Not generally known as a book-friendly country, Pakistan’s unsolicited tryst with books of a certain kind remains unabated for sometime. That is books that leave a bad taste in the mouths of many in the establishment and the ruling elite.
Pakistan’s power brokers had hardly recovered from the shock of former spy chief General Asad Durrani’s tell-tale book co-authored with his Indian counterpart (subject of my previous column) when another gratuitous—and telltale as well—book took the country by storm recently.
The ‘troublemaker’ to many this time around happens to be neither a spy nor a general. For a change, it’s a very charming woman, Reham Khan, who had dominated the news media headlines four years ago when she entered into wedlock with Pakistani icon and the heartthrob of millions, cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan. The Reham-Imran union was the raging story of the day and Reham had become an instant celebrity for being Imran’s better half.
But Imran’s conjugal experiment with Reham turned sour quickly and the two got divorced in less than a year’s time. Most media pundits surmised that it was a union destined to flop because of a fundamental dichotomy in the chemistry of the couple. Imran, though Western-educated and previously married to a very wealthy English girl, is a very conservative man. On the other hand, Reham, though from a middle-class and deeply conservative Pathan family, had the reputation of being a social butterfly. A journalist before running into Imran, Reham was denounced by many as a fortune-seeker, a veritable gold digger to whom Imran was her passport to fame and fortune.
Intriguingly, the ruckus around the book has kicked off before its publication, earning in the process publicity worth a million dollars for its putative author. Even the book’s title is not exactly known, said to be something like ‘Inside Pakistani Politics’. Similarly lost in the dust of controversy already kicked off is the date of the book’s publication and where it might actually be printed.
The brouhaha started with a television anchor—an aficionado of Imran Khan and the political party he leads, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)—blowing the cover off the book and claiming that its contents were highly derogatory and damaging to Imran. He claimed to have an advance copy of the book in his possession and went public with some ‘sensational’ quotes from it. The TV anchor’s allegations against Reham went viral in an instant and the rumour mill began going into overdrive.
According to the many who since claim to have read the book, or some excerpts from it, it’s the work of a ‘woman scorned.’ Reham is being blamed for telling even those inside and ‘juicy’ titbits of her brief union with Pakistan’s most sought-after hero-cum-politician which should rather be left unsaid, much less discussed openly, in a society as conservative and religion-oriented as Pakistan.
Much is also being said about the target date of the book’s publication. Imran’s defenders and Reham’s vocal critics are claiming that the book is set to hit the news stands and bookshops close to the announced date of the upcoming general elections in Pakistan, slated for July 25. Reham’s detractors accuse her of being in league with Imran’s political enemies, foremost among them the disgraced PM Nawaz Sharif. Reham’s recent meeting in London with Nawaz’s ambitious daughter, Maryam, hit Pakistani media like wildfire. It’s being argued that Reham is hand-in-glove with Maryam, whose rich father and uncle are said to have financed the book. They say it will be released close to July 25 to do maximum damage to Imran whose PTI is in a tight race with Nawaz’s PML in Pakistan’s largest battleground, Punjab, where political fortunes are made or lost.
Reham has rendered herself vulnerable and open to more barbs from her critics by going on Indian television to cater to its hosts’ understandable curiosity about her book and her mission.
It was unwise of her to get the Indian factor added to the arsenal against her. She should’ve drawn lessons from the recent example of General Durrani who stands condemned because of his joint venture with his Indian counterpart. Any Indian connection, real or perceived, is like a hangman’s noose around a Pakistani.
It is also alleged that the mastermind behind Reham’s work is an Indian friend of hers who has made a fortune by publishing sensational and controversial works. The onus of refuting this charge is on her.
Reham’s book may or may not see the light of the day in England. A wall of litigation is in the works against her from Imran’s former English wife, and the mother of his two sons, Jemima Goldsmith. Jemima is threatening to sue Reham for slander and defamation because her narrative that paints Imran’s ex-wife and sons in vicious colours.
Others in Pakistan are also livid with rage against Reham’s alleged slander, mud-slinging and character assassination of their persona. Notable in this list is another cricket icon of Pakistan and Imran’s bosom friend, fast bowler Wasim Akram. He accuses Reham of slandering his dead wife.
The cacophony of condemnation Reham and her alleged conspiratorial work could well run her book into a blind alley from where she may find it back-breaking, if not impossible, to retrieve. It may well seem like that Reham has bitten off more than she could chew. Any intellectual undertaking focused on Pakistan’s arcane political culture is a hazardous task in the best of times. A novice like Reham should’ve learnt the ropes before venturing to punch above her weight.
Karamatullah K Ghori
Former Pakistani diplomat