Imran and sons Sulaiman and Kasim, now 16 and 13, respectively
London, March 12: Imran Khan has told his sons that he will be “leader” of Pakistan the next time they visit the country, according to a tweet from his former wife Jemima Khan.
The boys, Sulaiman and Kasim, 16 and 13 respectively, live with their mother in London and see their father either during the school holidays when they go to Pakistan or when Imran comes to the UK, as he did recently.
Jemima may have erred, though, in putting out the following tweet yesterday: @Jemima_Khan: Definition of confidence? Imran saying goodbye to his sons last week, “Well boys, next time you come to Pakistan, I’ll be its leader.” Gulp.
A psychiatrist, consulted by The Telegraph, got hold of the wrong end of the stick: “The problem is we don’t know if this is a joke or not, plus it’s being reported second hand by hardly a dispassionate source — a disgruntled ex-wife?”
Whatever Jemima is, she does not come across as a disgruntled ex-wife. When Imran was taken into custody by the military authorities headed by General Pervez Musharraf in 2007, it was Jemima who led the protest demonstrations in London to secure his release.
When Imran launched his book, Pakistan, at the Woodstock Literary Festival in Oxfordshire in 2011, it was Jemima who did the “in conversation” with her ex-husband, though she probably did irritate him by asking a few searching questions. The book’s theme appeared to be, “Imran is Pakistan and Pakistan is Imran”.
Though it is hard to tell from the outside, it does seem the couple have a civilised relationship and on Jemima’s side, she may even retain a certain fondness for Imran.
When Imran comes to London, he apparently stays with his former mother-in-law, Lady Annabel Goldsmith, widow of Sir James Goldsmith. He finally gave his blessings to his daughter’s marriage, even though she was 21, half Imran’s age, on the grounds he would make “an excellent first husband” — or words to that effect. But she has not remarried, though she did have a relationship with actor Hugh Grant.
What cannot be in doubt, though, was that the breakup from Jemima in 2004 after nine years of marriage meant a painful separation for Imran from the sons he adored.
He admitted the six months leading to the divorce and the six months after was the “hardest year of my life”. Not seeing his sons, then aged eight and five, caused him deep anguish, he added.
He said later: “I loved fatherhood more than anything I had ever experienced in life...now not having them around was the hardest thing to come to terms with. For the first time I began to understand how people could lose the will to live. The children’s obvious distress exacerbated the misery. Seeing Sulaiman’s pain doubled my pain. I missed them terribly. Nothing filled the void.”
“My greatest sacrifice for being in politics was not always being able to spend as much time as I wanted to with my family,” he said.
Imran has now bought a 35-acre farmhouse in the hills near Islamabad and here he likes to relax at the weekend when he can spare time away from preparing for government.
His is the anguish of any father who cannot see his children often enough. “I always have the best time when I’m with my children. I especially look forward to them coming to stay in the winter because they can play outside with their friends for most of the day and spend time with me inside in the evenings. There’s endless entertainment for them on the farm: a swimming pool, a mini-cricket ground and acres upon acres of open space where they can run around and see birds and animals.”
No doubt, Imran, who once inspired his players to win the cricket World Cup for Pakistan, remains a hero to Sulaiman and Kasim. But what if their dad fails to live up to his promise and doesn’t become leader of Pakistan?
Since Imran is unlikely to joke about a matter as serious as his role in determining the destiny of Pakistan, one can only assume Jemima was gently teasing her former husband.
However, judging from a briefing Imran gave the Indian Journalists’ Association in London in late 2011, there is no doubt in his mind. Others may be sceptical but he is convinced that it is only a matter of time before the people of Pakistan turn to him. Whether the huge crowds he attracts will translate into seats for his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Pakistan Movement for Justice) in the National Assembly in the forthcoming general election remains to be seen.
And if and when that happens, one thing is sure: Jemima will be there, treating the world to her tantalising tweets.