Pakistan Today, March 10, 2012
Sherry Rehman at Capitol Hill
Since her arrival in Washington about two months back, Ambassador Sherry Rehman has been making earnest endeavours to put Pakistan-US relationship back on the rail and build a positive image of Pakistan at the White House, State Department, among Congressmen and the think tanks.
To counter the impression in the western society and the media about women in Pakistan, the ambassador made it a point to organise a special function at the embassy on “Empowering women: The Way Ahead” on the occasion of International Women Day at which the ambassador, herself a champion of women and human rights, through a video documentary showed the audience how the Pakistani women were being empowered through legislation that had been pursued by the parliament to make them a valuable member of the community.
Sherry Rehman, who was a close associate and confidant of former Prime Minister Shaheed Benazir Bhutto, in her address said women’s rights is part of the history of struggle of the Pakistan Peoples Party. As the first woman ever elected to head an Islamic nation, our leader Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto felt a special responsibility to address issues relating to women, she said and added that the present government was committed to follow her vision.
Ambassador Rehman, was summoned back in the last week of March for fresh briefing at the highest level during which she met President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and COAS General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. She has a very difficult task as tension between the two allies in war on terrorism has plunged US-Pakistan relations to their lowest point since the end of the Cold War.
She brought glamour to her critical post along with a willingness to play hardball embodying the beauty and the boldness of her friend and mentor, Benazir Bhutto. Since taking up her post the envoy has handled her challenging portfolio with similar, purposeful charm and made her presence felt at the Capitol Hill.
After landing in Washington, Ambassador Sherry Rehman followed a hectic schedule by meeting all the key Senators, Congressmen, state department and Pentagon policymakers and important think tanks before presenting her credentials to President Obama. In her interaction with Obama, she highlighted Pakistan’s cooperation with the US and the international community in defeating terrorism and the sacrifices and efforts by Pakistan for security along the Afghan border and the region at large.
As a former journalist, politician and in her new role as a diplomat, Sherry Rehman fully knows that she had to strengthen bilateral ties and set them on firmer, transparent and equitable footings with the support of who is who in the US and the Pakistani-American community.
She followed the right path by meeting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the all important Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Senator John Kerry. During meeting with Clinton which lasted for an hour and attended by Barack Obama’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Marc Grossman, troubled ties between the two nations came under detailed discussions and views were exchanged on the way to move ahead. The Pakistani ambassador asserted that Pakistanis were very sensitive to their country’s honour and dignity and in no would accept any type of interference in their internal affairs. She stressed that the Pak-US relationship would be enduring only if it was built on equal footing and Islamabad’s strategic interests in the region were kept in view by the policymakers at the Capitol Hill.
John Kerry, who is a former presidential candidate and is listened with great respect in the American policy circles, in his address emphasised for a serious attempt to understand Pakistan’s strategic interests in the region and for rebuilding a productive relationship. He was quick to recognise that there was much reason for distrust between Pakistan and US saying a series of tactical disputes have strained their strategic partnership and the truth was that the US would have a lot of work to do to rebuild a productive relationship.
In view of the tremendous economic losses that Pakistan suffered during the war on terror, the ambassador made it a special point to address the US-Pakistan Business Council urging the American investors to benefit from vast business opportunities Pakistan offers in several potential areas, particularly the energy sector.
In the US, different think tanks play key role in shaping the policies, and to judge where Sherry’s heart lies, she addressed a packed auditorium at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington. Her speech signalled a desire for substantive changes in US engagement with Pakistan based on a belief that it is understandable for the US to reach out to Pakistan only in times of strategic needs. She hoped that she would be remembered as an anchor in a critical bilateral relationship between the two countries.
While the Pakistani Parliament is all set to debate Pak-US relations, and the government will follow the guidelines in reshaping the vital relationship, Ambassador Rehman, herself a former legislature, will have to play a key role to remove the trust deficit by strongly advocating Pakistan’s viewpoint. She thus faces some formidable challenges in her term as ambassador to reset US-Pakistan relations.