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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Imran 'chose the wrong woman to mess with': Ex-wife Reham Khan on her tell-all memoir

Her new book is a damning portrayal of Pakistan’s new prime minister. She tells us about the political forces trying to silence her – and why her former husband is not fit for office
Imran and Reham Khan are pictured here on their wedding day in January 8 2015 in Islamabad. They were married for just one year. AFP

Reham Khan, the 45-year-old British-Pakistani author, journalist and former wife of Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Imran Khan, flatly denies any correlation between the timing of her forthcoming memoir’s release and her ex-husband’s accession to high office.

“For years, I kept hearing rumours every few months about how I was writing an exposé,” Reham Khan, who was born in Libya to Pakistani parents, says. “The rumours started even before we got divorced – just four or five days after we decided to end our marriage. The divorce deed hadn’t been delivered to me when they started.

'It was the PTI's obsession with this book that made me do it'

“I had tabloids offering me ­ridiculous sums of money to talk about Imran and his lifestyle. I think his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf [PTI], was nervous about what book I might write, so PTI workers started maligning my name every chance they got.

"Every time the PTI attacked Nawaz Sharif [former Pakistani prime minister and founder of Pakistan Muslim League], they claimed I was writing a slanderous book to undercut Imran. In some ways, it was the PTI’s obsession with this book that made me do it. I may have written it at some point, I’m a journalist, after all, but PTI made me focus on doing it.”

Khan worked as a broadcast journalist in the UK for nearly a decade before moving to Pakistan in 2013 to work on TV news there. Her book, scheduled for release on Friday, has benefited from the ex-cricketer’s election win, even though she says that he and his party are “worse than naked dictatorship”.

'I had to tell my story before they killed me'

Khan says that it was the possibility of death that became the defining factor that lead to her writing the book. “As Imran became more deeply entrenched in PTI, the frequency and severity of the threats intensified. I was a single mother of three. And the threats came in a way that couldn’t be proved in a court of law – in the form of brotherly advice about how dangerous it would be to write a book that exposed Imran’s duplicity.

Reham Khan. EPA

“When that happens to you for years, at some point you realise that there will be no one left to tell your story if you die,” she says. “The PTI thought that it would scare me into silence, but it chose the wrong woman to mess with. Instead of instilling fear in me, the threats made me realise that I needed to tell my story before they killed me. When someone doesn’t want a story to come out, it lights a fire in me to tell it with even more ferocity.” And so started the four-month long process of sifting through entries in old journals, penning new notes, and putting her short-lived marriage – Reham and Imran were married for nine months in 2015 – in the context of Pakistan’s political landscape and Imran’s growing clout within it.

Khan started writing her book in September last year, and by December her first draft was ready. Despite global interest and coverage, she has struggled to publish it. Her current publishers, Harper Collins, have excluded Pakistan as a distribution territory for the book, which meant Khan has privately sold an unedited, uncensored version there. “With the help of a few friends and family, I printed some copies and we’re practically just distributing them in Pakistan – just so that people can know what the truth is,” the author says.

The book is being widely publicised as a tell-all about Imran Khan, but the writer does not agree with that characterisation. “I think of it as a tell-all about my life, and the issues I have grappled with all of my life” she says. “The book talks about my childhood, about my early years in Libya, my formative relationships, the dichotomy of growing up Muslim in a westernised, privileged family, my first marriage, juggling a career with single motherhood. It discusses Bollywood and sexism, and how our upbringing makes us think of divorce as a bad word, even when we are unhappy.

“I’ve spoken so much about domestic violence in it, and how, no matter which economic class we belong to, all women are dealing with more or less the same things. The book talks about how we spend our lives trying to please our mothers and the men in our lives, and how love turns us into fools,” she says with a laugh.

“But, more than anything, it was about reclaiming my narrative. The PTI tried to discredit me by saying I had political aspirations, and that while we were married, I tried to pressure Imran to appoint my family in positions of power. I hardly have family in Pakistan, and I can’t contest elections either until I give up my citizenship – which I haven’t. So writing this book was about speaking my truth.”

'He had an effect on my life even when he was not a part of it'

Leaked excerpts reportedly from the book contain sensational details about the prime minister’s personal life, and while she admits that there is a “more-than-necessary” focus on her ex-husband, she says that India and Pakistan’s interest in him justifies this move.

“India and Pakistan are obsessed with cricket. His cricket career made him a people’s darling. India made him a celebrity, and Pakistan sort of followed suit. The glamour, people’s mania about him, his love life … they’re all part of his larger-than-life persona,” she says. “The reason why a big part of the book is devoted to him is that he had an effect on my life even when he was not a part of it. For example, my first husband was very inspired by Imran’s look at the peak of his celebrity. I talk about the impact of Pakistan’s World Cup win in 1992. And then I went and married him. We were married for one year, but Imran has been a part of all our lives for 40 years.”

Then opposition leader Imran Khan (L) with Reham Khan during their wedding ceremony in Islamabad.

While the book’s leaked ­excerpts are all about ­salacious details of Imran Khan’s ­personal life, Reham Khan is focusing almost entirely on her former husband’s unsuitability as the prime ­minister of Pakistan while promoting the book, and how PTI and military might is what secured him the win. And yet, the book is being released after, not before the elections, when it possibly could have helped voters make a more informed choice. Khan’s justification for it is simple – the elections were so systematically and precisely rigged, her book would have made no difference to the outcome.

“More knowledgeable people than me have been writing about the military’s power and interference in Pakistani ­politics for years, but it has made no difference. The PTI has been planning this for years – the outcome was pre-decided in 2014 and 2015, it’s just that it’s all now coming to fruition. I know that all my assertions about how they intend to wipe out the opposition and all the Sharifs seem unbelievable right now, but I just wanted to document them so there is a record, and people know, even if only in retrospect, what kind of person they are dealing with.”

'Shouldn't people know what he's truly like?'

The pair were married for one year.

And finally, there is the persistent and uncomfortable question of the ethics of disclosing things seen and heard in confidence as a spouse at the time that events were unfolding. Even if the incidents described in her book are true – especially the ones that are of a deeply personal nature – is it right to discuss them publicly? Khan seems to harbour no guilt here. “I think our Eastern values have been used as a tool against me. Those who have abused me say that I have disclosed our bedroom secrets. I haven’t.

“He is the prime minister of Pakistan, and he will make important decisions, shouldn’t the people know what he truly is like? If I had said something untrue, or slanderous, they would have filed cases. But there are no cases, just threats on social media and pre-action protocol letters. Can someone please tell me why that is?”

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The book will be released on Friday. Courtesy HarperCollins India