Journalist-activist Reham Khan caused a furore in the run-up to the Pakistan general elections this July after sections of her self-published, eponymously titled autobiography were leaked online. The memoir details Reham's life in Libya, Pakistan and England; her two tempestuous marriages — the first to Ijaz Rehman, then with former cricketer and Pakistan's new Prime Minister Imran Khan (when he was chairperson of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party); her career as a journalist and television presenter; and raising three children (mostly) as a single mother.
However, much of the attention has been focused on the revelations about Imran Khan contained in the book, with PTI supporters alleging that Reham timed the release of her manuscript as an act of political sabotage. The backlash has been severe — but Reham Khan has met her dectractors head-on.
In an interview with Firstpost, Reham Khan spoke about the writing of her memoir (which HarperCollins releases in India this month), emerging stronger from a decade of domestic abuse, finding meaning in activism, and life with Imran Khan.
The months leading up to the Pakistan general elections were particularly challenging for you — first, the manuscript of your autobiography was leaked, then there was the backlash to it. How have you dealt with it all?
I dealt with it the same way I deal with everything in life. It is all in a day’s work; I have ample experience of dealing with challenges by now. Compared to the domestic violence (in my first marriage) and the stress of being married to Imran, followed by the horrible accusations from him that I was poisoning him or that I was a MI6 agent, the dreadful name calling on prime time shows by his mouthpieces calling me a prostitute, an alcoholic... the events of the last few months are nothing in comparison. Besides I was prepared for them this time. I really took it all as welcome publicity for a book they wanted no one to read.
Did you anticipate the storm that would ensue when the contents of the book became public?
Oh, absolutely. I knew how terrified Imran and his cronies were of the book and I knew they would resort to cheap, useless tactics of character assassination. The same images of me wearing skirts while working for the BBC would be used (repeatedly) for mudslinging. This is the easiest way to attack women in Pakistan. Somehow the infidelity of men or sexual harassment of other women is not something that bothers anyone in Pakistan but a woman who is twice divorced is considered a criminal. This a lame line of defence and I remain unfazed.
You’ve mentioned how difficult it was to relive some aspects of your life in writing the book — especially the portions concerning your very troubled marriages. Was it also cathartic in a sense, to be able to finally say out loud things you had been carrying within you for such a long time?
Actually, it was not cathartic. It had exactly the opposite effect. I had to confront all the unpleasant memories that I had buried. It was like scratching at a healed wound. The story of two men I had been intimate with, scheming together to harm me over and over again, is not something a woman wants to be reminding herself of, but I had to write it all for others to learn from. In our home we have nicknamed it the 'wretched' book because we had put it all behind us.
Contrary to the propaganda created by the PTI, my son mainly organised the compilation of the chapters and advised me on (their) lengths and then took care of the entire process of self-publishing. I had to shield him from the disturbing content at times. The hired proof-reader/copy editor didn't know me and yet, was affected by the content.
What would you say helped you to ultimately weather the years of domestic violence you suffered in your first marriage, and emerge stronger from it?
I think I knew I would come out of it. I am a diehard optimist. Many women in abusive situations are constantly planning an escape. Building up the courage (to leave) takes a long time. For some, they do not even get out alive. It took me 10 years to decide and another two years to finally leave. As the months and years went by, I began to understand, slowly and clearly, that my partner was the one with the problem and that helped me detach my emotions from the abuse. I had to stay sane for my kids. As I came out from the relationship, I was unscarred by it all. I scraped the mud off and made a clean start again. I vowed never to give my kids an atmosphere at home where they would want to leave home and it seems to have worked. They spend more time at home than any of their peers. The home must be a safe haven, not a battleground.
From your first job as a show host at Legal TV to weather presenter for the BBC (all while being a single mom to three children) and to your years as a journalist in Pakistan — how did your work shape you as an individual?
I worked harder I guess because I had the sole responsibility of my children. I could not afford to fail at anything, or lose a job. I had no safety net of a partner or family to fall back on. So being a single parent made me a more disciplined, focused individual. I never took an opportunity lightly and put in longer hours, preparing myself for what the job entailed. The long hours of commute and working more than two jobs have crafted my lifestyle now. I sleep for about four hours at a stretch at best and have no ability to stop working. I am a rather hard boss to work for and only the tough survive. I am like a robot who can go without food or sleep for long hours if required and have learnt to stay calm, come what may. Crying is not an option if one has to survive in this cut-throat world.
Journalist or activist — which of these two roles have you found most satisfying?
I feel I can't do mainstream journalism anymore as it is so compromised now. It is financed by corporates and their interests. I have always been a social activist. It was a problem in the workplace and it is a problem in personal relationships. I refuse to compromise on my ideals and principles.
Social activism may not pay but (there is) the satisfaction that I am doing the right thing and that however a small contribution (I make), it still changes society for the better. I am happier person than those who pursue positions or build assets. I think I look better too because my smile is bigger and brighter!
Help someone if you want to be truly happy.
You have been very vocal on social media in replying to accusations about the ‘political’ motivations behind your book, and also the vicious attacks on your character. You had been cyber-bullied before, but this must be beyond what you'd previously experienced... Does it not get exhausting — dealing with so much vitriol on a daily basis?
It would be exhausting if you pay attention to it or get affected by it. I know exactly who is directing and financing the abuse, so it makes me more resilient. The abuse is by professional social media teams, not ordinary folk. They are not only paid mouthwatering salaries but are promised positions (to attack me).
This is not beyond what I have previously experienced at all. It was much worse while I was Imran's wife and the abuse immediately after the divorce was announced was shocking. I had never said a word about Imran or our relationship at the time. It was done to put the blame of the divorce on me by way of character assassination and to protect the politician's image. Understanding why someone is abusing you makes it easier to deal with.
I do my thing and literally ignore it all. I am on a mission and I will face fierce opposition by an extremely powerful lobby.
In your time as a journalist covering current affairs in Pakistan, what had been the toughest stories to cover?
The toughest stories are those that have made me a fearless activist now. When you go meet an 11-year-old girl who stares at you with vacant eyes because her entire family has been wiped out before her, because of their sect — the image stays with you. It haunts you. From the Shiite Hazaras bomb blasts in Quetta to the Sunni madrassa burnt down in Rawalpindi, I have seen children dying or left orphaned because the planners see them as collateral for their politics. The resilience of people who face death on a daily basis never fails to surprise me. It is incredibly tough because you don't want to do these stories... not only because you are affected by them but also because the terrorists want this coverage. But you have to do these stories to make people aware of what is being done to them. It is a dilemma.
How did you maintain your objectivity towards Imran Khan, the political leader, despite being married to Imran Khan, the individual? Both in the time that the marriage was going (relatively) well, and after it began to unravel?
The main issue between us was that he wanted me to be a politician's wife who would just enjoy the privilege of being that. He expected me to compliment him for being a great leader and not point out the corruption happening right under his nose. He wanted me not to share information I had as a journalist of what was happening in the province where he was in power. He wanted me to enjoy the luxury life he is so used to. I could not do that. People would bring me evidence of corruption and complaints wherever I went but Imran would first ignore them, then fly into a rage about it.
Love is about shared values and principles. Imran is a typical career politician and I am an uncompromising activist. It was difficult for me because I became quite attached to him, but it was also impossible for me to overlook his complete lack of interest in governing or providing any relief for the people. He wanted a smiling wife who would happily travel with him to luxury hotels in private jets or enjoy living quietly in his sprawling residence. With time, I saw through him and as I confronted him over the rampant corruption and a 180-degree turn in the ideology of the PTI, our relationship went rapidly downhill. A wife was not needed anymore and I was used as a sacrificial goat instead.
Is there a feeling that in focusing on the ‘salacious’ aspects of the revelations you included about Imran Khan in your book, the larger message — your own story of survival, and of what you feel is his unfitness to lead Pakistan — was lost?
It is a myth propagated by Imran's media people that the book has salacious aspects. It is a ploy used to put people off from reading the book. Most people who use this argument have not read the book themselves and are repeating the propaganda of PTI.
The book tells you the brutal truth and that is a first for many. Coming from a woman, it is unacceptable in our society. I talk openly about the reality of our marriages, our politics, our media. It was imperative to tell you the reality of the political elite of Pakistan who use religion as a cover for their lack of governance. Those who put on a religious persona and use the blasphemy card lead highly immoral lives themselves. My life is all about exposing hypocrisy and advocating an honest approach. That is exactly what my life is all about.
Updated Date: Aug 30, 2018 16:02 PM