Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has appointed former information minister Sherry Rehman as the new ambassador to the United States, following the resignation of the former envoy, Hussain Haqqani.
Haqqani came under fire from senior government officials in Islamabad over a controversial memo he allegedly drafted in which he asked for help from the US government to quell the power of Pakistan’s army and intelligence apparatus.
Although Haqqani denied being involved in such a memo, he offered to step down anyway in order to end the imbroglio.
However, Rehman is a somewhat surprising selection for such a high-profile and sensitive job as ambassador to the U.S.
A member of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and a close ally of President Asif Ali Zardari, Rehman is nonetheless a woman and considered one of the most liberal voices in Pakistani politics.
In 2009, she quit her post as information and broadcasting minister due to conflicts she has with the government’s policy on media censorship and with the state’s refusal to reinstate judges who opposed the government.
Arch-conservatives and Islamic hard-liners in Pakistan also blasted her for seeking to overturn the country’s controversial blasphemy laws (which, among other things, dictate a death penalty for those convicted of “insulting” Islam). She asserted that the laws were being abused to persecute religious minorities.
In February of this year, she dropped her efforts to amend the blasphemy legislation under extreme pressure and intimidation. She even accused her own PPP of seeking to cater to the extremists.
Reportedly, Rehman’s life was threatened due to her stance on the blasphemy laws.
Indeed, two government officials who supported Rehman’s efforts -- Punjab governor Salman Taseer and minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti -- were both subsequently murdered.
Moreover, as a vociferous proponent of civilian rule, Rehman’s selection will likely not make Pakistan’s military establishment happy.