The price of being Reham and Imran

Published: November 5, 2015


PHOTO: FACEBOOK The writer is a former op-ed editor of the Daily Times and a freelance columnist. She is author of the book Leaves From Lahore. She can be reached on twitter @MehrTarar

During the 2014 dharna — alif-lailaesque in its longevity — in Islamabad, he announced his marriage plan from atop that container, the memory of which would remain etched in the history of strange political dynamics of Pakistan. There was thunderous applause, accompanied by foot-tapping beat of some I-love-Imran-Khan anthem played by the irrepressible DJ Butt. When he tweeted about the news of his marriage being “greatly exaggerated”, there was a bored groan from his many detractors, and an audible sigh of disappointment from his larger number of supporters. When he married in January 2015, sporting a gold sherwani, Pakistan congratulated him and his bride, wishing them a happy marital life. And when the news of his divorce broke, while there was pandemonium in the media — no one makes a bigger headline than him in the almost humdrum political landscape of Pakistan — people in general were dismayed to hear the news of the breakdown of the most talked-about marriage of the year. The decade. Such is the power of the man known as Imran Khan.

Imran, Reham announce divorce after 10 months of marriage

Marriages break, and there is nothing unusual about that despite the predictable sadness that accompanies the end of a relationship sanctioned by a social, legal and religious code. Marriages break when love ends, and life happens, as often the struggle to amalgamate the two results in the defeat of the former. Marriages end because two people decide not to live with one another. There is nothing happy, nothing glorious about the end of a relationship, even when the break-up is not acrimonious. There is not much that differentiates the break-up of a normal couple and that of one of Pakistan’s most talked-about couples: in both two people are in pain, burdened with the grief of broken trust, trying to come to terms with the end of a dream. It is the voyeurism of the media, the curious questioning of the public, the booing of detractors, the unsympathetic tsk-ing of the so-called well-wishers, the snide murmurs of friends, and the stony silence of near ones that make an ordinary break-up a larger-than-life, sordid affair. The very public price you pay for living your life in the glare of many eyes, many cameras.

Reham Khan and Imran Khan made a beautiful couple, and there was something heartwarming to see the newly-weds starting a new life quietly amidst the blare of over-the-top media attention. Reham, her head covered, stood next to her husband, beaming proud, and confident. Reham and Imran did what prominent public figures do worldwide: appeared for joint interviews, posed for photo-shoots, adorned magazine covers, and tweeted pictures of their public events. Just as there is ooh-aah-ing over glamorous pictures of Princess Kate and Prince William, awww-ing over family portraits of Sophie and Justin Trudeau, Reham and Imran became the couple that represented a new page in Pakistani politics: a wife is an equal. That a wife is not merely the silent presence behind a successful man as she strides with him in his mission of bringing change.

Reports of Reham hitting Imran are absolute lies: PTI

Rare it is for a man to be labelled ‘very ambitious’ in a derogatory manner. Rare is the masculine quality of being ‘outspoken’ negatively adjectivised. Rare is to see a man’s political ambitions termed overreaching and arrogant. For Reham, the very qualities for which a man is patted heartily on the back became the scarlet letters to demonise her with. A political wife is a stay-at-home hostess, not her husband’s companion at his political rallies. Reham broke the stereotype, and that startled, baffled and annoyed many.

Reham’s pictures, interviews and appearances with her husband made her a subject of public discussions, raising some very simple questions to me: how does someone’s visible presence allow you to become a voyeur, a judge of someone’s personal life? How do someone’s public statements sanction you to ascribe meanings to personal stuff you have not heard yourself? What endows you the right to state with confidence on record what happened inside the four walls of someone’s privacy? Who are you to shred a marriage to pieces simply because the couple happens to be public figures?

The price of fame

A normal level of curiosity is expected. Questioning of certain public acts is also within the right of the media and the public. Assumptions and theories float, hypotheses are formed on flimsy material, and legitimate questions are lost in the din of media-sensationalism of facts. All part of being a public figure. Then starts the virtual, on-air lynching. The very thin line blurring the code of decency, of comments convoluting into outright slander, vicious theorising and gratuitous tamasha-watching. The turning of someone’s private life into breaking news; two-men talk shows of tawdry dirt-slinging; on-air formation of unsubstantiated reasons behind the break-up.

And you watch. In dismay, in grief, in horror. It is not your life, but it is the life of a man and a woman who are paying the ultimate price of being in a very high-profile marriage. The price of being not like a stereotypical political couple. The price of being different. The price of being Reham and Imran Khan.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 6th, 2015.

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Reader Comments (14)

  • Dr Quraishi
    Nov 6, 2015 - 1:28AM

    For fair male/female analogy politically, ‘very ambitious’ Mr. Asif Zardari was indeed highlighted by media.Recommend

  • sunshine
    Nov 6, 2015 - 2:09AM

    Chill! This is called freedom of speech. Don’t like, don’t watch! This gossiping is not going to hurt IK or RK emotionally. Politically, maybe, if not handled properly.Recommend

  • Ali
    Nov 6, 2015 - 5:11AM

    People have been harassing Reham Khan since before her marriage. And we all know how this society viewa divorced women.
    Pakistani culture is a problem for women.Recommend

  • Point
    Nov 6, 2015 - 10:41AM

    You seem to be totally lost!!Recommend

  • Saad
    Nov 6, 2015 - 11:08AM

    Khan sb wanted a modern girl but with a dehaati style of functioning who would stay at home and cook for him. Unfortunately, Reham refused to be that.Recommend

  • Adnan Siddiqi
    Nov 6, 2015 - 11:41AM


    You are giving too much margin to IK’s naivety here. IK knew very well what he was getting into and was fully aware of the personality traits of Reham Khan. He had all the intentions of launching her politically from PTI’s platform but the dud campaigns and eventual defeats in NA-246, NA-19 and NA-122 pushed PTI and IK on the back foot.

    BTW, I still subscribe to the school of thought that marriage with Reham was a compulsion because she knew way too much about Dharna and the powers behind it that IK was blackmailed into getting hitched with her just like out of nowhere a character like Chaudhry Sarwar para drops into PTI.Recommend

    Nov 6, 2015 - 12:08PM

    IK divorce issue needs a proper handling by ik otherwise it will hurt khan politically.Recommend

  • SGK
    Nov 6, 2015 - 5:04PM

    As a responsible mother, member of a conservative Pakistani society and a second wife of a political leader, she should’ve kept Imran Khan’s step children; well away and protected from the media frenzy. But unfortunately, this serial mom, who suffers from an ADHD, did otherwise.

    For Ms Reham, launching all of her family at once and using an established politician like Imran Khan to serve as their political mentor was also an important agenda. Hauling Imran Khan’s step children and his in-laws in almost every political gatherings/ austerely meetings and official excursions of PTI was not only unnecessary but also easily avoidable.

    She didn’t give a damn if Imran Khan was losing voters or supports over this. Recommend

  • Adam abbasi
    Nov 6, 2015 - 5:19PM

    I think we should not discuss about anyones personel life….Recommend

  • SGK
    Nov 6, 2015 - 8:04PM

    @Adam abbasi: Living 24/7 on twitter and FB means they don’t mind us discussing their personal affairs. Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Nov 7, 2015 - 12:50AM

    People have been harassing Reham Khan since before her marriage. And we all know how this society viewa divorced women.
    Pakistani culture is a problem for women.

    Very true! Women first should become the credo for the younger generation; The sixty years plus old Imran Khan should go where the pepper grows and look for a woman his age in his village where he comes from. Reham will come out of this fiasco as all women do sooner or later.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Hamza
    Nov 7, 2015 - 11:32AM

    Reham “broke the stereotype” wasnt the issue… dont portray pakistani society as bunch of uneducated men. Benazir Bhutto was elected to lead our country by these very same men in our society

    The problem with reham was she was taking a shortcut without qualifications or earning respect in people’s heart. I am happy our society showed her where she stands after the defeats PTI had to face after her low quality speeches. Recommend

  • DNiwasi
    Nov 10, 2015 - 7:25AM

    Mehr – you ask the right questions but Reham’s separation was more than her being ambitious, breaking the stereotype or being very visible.

    What was objectionable was her taking away her husband’s freedom, trying to separate him from his established relationships, trying to control his ways of life that he was used to…and last but not the least, she was beginning to destroy the assets Imran had so laboriously built. When Reham was going to climb her politicla career ladder on Imran’s back, she should have taken the basic precaution to make sure Imran was not pained and actually comfortable. But she was being selfish..she really did not care that much about Imran….it was this that Imran realized…the trust was broken..imran felt betrayed….Imran therefore did the right thing. Recommend

  • Oats
    Nov 10, 2015 - 11:55PM

    @Dr Quraishi: Imran Khan has made a clown of himself by making himself the centre of a media circle. The problem is that he is impulsive stubborn and bad tempered. This is bad in a leader and he should be never be elected to govern because he would be the same type of disaster in power.Recommend

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