Marrying Imran Khan — the man and the myth — would intimidate most women. If millions of Pakistanis worship your husband blindly, you might be forced to water down your personality or fade into the background. But perhaps in Reham, Imran has met his match in more ways than one. When Imran asked her what she wanted as a wedding gift, she responded with a tease. “Aap K-P theek kardain. Woh kafi hai meray liye.”
People will always refer to you as Imran Khan’s wife, I argue. But who is Reham Khan and what does she hope to accomplish in life? “I have my own identity and ambitions in life,” she shares. “I have a passion for giving street children in Pakistan the same opportunities that my children have. I’ve started an NGO which is in the process of setting up an educational facility for 2,100 street children in Peshawar. These children will not only have the opportunity to get vocational training, like plumbing and electrical work, but also be groomed for other passions they might have, like becoming a cricketer. Additionally, I will also be starting an advocacy programme against the sexual exploitation of children and child labour. Frankly, our laws in K-P aren’t that bad but we need advocacy to change social attitudes. For example, we need people to refuse giving cars for repair to a workshop where children work.”
Caught in the act: Reham alters university name on official website
When you talk to Reham, she appears to have an irrepressible sense of purpose and destiny — almost mirroring her better half — especially when it comes to believing that the long arc of history will bend in her favour. I ask her who she fell in love with first: Imran Khan the man, or Imran Khan the political ideology. “The man,” she responds forcefully, without pausing to think. “He is so much better in person than he comes out on television. He comes off as aggressive and angry in the media but he’s actually very soft-hearted. And he’s an amazing father. I have great respect for amazing mothers but it’s rare to find an amazing father in our society. I was never into Imran the celebrity or the cricketer either. Even when he won the World Cup, my friends would go crazy about him and put up his posters. But I was never the girly-girl type. I fell in love with the man.” Next, I ask if Imran brings the stress from his office home with him. “No,” she responds, not giving me the answer I was looking for. “He tries to spend quiet family time with me and the kids and not take calls after Maghrib. We love catching the sunset together… although it’s a little difficult these days.”
What makes Reham extraordinary are the things she isn’t afraid to talk about, even as a political leader’s wife. Reham raised her children as a single parent. Success always looks inevitable with hindsight but there’s nothing inevitable about success or reinvention when our society stigmatises personal issues like divorce or single parenthood. “My brother warned me before marrying Imran,” she shares. “Why would you want to expose yourself to 190 million people and possibly go through so much pain again? He asked. But after all the struggles I’ve gone through, I had to do this for other women out there. To demonstrate that nothing should stop women from making the difference they want to make.” She circles around the gravitational pull of the ‘F’ word many female activists use to describe their work. “I’m not a feminist; I’m an individual and want to be respected for it. For example, I don’t understand why NADRA insists on asking for my father’s or husband’s name. I’m grateful for having a great partner in Imran. He never stopped me from continuing my work or coming on television for my show. He never forced me to cover my head.”
Reham used me ‘like toilet paper to clean up her image’: former husband
Finally, I ask her if she has political ambitions to run for office. Her answer can best be described in cricketing lingo as a well left. “I’ve never talked about this with Imran,” she shares. “I don’t think anyone should assume they’re entitled to run for office. First, they need to serve the people. Politics can come later.”
The purpose of this article is to find and share inspirational stories about everyday Pakistani heroes. If you know someone who should be profiled, send us a tweet @Mbilallakhani. The Extraordinary Pakistanis series doesn’t argue for or against any political position. If we don’t share these stories about Pakistan, no one else will.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 16th, 2015.
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