Islamabad Diary: Lacklustre dialogue at a glamorous affair

Questions of fashion aside, how did Khar acquit herself in New Delhi?

Nadir Hassan August 03, 2011
The predominantly male press corps of Islamabad spent a lot of time last week on Google trying to figure out exactly what a Birkin is and how it is related to the Pakistan-India peace process.

“At least it’s cheaper than maintaining the nuclear deterrent,” said one journalist after finding out that a Birkin handbag cannot be had for under $10,000.

Media coverage of Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar’s talks with her Indian counterpart SM Krishna in Delhi was dominated by her looks, style and the price of her wardrobe. I confess to being guilty of the same crime.

The media was accused of blatant sexism in its coverage of Khar and her India visit but there may have been something more inncouous at play: sheer boredom. It’s not like anything of consequence happened during the talks. The two sides agreed to slightly relax trade across Kashmir and promised to continue the dialogue process, which is hardly the
sort of news that demands front page headlines in larger font than usual.

What was more interesting than the talks themselves was the story behind the story.

Questions of fashion aside, how did Khar acquit herself in New Delhi?

One foreign ministry source was not too happy, believing her inexperience was a major stumbling point for Pakistan.

Relatively minor questions of trade aside, Khar barely brought up Kashmir in her talks with Krishna and did not mention it a single time in her joint press briefing with the Indian external affairs minister, said the source.

The source chalked this up to the backlash after Khar met Kashmiri separatist leaders at the Pakistan High Commission in Delhi – a move severely criticised by the Indians as a breach of diplomatic protocol. Even the Pakistan foreign secretary told his Indian hosts not to read too much into the meeting.

Khar’s inexperience showed in other ways too. The joint statement released by the two countries after the Khar-Krishna talks was extremely lengthy. But the foreign ministers’ contributions to that document were negligible. The joint statement, say sources, was negotiated and approved before Khar met Krishna. The Pakistan delegation had hoped that Khar might be able to press Krishna on more specifics to take the process further along but that did not materialise.

Still, the war for public relations is an important one and there Khar was an undoubted winner, at least among the Indian public. Her looks captured the attention of a country that mass manufactures Miss Worlds at the same pace with which we produce terrorists. But even that could ultimately be a hindrance.

The last time Pakistani politics produced a mass celebrity was when Pervez Musharraf charmed Indian journalists at a breakfast in Agra in 2001. His appeal scuttled talks then. Khar’s celebrity could similarly spook overshadowed Indian politicians. And then we won’t be able to look up expensive handbags on the internet and claim it is work-related research.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 1st, 2011.
Nadir Hassan An Islamabad based journalist who tweets at @Nadir_Hassan.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.

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