The government appointed a liberal lawmaker and rights activist as its U.S. ambassador Wednesday, swiftly replacing an envoy who was forced out amid allegations he sought Washington's help in trying to rein in Pakistan's powerful military.
Sherry Rehman, who has faced militant death threats for speaking out against Pakistan's anti-blasphemy laws often used to persecute Christians, appeared to be a candidate acceptable both to the army and the weak civilian government.
The appointment of a vocal proponent of civilian rule suggested that the government still had some fight in it after the bruising standoff with the military that led to the ouster of Ambassador Husain Haqqani.
Rehman will face a difficult task because of the frequently troubled relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan. Washington's patience for Islamabad is running out as the Obama administration has tried for three years to enlist Pakistan's help in the fight against Islamic militancy, but has little to show for it.
The American raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May in army town not far from Islamabad only served to reinforce suspicions in Washington that Pakistan was taking billions of dollars in U.S. aid but also supporting militants, including those killing U.S. troops across the border in Afghanistan.
Haqqani resigned Tuesday amid allegations he engineered a memo to Washington asking for its help in reining in the military in exchange for a raft of pro-U.S. policies. He has denied any connection to the memo.
Haqqani, who was summoned to Pakistan by the army after the scandal broke a few days back, made no secret of his desire to try to wrest some of the power from the army to the civilian government, which is nominally in charge, earning him the virulent dislike of the army establishment.
On Wednesday, he posted a message to his Twitter account that said, "Ah! To wake up in my motherland, without the burden of conducting Pakistan's most difficult external relationship."
Haqqani later met with Rehman to discuss her new job, the former ambassador said, calling her a "dedicated democrat" and wishing her the best.
There was some thought that the army, having seen to the ouster of Haqqani, would push hard to get its own candidate installed in Washington.
Ali Dayan Hassan, Pakistan director for Human Rights Watch, said the army would prefer a retired general "who would talk their talk in D.C."
"Sherry is highly unlikely to do any such thing," Hassan said. "But she represents someone everyone can live with, including the military. The civilian leaders are happy to take ownership of her, and she has resonance in influential and urban sectors of Pakistan."
Rehman praised Haqqani, telling reporters that he had served his country well.
"He has gracefully tendered his resignation because he doesn't want to tarnish the country's image just because he became controversial," Rehman said.
"But this doesn't mean he has admitted any involvement" in the memo scandal, she added
Rehman, 50, was a journalist and editor before becoming information minister in the government of President Asif Ali Zardari. She resigned in 2009 amid controversy over whether Zardari had ordered cable operators to block a private TV channel that had been critical of him _ an allegation he denied.
She was a member of parliament in Zardari's ruling party and was particularly close to former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, Zardari's late wife. Rehman was riding in the same motorcade when Bhutto was killed by militants in 2007 but was unharmed.
In a rare move by a Pakistani politician, Rehman has spoken out against Islamist militancy and the country's blasphemy laws, which are used to persecute Christians. Police warned her that she could be targeted by extremists as a result, and she was under heavy guard for some time.
"We all have to forge a progressive, dynamic Pakistan out of the ashes that are often left to us by the fire of terrorism, by the fire of extremism," Rehman said in a speech Wednesday.
Rehman currently heads the Jinnah Institute, an organization she founded to "invest in policies that promote fundamental rights, tolerance and pluralism." The group has also sponsored exchanges with India, an archenemy of the army, to try to restore normal relations between the nuclear-armed neighbors.
At home, she can expect sniping from right wing, religious parties and the army if she is perceived to be too close to the Americans, who are regarded as a hostile force in most of Pakistan. Her record of supporting human rights and rights for women, as well as her public stance on militancy, is likely to be well-received in Washington.
"She is an excellent nomination because she is highly regarded in Pakistan's intellectual and political circles, and I think even in those circles close to the military establishment," said Rasul Bakhsh Rais, professor of political science at Lahore University of Management Sciences.
"She has courage and she has a vision of a progressive, liberal, democratic Pakistan, and she has worked for that," he added.
Rehman cuts a glamorous figure in Pakistan, where she is often seen at parties. Married to a businessman, she studied politics and foreign relations in Britain and the United States.
Associated Press writers Munir Ahmed and Zarar Khan contributed to this report.