Hina Rabbani Khar: Meeting Pakistan’s new foreign minister
“How does it feel to no longer be the most talked about Pakistani in Delhi?” a friend texted me, joking.
As the daughter of a Pakistani diplomat living in New Delhi, I assumed that would remain my undisputed title, which it did, till the arrival of Hina Rabbani Khar.
Pakistan’s newest, youngest and first female foreign minister arrived in India for the first time this Tuesday and became the talk of Mumbai, and all of the country, all week.
National newspaper headlines proclaimed that Pakistan had put its "best face forward" and other such puns. Facebook statuses hailed her as Pakistan’s best export. Tweets ranged from comparing her to Kate Middleton to commenting on her Cavalli sunglasses and black Birkin bag.
Author Seema Goswami wrote, “even the Delhi skies are drooling," as a pearl-clad Khar alighted from her plane under a cloudy monsoonal downpour in the capital -- a happy distraction from dreary drawing room discussions about India's dismal test cricket campaign in England.
As the dust (or the perfume) settled, conversations turned from her attractiveness to her effectiveness.
Would she be able to match the extensive experience of her 78-year-old counterpart, Mr. S.M Krishna? Would her Jimmy Choo heels be able to navigate the minefields of Kashmir and terrorism? Did a 34-year-old possess the requisite background to handle the world’s most tense bilateral relations?
Like hormone-ridden teenagers who had embarrassingly expressed their adoration prematurely, the smitten turned to skeptics.
At a dinner Wednesday night, held at ITC Maurya hotel in New Delhi and hosted in Khar's honor by the Pakistan High Commissioner, I hoped to unravel the enigma.
I knew little about Hina except that she had served as minister of state for foreign affairs, was the first woman to present a budget speech in Pakistan’s National Assembly and owned one of my favorite restaurants in Lahore, Polo Lounge.
Though petite and demure, she commanded attention when she walked into Kamal Mahal banquet hall. Upon her entrance, India’s leading politicians, lawyers and businessmen stopped mid-conversation and flocked to her side, camera phones in hand, like star-struck paparazzi.
While attention is easy to get, it is difficult to maintain. In this crowd, Khar had to know what she was talking about.
Our own conversation started with me complimenting her on my favorite dessert at her restaurant (the molten chocolate puddle cake) but the conversation soon shifted to her visit and how she hoped for a new era of trade and cooperation with India.
She didn't miss an opportunity, even with me, to talk about how she hoped "a new generation of Indians and Pakistanis will see a relationship that will hopefully be different from the one that’s been experienced in the last two decades."
At 34, Khar is certainly part of this new generation. She’s not just a fresh face, but a fresh batch of politician altogether.
Ram Jethmalani, one of India’s top lawyers, made an impromptu speech where he said he accepted his dinner invitation after he saw a picture of the new foreign minister.
While every girl loves a bit of flattery, the thing about Khar, I thought, is that she seemed determined not to let it go to her head.
She remained focused. She explained in detail how talks have led to agreements on a series of confidence-building measures to double trade over the Indo-Pak Line of Control, to relax controls on travel, to increase sporting and cultural ties and to strengthen co-operation against terrorism.
Though the two aren’t mutually exclusive, at the end of the day Khar needs to be respected as a foreign minister and not a smart fashionista restaurateur.
So while some elements of the media, the masses and even her dinner guests that night seemed fixated on the foreign minister's outward appearance, she, in turn, paid it no mind.