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ISLAMABAD, July 19: Hina Rabbani Khar became Pakistan’s first woman foreign minister on Tuesday, prior to a number of key foreign assignments, including a round of peace talks with India.

The 34-year-old minister of state for foreign affairs was elevated to the post of full minister when both President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani were out of the country. She was sworn in by Acting President Farooq H. Naek at a ceremony at the presidency, hours after the president had left for a brief official visit to Afghanistan.

As Pakistan’s 26th and youngest foreign minister, Ms Khar, who has taken up the post five months after her predecessor Shah Mahmood Qureshi lost the job amid a diplomatic row with the United States, will lead Pakistani delegation at the Association for South East Asian Nations (Asean) forum on July 22-23 in Bali, Indonesia, and on the sidelines, will hold talks with her US and Chinese counterparts.

But her most important assignment as foreign minister would be the July 27 meeting with her Indian counterpart S.M.

Krishna in New Delhi in what will be resumption of ministerial level talks in the troubled peace dialogue since its disruption by the November 2009 Mumbai attacks.

Prime Minister Gilani had communicated to the presidency about Ms Khar’s appointment before leaving for a private visit to Britain on Monday and President Zardari left the swearing-in to be done by Mr Naek apparently because of his tight travel schedule.

Foreign Office strategists were reported to have been urging the presidency for early elevation of Ms Khar to avoid an impression that it was being done only to remove what some saw as a protocol hitch for her meeting with the Indian foreign minister.

A scion of the famous Khar family of Muzaffargarh district in south Punjab, Ms Khar, an MSc in hospitality trade and tourism from the University of Massachusetts, US, is daughter of politician Noor Rabbani Khar and a niece of former Punjab governor Ghulam Mustafa Khar.

Previously she had the distinction of being the first woman to present in parliament the country’s budget in 2009 as minister of state for finance.

In a message of felicitation, President Zardari described Ms Khar’s appointment as a demonstration of the PPP government’s “commitment to bring women into the mainstream of national life”.