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Two Khans at war

Updated June 09, 2018

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FOR a country beset with so many internal and external problems, the Pakistani media seems fixated on the personal lives of high-profile personalities.

Take the ongoing furore over the purported manuscript of a draft for an autobiography written by Imran Khan’s ex-wife, Reham Khan. Judging from the fury of front-line PTI leaders, their boss is discovering the truth in these lines from William Congreve’s 1697 play The Mourning Bride:

“Heav’n has no rage like love to hatred turned/ Nor Hell a fury like a woman scorn’d.”

The threat to sue Reham Khan might have backfired.

Over the last few days, social media has been spilling over with email and WhatsApp exchanges between Reham Khan and a PTI supporter who now states that somebody created accounts in his name. I have also received links to interviews with Imran Khan’s ex-wife as well as some pages from the manuscript. Ms Khan says her book is still a work in progress.

So why does any of it matter at all? Normally, a relationship is a private affair between two people, and should not be the subject of heated media speculation. But in the world of 24/7 news and a constant battle for ratings, it would be naïve for Imran Khan to imagine that he is entitled to privacy. After all, it was this intense media fascination with him that has put him within touching distance of the premiership.

The PTI’s biggest fear is that Reham Khan’s book will appear before the elections, and embarrass Imran Khan, apart from losing his party votes. I think they are wrong because his reputation with the ladies is well known, and has only served to enhance his image and popularity. However, any details about the party’s and its leader’s darker side might well give PTI opponents ammunition to use during the campaign.

In fact, the threat to sue Reham Khan for libel, made through a pre-litigation letter by a well-known legal firm, might have backfired. According to an article by Murtaza Ali Shah, the Jang Group’s reporter in London, “legal complexities” could prevent a libel suit from reaching the court.

But citing the leaked legal notice and the media storm it has triggered, Reham Khan’s lawyers can argue that those filing the libel action have had ample opportunity to defend themselves. Shah concludes by estimating the cost of the libel suit to be in the region of 1.5 million pounds.

Again, why should we be bothered by this needless distraction? Apart from its titillation value, does this matter merit the kind of attention it’s receiving? In a perfect world, it wouldn’t. But around the globe, such public charges and counter-charges between a high-profile ex-couple would be headline news and the subject of 24/7 media speculation.

Also, if other politicians like Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari can be taken to court as well as be subjected to media trials, why should Imran Khan’s life not be scrutinised? I’m no fan of any of these politicians, but whether I like it or not, they are the only ones currently on offer. Before I vote, I would like to have as much information about them as possible. Sharif and Zardari have been scrutinised endlessly, and often unfairly. But as Imran Khan has yet to wield power directly, he is the subject of the current media frenzy.

Fawwad Chaudhry, the PTI information secretary, declared the Reham Khan autobiography to be against “Pakistan’s family values”. And what values would these be? Would they include the wife’s role as cook, cleaner, nanny to the kids, somebody who minimises herself, and never talks back? If this is the kind of person Imran Khan was looking for to be his wife, he clearly picked the wrong woman.

Reham Khan co­mes across as feisty, articulate, int­elligent and very independent. Many other women have penned angry denunciations of ex-partners. Tehmina Durrani’s My Feudal Lord, a caustic account of her marriage to Ghulam Mustafa Khar, springs to mind. Khar comes across as an abusive husband, but this unflattering description of his often violent behaviour doesn’t seem to have damaged him either socially or politically.

It would appear that the domineering male is respected in our society, and respect and kindness for the wife is viewed as weakness. Marriage in conservative, socially backward societies like Pakistan is not about a partnership between equals. In such an unequal relationship, it is no wonder that wives are expected to live their lives within the confines of their homes, and be content with their lot.

Sadly, women are conditioned in this role since childhood, always taking second place to their brothers. And when they are married off to a man picked by their parents, they are often told not to even think about divorce.

Fortunately for her, Reham Khan has been able to escape this stereotype and forge her own identity. I’m dying to read her book.

irfan.husain@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, June 9th, 2018