The Aaj News digital newsroom echoed with Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar’s press conference on Pakistan’s FATF decision Saturday afternoon. The desk editors and editor kept up a running commentary back and forth. My phone kept pinging as one desk editor kept posting Khar’s quotes into the newsroom WhatsApp group while another desk editor kept updating the story for the website. This was my first real day working in the newsroom as a summer intern.
The editor came up to me as the press conference swiveled past Khar’s main statement to the Q&A session. “What kind of stuff do your friends read?” she asked suddenly.
I love literature – and not much else – but I struggled to answer about my friends. After some hemming, I settled on the vague “social issues” but she didn’t buy it.
“What kind of social issues?” she pressed.
Put on the spot, I said the first word that came to my mind: “Feminism”.
“But what about feminism?” she asked.
I said something vague about Aurat March, my voice trailing off as my confidence in my ability to articulate even the simplest of thoughts dwindled. But what I didn’t realise was where she was taking it: the voice of the woman I had just been listening to for the last 45 minutes.
“How many of your friends know who Hina Rabbani Khar is?” she fired at me. “How many of them know about FATF?”
Considering that I had been pretty much clueless before the internship, which I started Friday, I knew that my answer wouldn’t be quite positive. Still, as I asked around, the responses were mixed. Some people knew, some didn’t.
“We talk about important women being at the table – Hina Rabbani Khar is the table,” the editor thundered. Is that feminism enough for everyone?
Khar’s entry into politics
Hina Rabbani Khar is currently the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of Pakistan, but it has been a long journey to this position.
She entered the political scene in 2002 and from there, she served in many capacities, including that of the Minister of State for Economic Affairs. In 2009, she presented the federal budget, which was a milestone in Pakistani feminist history if you like.
In 2011, at just the age of 33, she became the youngest and first female Minister of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan. Thirty-three, an age that feels so elusive and distant to me as a university student, was the age she made Pakistani history.
Ultimately, in 2022, with the fall of Imran Khan’s government, she was reinstated as the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan. With that, came the all-important press conference today, marking a huge national achievement for Pakistan on the international front.
Khar’s press conference
The FATF or Financial Action Task Force is an international watchdog that cracks down on money laundering and terrorism financing globally. Pakistan started to get into trouble in 2008. It had to fulfil certain conditions to comply with the international standards.
The FATF had said that a number of terrorists groups were operating in Pakistan and raising funds in several ways (direct support, public fundraising, crime) and the money was moving through banking and informal hawala/hundi. It had a huge cash smuggling risk. “At the time of the ME onsite visit there were 66 organizations and approximately 7,600 individual proscribed under UNSCR 1373,” an October 2019 FATF report said.
By this press conference, however, Hina Rabbani Khar announced that we had were looking at the end of scrutiny by the intergovernmental organisation. It would be sending a team for an on-site visit soon and hopefully by October we would be off the list.
This was a major piece of news and Hina Rabbani Khar was delivering it on national television. Even before our newsroom discussion about how refreshing it was to see a woman do a press conference on such a major international, financial-legal milestone, I knew that Khar was, frankly, killing it.
She spoke calmly, clearly, and took the high road on politics by saying this was about the State of Pakistan and beyond petty politics. This was so completely different from the mudslinging that we usually see on our television screens.
“We will celebrate the national consensus. I want to also stress that cooperation with FATF and the international community is grounded in our own strategy objective of strengthening our economy.”
She tweeted to applaud the efforts of all people who had been working tireless, “burning the midnight oil” on the action-plan required to take Pakistan off the list.
This press conference by a powerful woman made me realise that things aren’t as bleak as they seem. I’ve spent the past few years disenchanted with Pakistani politics. Hina Rabbani Khar’s press conference challenged that.
Rida Altaf is an IBA social sciences student doing a summer 2022 internship at Aaj News