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Just what the doctor ordered

January 01, 2013

WHEN Sherry Rehman landed in Washington in January 2012, she joined a mixed class of notable (and not-so-notable) figures who had preceded her as Pakistan’s US envoys. Following a scandal that had embroiled the Pakistan embassy and the deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers in an American air strike at the Afghan border, Rehman’s new job in Washington was not an envious one. She had to speedily reclaim Pakistan’s lost esteem and coerce the US to admit its offence – uphill tasks in every sense. Her work was even more challenging as it coincided with new restrictions being slapped on aid to Pakistan which President Obama had signed to validate as law.

Apart from recovering Pakistan’s lost face in diplomatic corridors, she also had to live up to the stature of redoubtable women like Abida Husain and Maliha Lodhi who had gracefully filled in the same position in previous years.

Having remained Information Minister for President Zardari, one thing Rehman knows is her way around sticky diplomatic situations. As Ambassador, she has cooed the right words at key political junctures and hasn’t taken on any fierce issues in the media, her defence line on Pakistan being dignified and well-stated.

When provoked by US Defence Minister Leon Panetta who had brazenly rejected Pakistan’s sovereignty of air space, her reply was taken as strong but tactful. An earlier apology issued by US Secretary of State on the death of the 24 soldiers and the resultant opening of the supply route to Afghanistan for Nato had also been written down as a diplomatic victory for Rehman who publicly claimed it as an historic episode.

In her first year, Sherry Rehman seems to have treaded fairly well, promoting Pakistan’s arts and culture while mingling with Washington’s upper crust – a routine she knows to perfection. Promoting Sufism’s message of tolerance at a musical evening; hosting Chaand Raat at the embassy for American officials and holding gatherings for local community leaders just might be what will redeem Pakistan.