Here’s Why Pakistanis Can Never Let Jemima Khan Down
It is often said that love hurts because there are expectations on both sides. What if the love is so pure that it is untainted by human cravings or demands? Should it still be called love if there is boundless affection, friendship, comfort, and kindness, without any conditions, constrains, or boundaries? This unreservedly altruistic love should surely only be called divine, or at least approaching it very closely. What else is one to call the giving of one’s self to another unconditionally, bolstering and healing them infinitely?
Jemima Khan came into our lives in 1995, following a whirlwind romance resulting in matrimony with our national hero Imran Khan. Except for a few narcissistic individuals, the whole nation welcomed her. We fell in love with her blond hair, timid persona and self-conscious smile. Following our tradition, she left her home (and country) at the tender age of 22 to spend the rest of her life with her husband (and his family) in Lahore. Most of us prayed that this fairy-tale would never end, but many bets were placed in London on how long this marriage would last, given the differences between the lifestyles the spouses were used to.
Over the next nine years, she gave herself entirely to her husband and his life. She coped with everything which came her way: culture-shock, change of lifestyle, unkind heat (with power-cuts), and new relatives. She gave birth to and raised two sons like an ideal wife. Most importantly, she supported her husband in pursuing whatever ambitions he had following the end of his cricket career. In philanthropy, she worked tirelessly to raise funds for the Shaukat Khanam Memorial Cancer Hospital in Lahore. She was the one who brought Lady Diana to highlight the charitable potential of the hospital in 1996. She ran an appeal for Afghan refugees to provide tents, clothing, food, and healthcare in the Jalozai camp. She also became a UNICEF ambassador for South Asia.
It is said that “politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedy”. Her husband had decided to pursue just that: politics. As a devoted wife, Jemima backed Imran Khan and went about leading political rallies and speaking to public gatherings. Politics was not new to her, as she had a similar role standing by her father previously. She was, however, hoping for better fortune for her husband. She may have had a glimpse of glory when Nawaz Sharif’s government was toppled by General Pervez Musharraf in 1999. Yet, despite strategic private dinners, political lobbying, and public rallies before the 2002 elections, her husband only got one seat for himself in the National Assembly. She must have been heartbroken.
It is true that genuine love keeps no record of wrongs and painful memories, or of forgiving and reconciliations. However, there’s only so much one can bear. After all, feelings of being an alien, and then having allegations of being a “Jewish agent” and of stealing antiques and smuggling them abroad, all the while one’s husband’s career is going nowhere for which one has given everything, can have anyone’s patience run thin eventually. Nor is it easy to raise two young children on your own while your husband is away from home doing politics. As a young woman, in a very different culture, you feel increasingly lonely for not having a close circle of friends. Before getting clinically depressed, Jemima might have decided to move back to London after discussions with her loved ones.
Their separation was followed by an amicable divorce in 2004. Her husband found the six months leading to the divorce and the six months afterwards as the hardest year of his life. The whole nation felt wounded while praying that despite guilt and disappointment, the duo’s love could go on, as it felt like it was not just a private transaction between them. When you love someone unconditionally, you expect them to reciprocate, but sometimes, to test this love completely, you have to part. This is when one gives one’s beloved the freedom to live and be happy, even if it is to be without them. We felt pained and yet attached to her, hoping that she would live out there but still be a part of our lives and our world.
From 2004 to 2007, Jemima was mostly catching up on her social life back in London. She got featured on Vanity Fair’s “best-dressed” list year after year. She was also “soaring” in a romantic relationship with the actor, Hugh Grant. While the London visitors favoured them as “the celebrity couple people would most like to show around London”, we the people in Pakistan wanted her to come back where we feel she belonged. The wedding bells could be heard in the distance when nature conspired with the British tabloids and perhaps with our aspirations. In February 2007, Hugh Grant announced that they had “decided to split amicably”.
Back in Pakistan, General Musharraf got Imran Khan arrested in November 2007, when he was campaigning for the restoration of democracy in Pakistan. Jemima came out roaring for the father of her children, and organised three of the biggest demonstrations London had ever seen for a Pakistan-related issue. Working diligently with some of us, she threw everything she had into saving her ex-husband. Khan was released shortly afterwards when immense pressure was exerted on Musharraf government; mostly generated by Jemima’s obvious but behind-the-scene efforts. Everyone cheered their immense affection for each other when they thanked the great crowd which had gathered to protest against Musharraf’s reception at Downing Street. She also organised an International press conference for Imran Khan at the Associated Press Building subsequently.
All of us felt that they warmed up to each other over the next few years as Jemima and children started visiting their home in Bani Gala. Children were also being raised in London, in a culturally appropriate way. In the meantime, Imran Khan boycotted the 2008 elections, and pinned all his hopes on the next elections in 2013. He had reasons to be optimistic as people were beginning to appreciate how he had helped bring down Musharraf’s regime and was going after MQM chief, Altaf Hussain. The big PTI Jalsa at Lahore in 2011 was the turning point for Khan’s party; and most in Pakistan believed that he was on a home run to become the next Prime Minister. Jemima might have been itching to be in Pakistan to support Khan but reigned herself in so that his enemies do not use the “Jewish lobby” political card against him. Many nurtured hopes that if Khan wins the elections, they could get back together.
Imran Khan’s ego was badly bruised when he did not sweep the national election in 2013. Jemima went on the back-burner when he got busy with running his party’s first-ever government in KPK and planning agitation to bring down the “fraudulent” Federal government. This was later followed by uncomfortable rumours about his amorous liaisons here and there but they were always refuted. That was the case until one of those rumours came true, which was followed by contradictory media reports of a snap-wedding. No one he knew at home or abroad had approved of his decision, mainly due to the new bride’s credentials. Jemima and her children must have felt the same way but they did not say a word publically.
As expected, the new marriage broke down within 10 months. Before we could recover from the newsflash, the divorcee had gone after Imran Khan to destroy his reputation using some intimate details. However, when she decided to publish a tell-all book, which reportedly included details about Jemima and her children, Jemima went into rearguard action. Although she was probably helping clear this mess behind the scene, Jemima came out in the open and threatened legal action if anything untoward about her children was published. Due to her consequent public and private manoeuvres, she managed to save her ex-husband’s personal life and political existence from humiliation. Contrasting behaviours of the two ex-wives in this crisis must have been an enlightening study in class, culture and human behaviour for the whole nation.
Later in 2017, many people thought Imran Khan’s political career was heading for a premature end after the Supreme Court sought a money-trail for 41 years of his income. Jemima rescued him once again when she moved heaven and earth to get his archived bank-statements from even those English banks which had closed down some time ago. After a brief period of gratefulness, what she got in return was another unpleasant surprise when Khan decided to wed his spiritual guide, Bushra Bibi, before the 2018 elections. We are all familiar with the supernatural “condition” that Imran could only become prime minister if he married her. It got worse between Jemima and her ex-husband from there onwards, as she and children were not invited to his oath-taking ceremony as prime minister. He was also not “allowed” to see his children until early this year due to the fateful threat again involving supernatural factors. Throughout all this saga, Jemima remained nothing but dignified as always.
Most of us know what has happened in this fairy-tale so far. Barring minor indiscretions, Jemima has had a bad deal in this relationship: suffering isolation, always being there for him, and raising children on her own akin to some traditional eastern wife. She never says or does anything, including charity work in Pakistan, that could compromise her ex-husband’s status or ambitions. This has allowed the prince to pursue his dreams. Now he lives inside an inexplicable marriage between ambition with spirituality. Who doesn’t know that need-based relationships founded entirely on ambition do not last long, and that a gilded cage is still a cage?
We have always wanted Jemima to come back from this emotional exile one day and live in her own house. She cannot give up on us, and we cannot let her down. We, who believe in happy endings, can wait.
M. Aamer Sarfraz is a philosophical psychiatrist based in London.