India falls in love with Pakistan's first female foreign minister

 

The tortuous peace process between South Asia's nuclear-armed neighbours received a jolt of energy yesterday when Pakistan's first female Foreign Minister held talks with her Indian counterpart. The two parties described the meetings as constructive and cordial and said their relationship was back on "the right track". But most of the headlines were captured by newly sworn-in Hina Rabbani Khar, 34, who cut a fresh, stylish figure, with a section of the Indian media captivated by her look as much as anything else.

"This is indeed a new era of bilateral co-operation between the two countries," Ms Khar said, after talks with India's Foreign Minister, SM Krishna. Mr Krishna, who is 45 years older than his counterpart, added: "I can confidently say that relations are on the right track."

Those looking for something vastly substantive from the talks will have been disappointed; both sides said they would work more closely together to fight terrorism in the region and would make it easier for trade and travel across the UN-drawn line of control that divides the two countries in the contested region of Kashmir.

But that was not the point. Officials have stressed that in the aftermath of the 2008 attacks in Mumbai by Pakistan-based militants , which killed more than 160 people, it is essential to have such confidence-building measures.

The visit of Ms Khar, who hails from a well-established political family in Pakistan's Punjab province, certainly helped the mood music. Some said Ms Khar's visit recalled the situation in 1972, in the aftermath of the Indo-Pakistani war of 1971. On that occasion, Pakistan's president, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto travelled to India to work out the peace agreement that became known as the Simla Accord, and decided to bring his daughter, Benazir Bhutto. Kanchan Gupta, associate editor of The Pioneer, said he believed that whatever else Ms Khar might do, she would serve to soften Indian opinions of Pakistan. "She is modern, dashing, she is swish," he said.

Elsewhere, the Indian media swooned even more over Ms Khar and drew attention to her Roberto Cavalli sunglasses, an oversized Hermès Birkin bag and pearl jewellery. The Times of India carried a front-page headline that read: "Pak Puts On Its Best Face." Meanwhile, the Hindi-language Navbharat Times claimed India was "sweating over model-like minister".

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