India’s Pakistan-watchers are quietly tickled by the spectacle of the unfolding romantic drama involving Pakistan’s first family, with reports surfacing about a scandalous romance between the country’s 35-year-old foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar and 24-year-old Bilawal Bhutto, chairman of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party and son of the late former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and current President Asif Ali Zardari.
The allegedly high-octane love affair was broken by Bangladesh newspaper Weekly Blitz on September 23, citing a report by an unnamed Western intelligence agency as its source. If true, the romance has the potential to cause serious diplomatic aftershocks: the Bangladeshi tabloid’s report claimed that Bhutto has threatened to resign from his party post. Yet the subcontinent’s gossip-crazy media has failed to goad India’s authorities into a statement. Officials at the Indian Ministry of External Affairs were inundated on Tuesday with calls from journalists in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh inquiring about the veracity of the report. They got the terse answer: “Not serious stuff, this!”
This story is not just fluffy tabloid-fodder. What has the potential to ruffle India-Pakistan relations is the existence of a “cold war” which has allegedly broken out between Zardari and Bilawal over the latter’s reported intentions to wed Khar. The family feud in the Pakistani presidential palace does not augur well for the Zardari government, which is already saddled with all kinds of problems, including a corruption scandal swirling around the President. And any instability in the upper echelons of Pakistan’s political elite may be disruptive for India, especially given signs of a thaw in relations in April this year, when Zardari made a rare official visit.
Incidentally, while reports of Khar’s imminent resignation are doing the rounds in Pakistan, her Indian counterpart S.M. Krishna is reportedly facing a similar prospect. Krishna took charge of India’s External Affairs ministry on May 23, 2009. For several days now, the Indian media has been abuzz with reports of an impending reshuffle of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s cabinet; there have been speculations that Krishna is going to be packed off to his home state Karnataka to manage the Congress party affairs. But he is probably safe for now: Krishna’s departure for New York on Wednesday, to represent India at the United Nations General Assembly, suggests that the government still has faith in him, at least for the moment. Sources say that P.M. Singh has postponed the cabinet reshuffle until around October 16, when the Hindu auspicious period of Navratri starts – and after Krishna returns from New York.