| Imran with Jemima at an election rally in Islamabad in September 2002. (AP)
Karachi, June 27: In the early days of their marriage, Imran Khan whisked his young bride, Jemima Goldsmith, off to remote northern Pakistan to introduce her to the beautiful scenery of the Hunzu Valley.
Last week, after the couple finally accepted that the British heiress could never settle in Pakistan, he sought solace in the same landscape, escaping the media frenzy to go hiking in the towering Karakoram mountains.
Friends and family of the politician and former cricketer said the strain of trying to reconcile their differing backgrounds had led to their divorce after a nine-year marriage.
One of Imran’s four sisters, who asked not to be named, said it was hard to imagine that Jemima — the daughter of the late tycoon James Goldsmith — could ever have settled in Pakistan, even though she converted to Islam and learned to speak Urdu.
“When our own girls of Pakistani origin, raised in the western culture, cannot live in Pakistan, how can a white girl live here permanently'” she said, adding that Jemima had spent much of the last 18 months in London. “As Imran is attached to her family, she is equally attached.”
Yousif Salahuddin, who has accompanied Imran to the mountains, said Jemima often suffered from amoebic dysentery in Pakistan. “She was careful but still catches one or the other problem.”
While her friends in London have spoken of Jemima’s “huge shock” about the divorce, saying that she “never quite believed that it would come to this”, Imran first discussed separation with his Pakistani circle after Jemima moved to London last year with their sons, Sulaiman, seven, and Qasim, five, to study for a masters degree.
Imran’s deepening commitment to politics and public life — he is an MP and head of the Tahreek-e-Insaf Party, and has founded two children’s hospitals — played a big role in their decision to divorce.
“Whilst Jemima has done her very best to adapt to life in Pakistan over the last nine years, my political life has made it particularly difficult for her,” his statement acknowledged. He told one friend that he could not “sail two boats”.
“I cannot settle in London and Jemima cannot live in Pakistan — there is hardly any option left,” he is quoted as saying. Another friend in Lahore said that he recently asked Imran whether he regretted making the family sacrifice to pursue his other ambitions. “I think it is worth it,” he replied.
Salahuddin said Imran would soon be travelling to London to see his sons and Jemima. “They are both mature and educated and know how to separate in a civilised way,” he said. They had agreed that the children would stay with Jemima but would visit Pakistan each winter.
“They are of an age when they need the mother’s care more than anything else.”
The marriage between the handsome cricketer, then 42, and the party-loving London heiress half his age, was always the subject of intense scrutiny in Pakistan.
The press ran lurid accounts of Imran’s previous relationships and political opponents made bogus accusations about his wife.
She was falsely accused of smuggling antiques out of the country and of being a pupil of Salman Rushdie, the “blasphemer” author of Satanic Verses, merely because the book was on her university reading list.
In an effort to disarm her critics, Jemima took up the cause of Afghan refugees in camps in Peshawar and campaigned in Urdu for her husband’s election.
Imran’s sister said: “We all are sad for our brother but cannot do any thing because it is his personal decision. We are missing and we will continue to miss Jemima.”
As for Imran, he, too is struggling to adjust to the split. Salahuddin said: “At the moment he wants to be cut off from the world for a while, and is trying to recover.”
The Daily Telegraph