Journalist and ex-wife of the Pakistani Prime Ministerial-hopeful says the plot to put him in power was hatched two or three years ago
Calling Imran Khan an “ideal puppet” of the military establishment in Pakistan, ex-wife Reham Khan alleged that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief had benefited from “rigged” elections. In an interview to The Hindu over the telephone from London, Ms. Khan said Mr. Khan would carry out foreign policy, including with India, according to the wishes of the military if he becomes Prime Minister, as he is expected to do after his party won 115 of the 272 seats in the elections held in Pakistan on July 25.
In her book about Mr. Khan, Ms. Khan has pulled no punches, portraying the former cricketer as a libertarian, unstable and power-hungry politician. Rejecting calls to tone down her criticism of Mr. Khan, and unfavourable comparisons to his first wife, British heiress Jemima, who congratulated Mr. Khan on Twitter, Ms. Khan, said she refused to “justify the indefensible”.
What is your reaction to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) performance in the elections, and especially Imran Khan’s success in all five constituencies he contested?
I knew that this would be the result. But I also knew that if elections were fair and free, there is no chance he would have won.
It is impossible that the party did well in so many places, including Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), where the PTI government was unpopular. In other places like Lahore and Karachi, what is unbelievable is that serious and experienced candidates have been defeated by unknown novices from the PTI.
You have called Imran Khan the military’s candidate … but surely all candidates who come to power in Pakistan have the military’s blessings?
Absolutely. If you remember, in 2013, Imran Khan said that Nawaz Sharif was the establishment’s protege too, so he understands that is what it takes. I think this time the military establishment wanted to show their power … very purposefully in their support for Imran Khan. They were upset when Nawaz Sharif started to assert himself, especially on the India policy and the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, and that is when they let him go. Imran is the ideal puppet. He has no knowledge of a lot of complex issues, and he will be willing to follow their line.
In your book Reham Khan, you suggest that Imran Khan was created by the military, but in 2008 he also boycotted elections under military rule. How do you explain his relationship with the military?
As a wife, you see and hear things. Imran always spoke about his links with the military. In 2008, he may have boycotted out of pique, out of feeling upset that they didn’t support him, but when I knew him, he always boasted about their support. He was always so sure that he would become Prime Minister that I think this plan to put Imran Khan in power came two or three years ago.
When it comes to India, Imran Khan said he has engaged more with Indians than any other Pakistani has. What do you think are chances of a reach-out from Imran Khan to India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi?
Yes, he has spent a lot of time in India and has many friends in India. This is why I feel he should not have been critical of India in his campaign. It is all so hypocritical. Let us imagine he actually wants healthy relations with India, and means it when he spoke of more trade ties.
But what did he do to the Sharifs when they wanted to increase business ties with India? He called them gaddars (traitors).
He stopped the MFN (Most Favoured Nation) status being given to India. He has no ideology, so you can expect him to do only what he is told to do, whether it is in India or Pakistan.
Many have alleged that you timed your book as part of a politically motivated agenda. Did you at least hope to have an impact on the elections?
Yes, people have said the book was sponsored by the PML-N (Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz), which is just not true. I only know the Sharifs through my time as a journalist, when I interviewed them. It would be flattering for me to think I could have had any impact on the campaign. I was told very clearly that this would happen in the elections, but I wrote my book anyway. I will not be dictated to by these forces. If people say I should be like Jemima, and be ladylike and graceful, then I don’t agree. I think you have to speak up, especially if you are a woman and you watch other women being treated badly.
I don’t want to be like Jemima for sure. I married Imran Khan when he was not winning elections. I am a Pakistani, a self-made woman, an anti-social nerd, and I am not a socialite like her. I am actually quite relieved that I didn’t have to stand beside Imran Khan while he touted blasphemy laws, and his party targeted minorities. I wouldn’t want to justify the indefensible.
What were the specific challenges you faced in bringing out this book?
I think I need to write another book just about how difficult it was to get my book out and how many people tried to block me. My staff were intimidated, offered bribes and told very clearly that anyone who stood in Imran Khan’s way would be blown up (udaa diye jaayenge). They also called my friends and made them tell me, “You are a woman, you have two daughters, and none of you will be safe.” So I felt it best to leave at that time [in February].
Will you return to Pakistan at some point, though? And would you consider joining politics?
(Laughs) I can’t live without Pakistan; so, yes, I will return. My children have declared me psychotic and crazy as a result, but I do wish to go back.
On politics, I don’t think I have it in me to withstand the kind of targeting one faces and the depths one has to go to.