Monday 26 September 2011
Brought to book: Jemima Khan on appearing in her ex-husband's memoir
What's it like to appear in someone else's book without your knowledge or approval? After Jemima Khan got her hands on Imran Khan's book, she had the opportunity to discuss Pakistan and their time together with her ex-husband
"Too late. Don't worry Jem – you come across as you always wanted to – Joan of Arc," was the response I got from my ex-husband, Imran Khan, when I asked if it would be possible to read his memoirs before they were published.
Imran and I have remained on very good terms. He even uses my mother's house as a London base when he's in the UK. Still, hearing that there was a chapter in Pakistan: A Personal History entitled "My Marriage", was, I'll admit, unsettling. I wrestled an advance copy, a brick of a book, from my sons (to whom it had been dedicated, as well as to "the youth of Pakistan").
Imran is featured on the front, looking moodily into the middle distance with backcombed, boy-band hair. (And before any Pakistanis get their shalwars in a twist about my irreverence, Imran has an excellent sense of humour and enjoys a tease, by me or a comb). It is hard to over-estimate the importance of hair in Pakistan – a symbol of tantalising female sexuality, referred to in the Koran as an adornment that must be covered, and of male virility and power. An American-Pakistani hair transplant specialist recently moved his practice to Islamabad and after the summer recess, the entire National Assembly re-appeared with follicular explosions on their heads.
I'm agog for the new Lollywood (Lahore's Bollywood) blockbuster, Kaptaan, about Imran's life and his marriage – to be released later this year – in which I am played by a Pakistani actress with a suitably big, blonde bouffant.
Fortunately, the My Marriage chapter only contains a couple of pages on that subject, starting with our Mills & Boon-style first encounter – "I was particularly impressed by her strong value system" – and ending sadly. Typically Imran doesn't dwell on this failure. The rest of the chapter, like the rest of the book and Imran's life, is consumed by Pakistan and politics. At times, it reads like a manifesto, which in a way it is.
Imran will be fighting elections next year. After 15 years in opposition and with a more robust and independent media and judiciary, for the first time I predict success. More importantly though, so do the most recent polls, with both YouGov and Pew declaring him Pakistan's most popular candidate to lead Pakistan after the next elections.
I agreed to interview him for the Independent's Woodstock Literary Festival. Since I live up the road and he's been busy on his book tour, it seemed like a good chance to catch up with him, talk to him about the book in which I appear, and confront him about his comment last week to The Sunday Times' Camilla Long that "honeymoons are overrated".
His party announced the event on Twitter: "Jemima Khan In conversion (sic) with Imran Khan." Been there, done that.
We conversed at Woodstock. Imran talked convincingly about Islam and its compatibility with democracy and also of the corruption of the ruling elite, the breakdown of the rule of law, of women's rights, the Taliban and even of cricket. The audience, judging by comments overheard afterwards, was duly converted.
Of India, he smiled: "Since we can't change our neighbours, we will have to live with them in a civilised way."
On accusations of being too soft on the Taliban, he gesticulated crossly: "Anyone who opposes the war on terror is called a Taliban sympathiser. The reason I wrote this book was to explain what the Taliban is – in Pakistan, it is a war of resistance, not religious ideology."
It is feudalism and hereditary politics, with parties like the PPP being handed down from father to son like heirlooms, which are the scourge of Pakistani politics, he boomed, in that way that used to startle small children. I made him promise that our oldest son would never be bequeathed PTI, his political party.
Corruption was Pakistan's other main challenge, he said. He would not work with other mainstream parties because the leaders of those parties are, without exception, corrupt. He has been offered and turned down prominent roles with all the major parties for that reason. His party is, after all, called, "Pakistan's Movement for Justice".
Imran has always been unfailingly, unfathomably confident. The greatest lesson he has learned from cricket? "Never to give up, to fight to the end."
For the benefit of my gambling brothers, he said, a bet on his party's victory was worth a punt. At the World Cup in 1992, he had told his friends to take advantage of the 50-1 odds. He knew Pakistan would win. They ignored him, he said, to their everlasting regret. He has no doubt that he will also win the next election. I wasn't always so confident about his chances of success, as he describes in his book.
As he became more preoccupied by politics and mostly absent, but not discernibly more successful, I worried that the sacrifices – not seeing his boys grow up – would not be worth it. He writes in his memoir: "[She] used to ask me how long I would keep pursuing politics without succeeding, at what point would I decide it was futile. But I couldn't answer, simply because a dream has no time-frame."
I asked him if he worried for his safety, as we all do, especially his sons. A fortune-teller once told him that he would be assassinated if he went into politics. He has no fear of death, he said. I knew he would.
Does he fear then not being able to be effective in government? Many former leaders of Pakistan have had noble intentions at the start but have been forced to compromise. "Successful people compromise for their goals, they do not compromise on their goals." If it's not personal enrichment or power for power's sake that you're aiming for, then there's no need for compromise, was his point.
I did not ask about Pakistan's blasphemy laws. It's not safe to give an opinion these days and I worried – perhaps unnecessarily – about an unjudicious answer. He's learnt from past mistakes and has become notably savvier politically in recent years.
I asked him whether, in that case, he would repeal the Hudood Ordinance, the controversial law which often results in female rape victims being sent to prison for adultery or fornication. "My party's view is that it should be repealed completely and debated in Parliament. That has never happened – the law was passed by Zia al Haq – and that is why there are anomalies in it."
Finally I asked him if he would like to see the implementation of sharia law in Pakistan, especially given that he had told our son, when he was two, that his Action Man only had one arm because he'd been stealing so it had been cut off.
The audience laughed.
He shot me a look. As we'd stepped up on the podium an hour earlier, he had whispered a warning: "Don't crack jokes, don't mimic me, keep it serious, OK Jem?"
"Too late," I replied, "but don't worry, you'll come across as you always wanted – a cross between Gandhi and Guy Fawkes."
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