Islamabad: Hina Rabbani Khar, Pakistan’s first woman foreign minister conspicuous by her absence from President Asif Ali Zardari’s entourage in India, may be on her way out, a media report speculated Tuesday.
The News International reported that speculation was doing the rounds in the Foreign Office that Khar may be given a new portfolio in an upcoming cabinet reshuffle and a new foreign minister would lead talks with New Delhi.
Khar, who was just 34 when she was sworn in as the foreign minister last year, was missing when when Zardari and his delegation spent a day in India Sunday.
In July last year, Khar had visited India and held talks with her Indian counterpart S.M. Krishna.
The foreign ministry was caught completely unawares when Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said in Lahore Sunday that “a fresh team” would carry forward bilateral talks to resolve outstanding issues, the paper reported.
Though the prime minister did not elaborate on what exactly he meant by “fresh team”, the News International said the statement had raised the question of whether Khar’s portfolio may be changed.
Khar had succeeded Shah Mehmood Qureshi as the foreign minister. She hails from Punjab’s Muzaffargarh district.
Sources close to her say there was no truth to rumours about a change in her portfolio. The sources as well as the Foreign Office failed to explain why Gilani used the term “new team” and why Khar was not included in Zardari’s entourage.
The daily speculated that Zardari considers Khar a lightweight politician.
“I have a hunch that if there is any truth in these speculations, then Zardari would go for Interior Minister Rehman Malik as the new foreign minister. Where such important portfolios are related it is Zardari who calls the shots,” Nusrat Javeed, an analyst, was quoted as saying.
Rehman Malik had accompanied Zardari to India, where the president met Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and paid obeisance at the shrine of a Sufi saint.
Javeed said it was Rehman Malik who held talks with his Indian counterpart P. Chidambaram in New Delhi.
However, Mushahid Hussain, a senator, said: “I think the prime minister was speaking about a new team for back channel diplomacy with India. I think Khar is doing a very good job as foreign minister and there is no reason why she should be dropped for a few months.”