Till the last minute, Krishna was, however, adamant that the Pakistani proposal for a joint media interaction be accepted, say MEA insiders.
With the Indian media going gaga over Khar, Pakistan’s first woman foreign minister, Indian officials thought they would rather play safe by having outgoing Indian foreign secretary Nirupama Rao and her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir do the talking before the media.
Khar is seen as “stunning” and “petite”. On the other hand, Krishna has found himself in some sticky situations — some of them on public platforms and involving such mirth-inducing episodes as mixing up a UN speech. Also, Krishna made a “poor show” on July 15 last year in Islamabad at a joint media conference with the then Pakistan foreign minister, S.M. Qureshi.
Qureshi had compared then Indian home secretary G.K. Pillai to Jamaat-ud-Daawa chief Hafiz Saeed. Some felt Krishna failed to give a fitting riposte at the conference but others pointed out that the Indian foreign minister upheld the dignity of his post by not brawling in public with his host.
Indian officials realised Khar’s ability to capture the media’s full attention since they met her in Islamabad last week.
As one scribe put it, Khar, at 34, is the “youngest” Pakistani foreign minister, while Krishna, 79, is the oldest minister in the Manmohan Singh ministry. “All of which have made the minders at the foreign ministry jittery about the prospect of pitching Krishna along side Khar and letting loose packs of hacks on them at Delhi’s Hyderabad House, the venue for the talks,” he wrote.
Khar’s impact, as AFP noted, won instant fans in India where a flurry of flattering headlines on Wednesday greeted her first trip to the country. “Pak Puts On Its Best Face,” said The Times of India, the biggest-selling English-language daily, while mass circulation Hindi newspaper Navbharat Times said India was “sweating over model-like minister.”
“Pak bomb lands in India,” the Mumbai Mirror tabloid joked in a tongue-in-cheek reference to the history of wars between the countries and attacks by Pakistani militant groups on Indian soil. The Indian media is not known for assessing the dress-sense of Pakistani visitors, but the Mail Today tabloid devoted space to her choice of outfit as she flew in to New Delhi airport on Tuesday, the French news agency said.
“The 34-year-old minister scored full marks on the fashion front when she was spotted at the Delhi airport in a monotone outfit of blue — the colour of the season,” the agency quoted Mail Today as saying.
“Tasteful accessories — Roberto Cavalli sunglasses, oversized Hermes Birkin bag and classic pearl jewellery — added a hint of glamour to her look,” it added.
The Indian Twittersphere was also ablaze with commentary on the Pakistani envoy, who was promoted last week to take over from her predecessor Shah Mehmood Qureshi.
Many took exception to the intense scrutiny of her appearance and fashion accessories, particularly the luxury Hermes handbag, saying that male visitors to India were never subjected to similar analysis.
But one right-wing blogger, Pragmatic_d, replied: “You don’t carry a bag that is a serious fraction of your country’s fiscal deficit and not expect it to be commented upon.”
Khar’s decision to meet Kashmiri separatists at the start of the trip was a blot on an otherwise positive introduction to the Indian public at a time when the neighbours are attempting to re-invigorate their peace process.
Leading television anchor Barkha Dutt described Khar as “self-assured and easygoing” and someone who “brought some freshness and youth to otherwise formal fare.”
“She continues to dominate all Delhi chatter,” she wrote on Twitter.
In Pakistan, headscarf-wearing Khar has drawn inevitable comparisons to Benazir Bhutto, the charismatic female prime minister who was assassinated when trying to regain power in 2007. Like Bhutto, she comes from one of Pakistan’s leading political and landowning families and her clan has extensive farms in Punjab, the country’s richest and most populous province.
C Raja Mohan, a veteran journalist who covers foreign affairs, wrote in Indian Express that “Pakistan’s foreign policy has been made mostly in the army’s General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi; it is Pakistan’s feudals who have lent it the style and the voice. The appointment of Hina Rabbani Khar as Pakistan’s new foreign minister is in that tradition.
“The last time Pakistan had such a youthful foreign minister was when Field Marshal Ayub Khan gave the flamboyant Zulfikar Ali Bhutto the job in 1962. Bhutto was 34 years old then, and so is Hina now. The visit to India this week is the first big test for Hina.
“Hailing from a feudal family with roots in Khar Garbi village in Muzaffargarh district of Punjab, Hina graduated from the prestigious Lahore University of Management Sciences and got a management degree from University of Massachusetts in the United States.
“She owns the fashionable Polo Lounge hotel that caters to the upper crust frequenting the polo grounds in Lahore. Her father, Ghulam Rabbani Khar, apparently encouraged her to take up a political career.”