Libyan-born British Pakistani journalist and former wife of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, Reham Khan in her sensational memoir lays bare her life with her first husband in Britain, and then her short-lived and much-publicised marriage to the former cricketer. Here she tells Medha Dutta about hope that kept her going during her periods of struggle, and on breaking social norms.
What made you write this book?
I sat down to write because I realised that everyone lies—parents, society, teachers, textbooks, media. No one gives us the truth. They keep us away from taboo subjects. I have been brutally honest in this book sharing with the reader everything I learnt so they can make informed choices.
It took you 13 years to walk out on your abusive first husband. And, yet, in the case of Imran Khan, it took only nine months?
An older financially independent woman is less likely to take crap for long. A younger girl is controlled easily. I was a kid out of school in my first marriage and had no qualifications. I had three children and no friends or family support. But with Imran I was a 42-year-old woman not willing to compromise.
Did you never have a weak moment during your struggle?
No. I always knew that I had to get out at some point, so that hope kept me going. Plus I had to stay sane and strong for my children. I came from a happy well-loved family so I could cope better than most. I knew it was a matter of time. I was slowly building up my courage. I kept hoping my husband would change. To new couples I would say: if things are bad at the start they are unlikely to improve.
When your ‘rose-tinted glasses’ came off after marriage, you found a completely different reality. Do most women face this?
The minute women are married, they go into ‘pati parmeshwar’ mode. We can be in denial for a long time. Exasperating as it was living with Imran, I kept forgiving him and blaming others. I regret not leaving earlier. Women keep giving chances to the wrong men.
Even though you belong to a privileged and educated family, your decision to divorce your first husband was frowned on.
Well, it was drummed into us that even breaking an engagement was unacceptable. The fact that my mother would have to face humiliation in society because of my divorce was what kept me in a horrible marriage. This is very common in higher socio-economic classes the world over. I have broken many social norms which I believe are restricting women’s rights and liberties. So many women have written to me saying that ‘you are the voice of the voiceless’.
You write of childhood abuse. How did that affect you later as an adult?
Although a brief moment, it formed my personality. Now I am a strong advocate of protecting our children and feel that children and parents should be made aware of the dangers.
According to your writings, you managed to ‘remain immune, righteous, and unflinchingly pious in the face of unbridled indulgence and power’. How?
I was too old to be influenced. Even as a youngster I have been very rigid about my principles. Besides I come from a family where hard work and professionalism is highly regarded. To me the environment in Imran’s home and party was beyond distasteful and I was vocal about him accepting money and favours from corrupt financiers.
You write that Imran and Jemima had a bad marriage. But they still appear friends and she stands up for him.
It is an arrangement based on shared political interests. Both of them wanted to see him become the PM. I did not witness any mutual respect as such. I will never stand up for even my son if he does something wrong. I married Imran because I bought the rhetoric that he wanted to bring positive change. But he is no different than any other corrupt politician in Pakistan. I will never support that.
What about the ethics of disclosing things seen and heard in confidence as a spouse (in case of Imran)?
Imran is not just my ex-husband. He is a politician who is now the PM of our country. Things that I know about him are in contradiction to his public image and rhetoric. I have exposed his hypocrisy and that of the entire political elite. To me the interest of my country comes above everything else.
You are a celebrated journalist, but you are known more as Imran Khan’s ex-wife now. Does that irk you?
I am not that egotistical to worry about how people label me. It is temporary. Ideally, I wouldn’t want to be known because of any man. This is an uphill battle for many women. In time we will change this, too.
Fondest memory: Birth of my children
Your pillars of support: My children
Your breaking point: I am unbreakable. I absorb impact.
What keeps you going?: My zest for life
The weirdest thing you have heard about yourself: That I am a CIA/MI6/RAW agent all rolled into one