In the wake of the “Memogate” scandal, Pakistani Ambassador to the United States, Hussain Haqqani, was forced to resign on November 22, 2011. He was accused of writing a secret memo asking the U.S. military for assistance in changing Pakistan’s powerful military and intelligence agencies. The government of Pakistan has immediately appointed a former journalist and longtime activist for democracy and women’s rights as its new ambassador.
Given the ongoing tension between the civilian government of Pakistan and the military, the choice of Shehrbano “Sherry” Rehman is a careful one because she has ties to both sides.
Born December 21, 1960, in Karachi, Pakistan, Shehrbano “Sherry” Rehman grew up in a prominent family. Her father, Hassanally A. Rehman, was a lawyer and educator, while her mother served as the first woman vice president of the State Bank of Pakistan, and her uncle, the late Justice Tufail Ali Abdul Rehman, was Chief Justice of the Sindh and Balochistan High Courts. As a young woman in the early 1980s, Rehman left Pakistan to seek a Western education, studying Art History and Political Science at the University of Sussex in the UK and Smith College in the U.S., where she earned an undergraduate degree in 1985. As she was leaving Smith, Rehman confided to an admissions officer that “she had learned so much at Smith and was so excited to go back to Pakistan and get the women stirred up.”
Returning to Pakistan, Rehman worked as a professional journalist for twenty years, writing for national and international newspapers and periodicals. At the peak of her journalistic career, she was editor-in-chief of The Herald, which is one of Pakistan’s leading newsmagazines, for ten years and served as a member of the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) from 1988-1998. She also anchored a television show on current affairs in 1999.
A member of Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which is Pakistan’s left-of-center political formation, Rehman’s political career started with an appointment as a Member of National Assembly (MNA) from 2002 to 2007 for a seat reserved for women from Sindh province. During these years, Rehman was the National Assembly’s Central Information Secretary. She was also a member of the PPP’s Foreign Relations Committee, and the PPP’s President of Policy Planning. During her time as an MNA, Rehman authored five PPP bills on highly controversial issues of importance to women: the Women Empowerment Bill, the Anti-Honor Killings Bill, the Domestic Violence Prevention Bill, the Affirmative Action Bill and the Hudood Repeal Bill, which allowed rape to be prosecuted under civil, rather than Sharia, law. She also sponsored two press freedom bills: the Freedom of Information Bill and the Press Act, which protects journalists from arrest under the 1999 Press Ordinance.
In March 2008, Rehman was re-appointed by declaration as MNA from Sindh to the MNA seat reserved for women. Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Gilani appointed her Minister for Information & Broadcasting, and she was sworn in by President Pervez Musharraf on March 31, 2008. She resigned that post not quite a year later, on March 14, 2009, because she was critical of President Asif Ali Zardari’s stated intent to impose new restrictions on the press and media.
In order to legally qualify to be ambassador to the United States, Rehman resigned her seat in the National Assembly on November 24, 2011, the day after she was nominated as ambassador. This order of events led to a legal challenge since MNAs are not allowed to accept executive appointments.
Outside of government, Sherry Rehman is the chair of the Lady Dufferin Foundation Trust, reportedly the largest non-profit provider of women and children’s subsidized health-care in Sindh province. She is also chair of the Board of Governors of the Jinnah Institute, a liberal think tank based in Karachi.
Sherry Rehman is married to banker Nadeem Hussain, who is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Tameer Microfinance Bank. According to the Declarations of Assets for 2005-2006 filed by MNAs, Sherry Rehman was the richest PPP member, with net assets of Rs. 221.71 million ($5.3 million in 2006), compared to her declared net assets of Rs. 52.49 million for 2002-2003 ($1.1 million in 2003).