The Foreign Minister Wears Prada

29 Jul

Its not just Prada - She does Birkin too!

Hina Rabbani Khar was not my top choice for foreign minister. Others within the Pakistan Peoples Party were more qualified to be the country’s top diplomat. The blogosphere, email groups and Twitter feeds are buzzing with criticism from Pakistanis disappointed with Khar’s appointment as it epitomises the lack of merit, deep-rooteddynastic politics and the restrictive hold of the feudal classes on the political system. Criticism of her lack of expertise and the advantage offered by her family background are fair and deserve to be aired. What is not fair, and downright sexist, is bashing Khar on account of her looks and gender.

I’m not trying to be a wet-blanket feminist who tries to kill the fun in big boys talking politics and using ‘humour’ to add appeal to their writing. I like a good laugh too, but what I don’t like is a woman being singled out and ridiculed for things that her male predecessor was never targeted for, despite them bearing an uncanny resemblance to each other.

The dapper Shah Mahmood Qureshi was no less dashing or handsome as Khar is pretty. Especially when compared to some of his rotund, flame-bearded colleagues in parliament, much like Khar stands out when you compare her to her rotund colleagues. Qureshi was a sharp dresser, like Khar. Yet, while we have obsessed endlessly over the handbag she took to India, we never really paid much attention to the tie Qureshi wore at the joint press conference where prospects for India-Pakistan peace were butchered. I wonder why.

We’ve cried ourselves hoarse over Khar’s feudal background and her family’s influence in politics, but was there similar outrage among Pakistan’s mighty internet crusaders about Qureshi being the Shah Rukne Alam sajjada nashin, arguably the biggest source of his political clout? And there is also the small matter of Qureshi’s father having been the governor of Punjab, but somehow, in his case, familial linkages to the world of power and politics did not matter.

What does set Qureshi and Khar apart is the former’s longer record with the PPP. However, none of his previous experiences or portfolios provided any kind of training or expertise to head the foreign ministry. Yet this was not problematic in his case, as he dressed well and spoke English well. Khar dresses well too and can speak pretty good English. She has a degree in hospitality and tourism management which, some could argue, is better preparation for diplomacy than a law degree or experience with agriculture policy — Qureshi’s qualifications.

Hina Rabbani Khar’s appointment is symptomatic of many flaws in Pakistani society and politics, and are thus worthy of criticism. However, the kind of criticism that she has received is symptomatic of a deeply problematic gender bias in our society. Since her appointment, Khar has had to deal with slurs against her character, speculations about the methods she used to get to the top, snide remarks about her looks and accessories and a complete disregard for her intellect which has helped her manage several important portfolios.

She is not alone in facing such sexist onslaughts. Women in Pakistan who dare to look good and take pride in their femininity while wielding political power, like Sherry Rehman, will have to suffer numerous baseless insults about their character, integrity and competence. Only by turning themselves into an elderly maternal figure do women manage to get themselves taken seriously. Now that’s a pity. I don’t see men scurrying about to become brotherly or fatherly figures to the average Pakistani woman. Why must this be a woman’s lot if she is to be in power in Pakistan?


Published in The Express Tribune, July 29th, 2011.



7 Responses to “The Foreign Minister Wears Prada”

  1. islamabadi in the desertlands July 29, 2011 at 9:03 am #

    Sehar – I came across your blog by first reading your article in Express Tribune. This is very well written and it’s great to know Pakistan has talent like you, although we risk of losing it to the Western world where I presume you are!

    Rabbani’s issue is that she is from that strata, that polo playing “set” which one can’t but dislike. These people (and I have come across many of them when I was in Pakistan) are shallow, delusional, and just so disconnected with the realities of Pakistan. It’s not LUMS and UMASS which one then sees, but the feudal, arrogant, offensive type — i hope I can be proved wrong but her handbag and glasses don’t impress me. I am not sure what all the hype is about. I met people who know her from LUMS and apparently she was a mediocre student with not much of a personality. This sounds negative but so be it…. the media has lost its marbles and gone wonky praising her. Time for a modicum of reality here! thanks.

  2. Kashif Mahmood July 29, 2011 at 9:45 am #

    Well its strange that whenever a woman (Public Figure) gets criticized the utters of Gender Biasness start swirling around. Our very own PM has been largely made fun of due to the expensive suits he wears.

    In Hina’s case I agree with you that Mr.Qureshi also wears expensive suits …….you mentioned our society here….while the branded accessories were first mentioned and “raved about” by the Indian Media Anyways….Its not what she was wearing (although in my personal opinion it is a big deal when you are representing a nation which largely depends upon foreign aid/loan), rather its the attitude ,..she looked like and postured like a Diva, please have a look of the Footage first and then respond if you want to

  3. Amin Jan Naim July 29, 2011 at 1:52 pm #

    Hina Rabbani Khar is like a breath of fresh air in a stale atmosphere. It’s not just her very good looks but also her sharp intellect, poise and ability to get to the root of complex issues which is so impressive. I see a bright future with her being in charge

  4. NB July 30, 2011 at 5:08 am #

    Very interesting piece. All the Pakistani ministers are from the same basket may it be a man or a woman. They are all or let me rephrase most of them are just a bunch of incompetent people. Weather our foreign minister is a man or woman it should not matter. They should be gauged on their performance. Dressing up simply or fashionably should not be an issue. The issue should be is she spending on herself from her own pocket or form the nations pocket. The thing that matters is will she be able to handle the challenge. I thinks its time that we stop gender comparisons. I don’t think its a big deal that she is a woman and our foreign minister. We are a country that had a woman prime minister people so i don’t understand why are we still obsessing over a woman being a minster and a fashionable one at that.

  5. islamabadi in the desertlands August 5, 2011 at 10:08 am #

    agree with the last post. it is just puerile to think that because of her style she can resolve almost intractable issues. Sehar mentions Sherry Rehman – now there is a class act. hina is just a feudal and belongs to an opportunist class. she served the dictator then jumped conveniently. Best off running her show in the polo grounds. not trying to pretend she is FM material. there are better people in the PPP, cynical blog posts notwithstanding.

    Islamabadi in the desertlands

  6. Palvasha von Hassell August 26, 2011 at 9:27 pm #

    Hi, I just saw this blog…I agree 100% with my cousin Amin Jan Naim, if it is he, that Ms. Khar is in the right place. Thoroughly approve!


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