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Pakistan quickly names new U.S. ambassador

Sherry Rehman
Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S. Sherry Rehman. AP

ISLAMABAD - Pakistan's government has appointed former journalist-turned politician Sherry Rehman as the country's new ambassador to Washington, moving quickly to fill a gap left behind by the departure of Husain Haqqani.

Haqqani resigned Tuesday after several days of opposition-backed criticism over his position in light of accusations he sought help from the U.S. government to prevent a military coup in Pakistan following the U.S. killing of Osama bin Laden. The Navy SEAL raid on May 2 - which took place on Pakistani soil without any warning to Pakistani leaders - infuriated the nation's powerful military.

Rehman, former editor of Pakistan's monthly "Herald" magazine, became a member of the federal parliament in the 2008 elections, just months after former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. Bhutto and Rehman were friends for years - a relationship that influenced Rehman's decision to join Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP).

The party currently leads the Pakistani government, and Rehman has forged close alliances with president Asif Ali Zardari and prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani.

Considered liberal, Rehman has also been described as a politician prone to taking up causes which can divide her party. In 2009, she resigned as the PPP government's minister of information, refusing to use her clout to intensify pressure on national newspapers and privately owned TV channels opposed to the government.

This year, Rehman faced death threats from Islamic hardliners after she unsuccessfully sought to amend the country's controversial blasphemy laws. She sought to have the provision of the death penalty for those found guilty of blasphemy removed.

Her effort to change the law followed the assassination in January of Salman Taseer, the governor of the populous Punjab province who was killed by one of his own guards after defending a Christian woman accused of blasphemy.

Western diplomats say that while Rehman will be an articulate representative of Pakistan in the U.S. capital, the Pakistani opposition's criticism of Zardari will not end with her appointment.

"Sherry Rehman's appointment is good news, she is a very good choice as an individual," said one Western diplomat in Islamabad, who spoke to CBS News on condition of anonymity.

However, the diplomat warned that "the opposition will continue to clamor for an investigation to see if president Zardari himself ordered Ambassador Haqqani to reach out to the U.S. The focus right now is on Zardari and his actions that his opponents say were meant to damage the Pakistani army."

The friction between Pakistan's civilian leadership and its incredibly powerful military is well known, and a source of concern for Washington given the fragile stability of the nuclear armed nation.

Rehman's key challenges will include taking forward the discussions with the U.S. over enhancing Islamabad's cooperation with Washington against militant groups in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.

"Ultimately, this (U.S.-Pakistan) relationship is firmly dependent on how far there can be cooperation against groups like Al Qaeda," another Western diplomat told CBS News. "If the U.S. and Pakistan fail to resolve some of their disagreements, just having a good ambassador in Washington will not make a difference."