LONDON – A forthcoming book written by Imran Khan’s former wife Reham Khan is causing a political storm in Pakistan ahead of the general elections in July for taking to task the former cricketer-turned-prime minister hopeful on a varieties of issues – from taking the backing of extremist groups to the culture of sexual harassment in his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).
In an exclusive conversation with CNN-News18, Reham says that the book tells what Pakistan’s electorate must know before they decide to vote for him. Dubbing Khan as Mr U-turn, she says Imran warming up to the military reeks of political opportunism and everyone, from his opponents to his backers and New Delhi, should be wary of him.
Although critics have accused Reham of being part of a political agenda aimed at maligning Imran Khan and his party PTI, she rubbished the charges and said that the book, her autobiography, only contains what she observed in her personal relationships, as a daughter and as a journalist. Reham had a short-lived marriage with the PTI chief, lasting 10 months.
The tell-all book, Reham says, would also reveal instances of sexual coercion or favours, including some that directly relate to Khan. Reham says that sexual favours have been used to give out powerful positions. Some of these are related to PTI. “Sadly in Pakistan, this is not such a big problem,” she says.
Here are the excerpts of the conversation:
Q: Ms Khan, you’ve written this book we’re all waiting for. Looking at Imran Khan now in his political capacity as he prepares to contest for Prime Minister, is there something the electorate needs to know that they don’t?
A: The main thrust of the book is how we as individuals, or journalists, informed people of the media, people with an interest in politics, people from political families, we don’t really know what we’re voting for.
Q: You voted for Imran in 2013?
Q: Would you do that again?
Q: Why not?
A: Well they’ve done nothing in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Of course, it’s a problem across Pakistan but when you vote for someone who pretends to be or professes to be different, you have higher expectations. For example, child protection units in 11 districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have been shut down. Child protection is a huge issue, with 22.7 million children out of school in Pakistan.
Q: Let’s talk of military protection to him. He has spoken very strongly against the military. In fact, at one meeting he said Pakistani generals are cowards and they would pee in their trousers if faced with a crowd of 20,000. And now clearly he is contesting this election from the lap of the military. Does this change surprise you?
A: It doesn’t surprise me, armed with what I know. And it won’t surprise you when you read the book I’ve just written.
Q: What does it say that would lead me to think as you think I might?
A: It gives you an insight, an insight into a voter, and a journalist, how we unconsciously sometimes propagate and become a part of the propaganda machine, like I was unconsciously. It also gives you an insight into what sort of human being he is.
Q: Specifically what?
A: Well, you alluded to the fact that he’s constantly been changing his position on the military. If you isolate just that one issue, a lot of people when they go to vote for someone, for instance when they vote for Modi ji, they pretty much know what they’re getting, and I think the problem with all the parties now is we don’t know what we’re voting for. We’re voting for someone because we think he’s liberal, and then we see him promoting a very strong Islamist agenda, we get a bit confused.
Q: You mentioned an Islamist agenda. Do you see him as pushing that agenda?
A: I would be fine with anyone promoting a certain religious agenda if they believed in it, and equally I wouldn’t have a problem with someone who is very pro-military because you know where they stand. But what I explore in the book is what he is inside when the make-up is off and when the cameras are off.
Q: Does this suggest some sort of opportunism?
A: Well, yes. I would be brave enough to say that people have constantly referred to the fact that he is Mr U-turn. This is what I have found really frustrating because there’s a line in the book where I say I won’t be voting for you next coming elections, I said that when I was his wife and he just laughed.
This Islamist agenda is not really and Islamist agenda, it is an agenda which will secure votes. If he believed in it, I would have very little to criticise. As an individual maybe I wouldn’t vote for him, but at least people would know. But the fact that they are constantly changing loyalties is not something I’m comfortable with.
The biggest worry I think is the fact that if you don’t read the book but just look at the past six months or so, the decisions he has taken should make anyone, even his backers, if he has any, very nervous.
Q: For example?
A: For example, there have been certain inclusions in the party of people who have been charged for gang-rape for example. So, when I am voting for change, I don’t see that change. The idea, the reason we supported Imran Khan was because he was against the status quo. But he has become a cheaper version of the status quo. It is sad that the PML-N and the Pakistan People’s Party are actually looking cleaner than the PTI at the moment.
I feel there is a serious risk of handing a country, of handing the reins of a country to someone, an individual, who is standing with extremists and who is backed by people who want to divide us into very extremist groups.
Q: So would he go with an aggressive policy on India if that were to suit the military?
A: This is again very nerve-wracking for us because we are a nuclear-powered country. I know our military gets a lot of criticism but you see we’ve never had strong politicians. I firmly believe that if we had better representation, the military would take guidance from politicians, because that’s how policy is made.
Q: Ms Khan, some leaked reports on the content of your book suggest that you have chapters on boys and girls and sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. There is one on heroin and cocaine as well. Do any of these matters have a bearing on Imran Khan?
A: It is an in-depth book about my life and my relationships and how those relationships and the problems in those relationships, both mine and my partners, on how do they have an impact on the future and futures of all Pakistanis and affect people in the region.
Q: And those matters particularly?
A: And so I’ve discussed morality. And I’ve discussed morality in terms of nepotism, meritocracy or the lack of it, I’ve discussed sexual harassment, discussed sexual coercion, and how it is used, how sexual favours are used for political positions, and media positions. And some of those are related directly to Pakistan Tehriq-e-Insaf.
Q: To Imran Khan particularly?
A: Well, I suppose people at the top have to take responsibility for what goes on in their household and in their party.
Q: Indirect responsibility or are we speaking about something potentially more than that?
Q: And that is something you take up in this book?
Q: Direct involvement in the kind of issues we spoke of a minute back?
Q: And specifically Imran Khan?
A: Direct involvement in positions or nepotism or favours that have nothing to do with merit. It has to do with nepotism, it has to do with bypassing meritocracy.
Q: But we were speaking of a little more than that. We were talking about sex and drugs.
A: Yes, I am talking about sexual favours, sexual coercion and sexual harassment. And how that needs to be addressed. That needs to be said, and I have spoken at length in the book.
Q: Is that the reason people are fearing the release of this book? Some people?
A: I think there is more to it why they fear. Sadly, in Pakistan and I suppose it’s true globally as well, we see this as not such a big problem. I think that sexual coercion and sexual favours are, and that’s the problem, is seen as acceptable. If people are in power, if a man is in power, it is seen as something that I should turn a blind eye to.
Q: Is that something you had reason to discover as someone married to Imran Khan?
A: I have led my life as a role model for my daughters and for other women. And I say repeatedly in the book that I am not here because of anything unprincipled. It’s not for a lack of offers but it’s just that I think you go further without giving favours, and I am very clear. In the past also I have turned down jobs on that basis. And I have made it very clear to girls who have had to compromise, who think that they have to compromise, that they shouldn’t have to feel that they need to be pressurised or coerced.
Q: And there are women out there who have had reason to have such apprehensions and in relation to Imran Khan?
A: Yes. And why I’ve talked about it is because I feel strongly that if one woman has, or can compromise, another woman who perhaps deserves a position can lose her career. And that is the biggest problem across the world where some people will compromise. But a large number of women will not be able to compromise.
Q: Do you have any examples to share?
A: There are some very specific instances. So I’ve not spoken loosely in the book and I can’t right now because the book is not published yet.
Q: Instances of what?
A: Of sexual harassment, sexual favours. There are specific instances in relation to certain positions. And I’ve been very specific about them. And the reason I can’t give you a little bit more titillating facts is because there is obviously a lot of lies being spread already that I think are taking away from the book. To be quite honest, it doesn’t really matter to me as much. Morality is important to me. But if somebody does something in their own time, for example, if you do something after 7 pm in your private life, that should not be my concern. But if you turn up at my office in a particular state, or if you carry on in a work sphere like that where it causes a problem to your boss or to your colleagues, then it’s a problem. So I have discussed those incidents which relate particularly to abuse of power.
Q: And you believe people should keep such issues in mind when they take a decision whether to vote for Imran Khan or not?
A: Well, if I am voting for a representative who is there not because he is capable, competent, has something to contribute to the parliament then I think we are cheating the voters. I really think you need to understand who you are voting for.