comments are nothing but nasty remarks made regarding a clearly capable woman by certain green-eyed people.

As far as the comments about her fashion, Ms. Khar herself took on the issue. “You don’t want the attention to focus on the frivolous,” she said. “A guy in my place would never get such attention; nobody would be talking about his suit. I refuse to be apologetic about it; I will continue to be who I am.”

Ms. Khar, who has represented a conservative constituency, has risen to the country’s top diplomatic role. Her duty is to represent Pakistan on a global scale, and criticism should focus on the work that she does in that role. Anything else is at best, superficial and at worst, undermines her as a Minister.

She says she would like Pakistan-India relations to get to the point “where if an issue comes up, I should be able to pick up the phone and say, ‘this really isn’t working. And he (Mr. Krishna) agreed.”

For too long, women in Pakistan have been taught the earth is flat, and if they venture too far, they will fall off the edge. Whatever it is that drives Ms. Khar’s critics to sexist commentary must end. After all, Ms. Khar will work on improving relations not just with India, but with the entire world. Surely they can fill the newspaper inches with some of that, right?

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