ISLAMABAD: It is perhaps through her diplomatic skills that Sherry Rehman — once considered a persona non grata in the Pakistan People's Party that sent her a show-cause notice for allegedly violating party discipline — has managed to get the country's top ambassadorship in the United States.
Her appointment, made only a day after Husain Haqqani's resignation in the wake of the memogate scandal, came as a surprise not only in diplomatic circles but also within the PPP. A number of party members believed that Ms Rehman, who held the information offices in the government as well as the party, was no more in the good books of party co-chairman and President Asif Ali Zardari due to her decision to quit the cabinet over government's handling of the media at the climax of the movement for the restoration of deposed judges in March 2009.
Although Ms Rehman's act of sacrificing her ministry was widely hailed by civil society, lawyers and even journalists, the PPP leadership removed her from the position of the party's information secretary.
President Zardari was so angry with the former information minister that during one of the meetings with senior party members he criticised her for leaving the party at a difficult time and stated that she had jumped out of the ship believing that it might sink.
On Oct 24 last year, PPP Secretary General Jehangir Badar issued show-cause notices to dissident Senator Safdar Abbasi and Ms Rehman for participating in talk shows of a TV channel that the PPP had asked its members to boycott for its perceived anti-government policy. Both of them protested that they were members of the Central Executive Committee, the party's highest decision-making body, but yet knew nothing of the decision to boycott the channel.
However, unlike other party dissidents or sidelined leaders, Ms Rehman preferred not to speak against party leadership in public or before the media and, unlike Senator Abbasi, preferred silence.
In the beginning, she was not invited even to the CEC meetings, but later she started receiving invitations and attended the meetings of the party's highest forum.
It is believed that because of her “quiet diplomacy” and seeing her commitment with the party, the PPP leadership decided to bring her back in the mainstream. In July, she was tipped as a successor of former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, but the position went to Hina Rabbani Khar, thus creating an impression that the leadership still had some reservations about her. Later, President Zardari appointed her as the head of the Pakistan Red Crescent Society.
Sources close to Ms Rehman say that now she enjoys a “cordial relationship” not only with President Zardari, but also with Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the party chairman.
Ms Rehman, who worked closely with PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto and headed the party's policy planning committee that drafted the PPP manifesto for 2008 general elections, remained on almost all important committees the party formed after the 2008 elections. She was the member of the committee that negotiated with other political parties, finalised terms for cooperation as ruling alliance partners and decided the formula for distribution of ministries among coalition partners.
Ms Rehman was a key member of the committee that negotiated with the Pakistan Muslim League-N in Murree after which the famous Bhurban Declaration was signed by Mr Zardari and Nawaz Sharif on March 9, 2008.
As minister, she prepared and presented Pakistan's first in camera national security briefing to a joint session of parliament which led to the passage of the first formal consensus resolution against terrorism.
Ms Rehman was also a member of the National Assembly that completed its term under the Musharraf regime. She remained in the limelight throughout her nine-year career in parliament due to her efforts to improve laws relating to rights of women and journalists. She authored different important bills tabled in the National Assembly like women empowerment bill, anti-honour killings bill, domestic violence prevention bill and freedom of information bill.
Amid announcements by religious forces to resist any move to change the blasphemy laws, Ms Rehman submitted a bill to the National Assembly Secretariat in November last year, seeking an end to the death penalty under the existing blasphemy laws.
After submitting the bill, she believed that the blasphemy laws as set out in the Pakistan Penal Code found their roots in colonial laws and had in their present form became a source of victimisation and persecution of minorities.
Her move provoked the wrath of the religious and extremist groups and she was asked by the government and her party to keep herself in a low profile due to security concerns, particularly after the assassination of her fellow-campaigners like Punjab governor Salman Taseer in January and minister for minorities Shahbaz Bhatti in March.
Analysts say that her appointment as US ambassador is a face-saving formula which removes Ms Rehman from the dangers threatening her in Pakistan while at the same time putting in place a representative who is considered to be far less threatening to the military.
Ms Rehman is also the founding head of Jinnah Institute, an independent public policy institute committed to regional peace and inclusive democracy in Pakistan. She arranged several track-two strategic dialogues with India and is convener of a similar institutionalised dialogue process between Pakistan and Afghanistan.