Pakistan has appointed former information minister and long-time human rights campaigner Sherry Rehman as its next ambassador to the United States, following the resignation of Husain Haqqani Tuesday.
The move could help shift some attention away from the scandal over a secret memo allegedly sent to the United States by Mr. Haqqani, which cost him his job and has left the civilian government severely weakened.
Speaking to the Monitor on her new job, Ms. Rehman said: “It’s a huge challenge and I look forward to bringing my resources and skills to the job, and I hope we can build better ties in the days ahead. Both countries seek stability in the region and we can build on converging goals.”
So far, her appointment has met with approval among Pakistan’s political classes. According to opposition lawmaker Ayaz Amir, “It’s a good choice. Pakistan has an image problem. A serious problem which someone articulate, sophisticated, and with the right background and poise can deal with.”
Rehman, a former magazine editor, became Pakistan’s information minister in 2008 following the country’s return to democracy. She resigned a year later citing curbs on journalists during a judicial crisis, and in doing so elevated her stock among the Pakistani public.
Her parliamentary work on women's and minorities’ rights have helped make her a liberal icon at home. She has also been recognized by US groups, receiving the Jeanne J. Kirkpatrick Award for Women in 2011 and the "Democracy's Hero" award by the International Republican Institute in 2009.
Since the beginning of the year, she has lived under threat of an attack by Islamist extremists for criticizing Pakistan's blasphemy laws and calling for reform. Similar calls for reform led to the assassinations of two other politicians, a former governor, Salman Taseer, and Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian political leader. Following those attacks, Ms. Rehman started traveling with armed guards.
This year she founded an Islamabad-based think tank, the Jinnah Institute, which tracks extremism in the country. The think tank recently issued a report calling for a Pakistan-friendly government in Afghanistan, a view that holds well with the military establishment.
Rehman: US backing of liberal causes in Pakistan can backfire
Her predecessor is currently fighting allegations by a Pakistani-American businessman that he authored a controversial memo calling for US intervention in preventing a coup in Pakistan, and promising a raft of pro-US pledges in return.
In an interview with the Monitor in January, Rehman tackled the subject of US-Pakistan relations, arguing that US backing of liberal causes in Pakistan can at times backfire.
“Sometimes congruence of goals, universal goals are conflated with US goals simply because it casts such a long shadow on the world. Particularly [in] Pakistan, and the drone program doesn’t help that,” she said.
“Pakistanis are very schizophrenic about the US," she added. "They want their children to study there, they understand the benefits of that democracy but they are also very anti-American. Part of that responsibility lies with the US. The rest lies with us because we tend to throw a lot of our failures into that bit as well.”