New face, same old concerns

If Pakistan wanted an image makeover, Sherry Rehman is the right pick as ambassador to the U.S.

New face, same old concerns

Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images

Exit the wheeler-dealer; enter a pretty human-rights activist. If Pakistan wanted an image makeover, Sherry Rehman was the right pick to replace Husain Haqqani, the former ambassador to Washington and notorious smooth operator. Rehman, an MP for the ruling Pakistan People’s Party, is currently living under police protection after uttering the same kind of criticism of Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws that resulted in two other high-profile politicians being killed by Islamists. Her Hollywood-heroine credentials also include a career in journalism and picking a fierce fight with President Asif Ali Zardari in 2009 over media restrictions.

Rehman’s new job, though, will be tough as well. She lands in Washington at a time when U.S.-Pakistan relations are at a historic low. Her country’s military and spy agencies have such a reputation for shady links with jihadist groups—a topic on which Haqqani wrote an entire book—that Washington carried out the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May without a word to Pakistani generals. To make matters worse, shortly after the U.S.’s deadly attack, Haqqani reportedly secretly asked the U.S. to back an attempt to rein in his country’s military by creating a new, civilian-led security team. The awkward proposal, news of which later leaked to the press, infuriated the generals and cost him the job.

The Americans will likely be suspicious of Rehman too. She’s already under scrutiny for appearing to share some of the Pakistani military’s foreign policy fixations. According to the Financial Times, for example, she is worried about India’s growing influence in Afghanistan, a long-standing concern for the Pakistani army. It will take all her charm to win over Washington.

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