Pakistan Appoints New US Ambassador After Scandal

Posted November 23rd, 2011 at 10:15 am (UTC-5)
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Pakistan has a new ambassador to the United States after the previous one stepped down in the face of allegations that he sought U.S. help in reining in Pakistan's powerful military.

Officials said Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani appointed former information minister Sherry Rehman to the post Wednesday, a day after former ambassador Hussain Haqqani resigned.

After her appointment, Rehman said Pakistan has “rendered a lot of sacrifices,” and that she plans to represent Pakistan's positions to the United States on different issues.

The newly appointed ambassador is a veteran lawmaker for the ruling Pakistan People's Party and has ties to the United States, where she studied politics and foreign relations in the 1980s.

Rehman is a strong advocate for minority rights, and has faced threats for her challenges to the country's blasphemy laws. She also serves as chairman of the Jinnah Institute, a research and advocacy group in Pakistan.

Her appointment came as a surprise to many analysts who had expected someone with closer ties to the military.

Former ambassador Haqqani had represented Islamabad in the United States since 2008, and was well-regarded in Washington. He also is a close ally of President Asif Ali Zardari.

He has denied calling for U.S. help in preventing a feared military coup in Pakistan following the American raid that killed former al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. A memo was reported sent in May to Admiral Mike Mullen, the top U.S. military officer at the time, requesting assistance.

Mr. Gilani's spokesman said Tuesday that Haqqani was asked to step down to allow a proper investigation.

Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz described the memo in an opinion piece published last month in The Financial Times newspaper.

In return for U.S. help in preventing a military coup in Pakistan, the memo said a new national security team would conduct a full inquiry into allegations that Pakistan harbored bin Laden. The new team also would hand over top al-Qaida members and ensure that Pakistan's military spy agency cuts ties to the Taliban, the Haqqani network and other groups.

After the allegations surfaced, Haqqani offered to step down. On Tuesday, he confirmed his departure, saying he was resigning to bring closure to the “meaningless controversy threatening our fledging democracy.” He added on Twitter that he has “much to contribute to building a new Pakistan free of bigotry and intolerance.”