Reham Khan Pained By Persecution Of PTI Workers, Influencers For May 9 Incidents

Senior broadcaster and television journalist Reham Khan is eyeing a return to Pakistan, but not in the capacity of what one may think. Read to find out what she plans for her future and thoughts on emerging developments

Reham Khan Pained By Persecution Of PTI Workers, Influencers For May 9 Incidents
  • Reham Khan opens up about Imran's conviction in Toshakhana case, Khan's political and legal future

  • Talks about May 9 and global precedents of military or special trials for those who attacked a state

  • The emergence of second tier leadership of mainstream parties and the challenges they face

  • Laments the state of justice available in Pakistan and the factors impacting rule of law

  • Governance in Punjab under caretaker setup

  • Her future in Pakistan: media, politics or philanthropy?

Whatever is happening with former prime minister and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan right now is bad karma for his past actions. But Saturday's conviction could only be the beginning of the legal troubles for the cricketer-turned-politician, believes senior broadcaster and television anchor Reham Khan.

"What happened ... (Saturday), my comment on that is that I would call it karma: natural justice, or divine justice, whatever you want to call it," she said in an exclusive interview with The Friday Times - Naya Daur.

The veteran broadcaster - who is most known for having married the uncrowned 'playboy' prince of Pakistani politics, Imran Khan, in 2014 and then divorcing him less than a year later - stated that on March 31, 2022, just days before Imran's government wound up, he was fixated on conjuring up a 'regime change conspiracy' and attacking instead of shoring up his allies in Parliament and addressing dissidents within his PTI. She recalled telling a foreign media outlet that this was the turning point in Imran's politics, that it was "the end of Imran Khan's political career and the end of his integrity."

Will elections happen?

Asked if she sees Imran participate in the upcoming elections, Reham candidly stated that if Imran is disqualified for five years, he obviously will not be seen in the next elections. 

In her inimitable style, Reham posed, "The real question should have been, 'Do I see elections happening or not?'

READ MORE: Imran Khan Down, What Now?

"I had already told you in March 2022 that the end has come," Reham said. She added that after the vote of no confidence in April 2022 - which constitutionally truncated Imran's lacklustre and incompetent government - she had tweeted at former Pakistan Army chief General (retired) Qamar Bajwa, warning the-then top military commander that the world will bear witness to how Imran Khan – the prime beneficiary of the general's political chicanery and unconstitutional meddling in Pakistan's democracy – would repay all the favours the general had done for him. 

Reham said that throughout 2022, she stated on multiple occasions that soon, the world would see how erratic and menacing Imran would become after losing his government.

"My reasoning for having said that again and again, you can call it my assessment of the situation or my intuition and understanding," she explained.

May 9 'insurrection' and aftermath

"May 9 was like someone had attacked the Pentagon or had ransacked a CIA office," she compared.

"There was an attack on the Pentagon, all flights were grounded, and then, on the basis of suspicion, Afghanistan and Iraq are bombed," Reham recounted. Returning to the events of May 9, she explained in painstaking detail how sensitive installations of the Pakistan Army were attacked at multiple locations across the country by dozens of people. 

She, however, expressed a soft corner for the people on the ground. If the acts are committed by workers and lower-level party officials because of their emotions or their own intentions, the ultimate responsibility still lies with the party's top boss, she asserted.

Even the army has fired senior officials, including a three-star general, for the incident, though the exact details or the name of the general have yet to be made public, she said. 

"I feel a lot of pain because Tiktokers, social media influencers, average Pakistani youth, are now suffering," she said, adding that they are in custody for the emotional acts they committed on May 9 after being incited by Imran and his party leaders.

She also took a swipe at some Americans in Congress who have been raising Imran Khan's issue in Parliament on Capitol Hill.

"I am watching these American Congressmen and Congresswomen who are so worried about Pakistan while there is homelessness in downtown Seattle and these American politicians don't even bother," she lamented. Reham suggested that American politicians will better serve their constituents by focusing on fixing their problems, leaving Pakistan's national security to Pakistanis. 

The dilemma of military trials for PTI

Asked whether Imran should be tried in a military court or court-martialed for allegedly inciting people to rise up against the state and instigating a mutiny in the Pakistan armed forces, Reham responded with allegories which suggested that would be one of the ways similar incidents have been treated the world over, adding that the military feels it has a right to prosecute those who attacked it.

"The May 9 incident has overshadowed all other legal cases against Imran Khan," Reham said tellingly. 

She pointed out how in the US, former president Donald Trump was being indicted for inciting his followers" to attempt a riot at Capitol Hill on January 6, 2021, and prevent the lawful transfer of power from one elected government to the next. Such prosecution, she suggested, makes America the beacon of hope and democracy that it represents to the world. 

"I am in a dilemma [over military trials]. I have told you that if this was America, they would lock you in Guantanamo Bay for many years, and nobody would ask you [about your] justice, freedoms, civil rights, liberties; everything would have been suspended," she compared.

"We must also make decisions to ensure our national security and safeguard our state, but we do so in a haphazard and completely ineffectual manner," Reham said. 

"Military trial, I think, is their right because the military installations have been attacked. Let's also not forget that those who would be tried, or are under trial, in military courts will have the right of appeal," Reham Khan reminded. 

"If someone tells someone else to ransack an ISI office, as we have heard in some leaked audio calls, if you are attacking the GHQ, if you have entered the Corps Commander's house to create chaos if you are burning military uniforms, if you are desecrating our martyrs' monuments and memories, that can not be tolerated by the state or by any respectable conscientious society". 

"Imagine how the mothers of those martyrs would have felt when the monuments erected to their son's ultimate sacrifice for the safety and security of Pakistan, those symbols of Pakistanis at their best, were attacked and vandalised?" Reham asked

"I am very clear: the military should stay in the barracks and not interfere in politics, but at the same time, I am not confused about the brave Pakistanis who sacrifice their lives for Pakistan," Reham exclaimed. 

Reham pointed out how in the Uk, the "Poppy" is used as a symbol for national remembrance of British war heroes.

How can a political leader and his second-tier leadership, who tried to incite a mutiny within the military and then ask for forgiveness and make more U-turns in press conferences to try and justify the unjustifiable, she asked.

Concerns on Law

"As far as the Official Secrets Act and the amendments proposed in it, I am following it very closely, and I do have serious concerns on it," expressed Reham, warning that the government needs to be careful about not setting the wrong precedent by giving the security agencies and the police forces carte blanche to enter anyone's home without probable cause or without the appropriate justification from a competent authority.

"We have to draw the line," Reham said. 

More legal troubles for Imran?

Reham Khan was asked whether the legal situation for the former Pakistani premier, who currently sits in jail, could further complicate through the other cases lodged against him, such as the foreign funding case (where Imran's PTI received financial support from prohibited sources) and the Al-Qadir Trust case. 

Reham said that, in her opinion, the foreign funding case "always was and still is the most important case against the PTI". 

"I believe that the foreign funding case should have been taken very seriously by the Pakistani authorities," she said, adding, "I still do not see the state exhibiting the seriousness that this case requires ". 

She clarified that she had not followed the Toshakhana case against Imran closely.

"But still, what happened on Saturday, my comment on that is that I would call it karma: natural justice, or divine justice, whatever you want to call it," she opined.

Reham reminded that PTI had loudly celebrated the disqualification of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif in July 2017 whilst labelling those around Nawaz traitors and enemies of Pakistan.

"Things are now coming around full circle. The only difference is, this time, the offence of concealing assets is much more serious. Imran Khan's asset declaration statements were incomplete; he deliberately did not declare his assets or the gifts he had received, his tax returns were incomplete as he did not fully declare his taxable assets, and therefore, the Form-B was fraudulent," Reham stated. 

But she hastily explained that the conviction of Imran Khan should not be compared to the 2017 Panama Papers judgment against Nawaz Sharif even though they are essentially the same since the two cases deal with adjacent clauses in the Constitution. 

"I would rather say that focus on Article 25-A of the Constitution more, but sadly, that's the state of our priorities in Pakistan," Reham lamented. 

"I am even surprised at the Rs100,000 fine," Reham added.

Weak and ineffective judicial process

Reham also had views about the incumbent judicial system.

"There are so many cases, many other investigations, but how many times has the accused appeared themselves before the court of law?" Reham asked. "Even in the case of [tortured child maid] Rizwana, our judiciary has a lot to answer for," Reham said. 

"There is a fear!"

She continued that there are many cases where people don't see any decision come or where decisions are delayed.

"I think there's another side to it. Those in judiciary are also citizens of Pakistan, they are people just like us, maybe they're worried about the kind of trolling or backlash they would face," Reham surmised. 

"Even in the Rizwana case, I do not understand why the accused received bail," Reham said, adding, "Would a poor person be given bail so easily?" 

"Ultimately, I believe in the phrase that the truth will prevail," Reham asserted. "The problem is that our judiciary has a very chequered past, and under that baggage, they are being further stigmatised... For any country, if the people lose faith in the judiciary, then that becomes a very disturbing problem for the state," Reham said. 

General elections and Reham's predictions

With elections now a distinct possibility in the upcoming months, Reham was of the opinion that general elections – due no later than November 2022 according to the stipulations of the Constitution of Pakistan – should take place according to the old census data or the new one

"We have not had a census for a long time," Reham lamented, adding that "so I don't know what is the intent or purpose behind those who are making daily references about the new census". 

Reham clarified that "an accurate and truly representative census for Pakistan is a completely justified demand, and redrawing electoral constituencies according to the desires and aspirations of the constituents – not the whims of the powerful, or those who benefit from gerrymandered and distorted electoral constituencies – are also totally just demands".

Personally, however, she was pessimistic about getting the opportunity to vote in the ongoing calendar year.

"I don't see elections happening this year. If you look at all the interviews, even of the outgoing prime minister, they make it appear more likely that elections will not happen this year. And if the reasoning is due to the census, that is also not an easy task, so I estimate that by the beginning of next year... [general elections would finally take place] perhaps by March next year," Reham stated.

When asked who she sees as the most likely prime minister after the elections, Reham had no one answer.

If elections are held on time, by November, then she suggested that outgoing foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari was most likely to become the country's new premier, following in the footsteps of his illustrious mother.

If Ishaq Dar were to become the caretaker prime minister, he could provide a signal of continuity to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In that case, there is a greater chance of outgoing premier Shehbaz Sharif returning to the Prime Minister's Office. 

Maryam, Bilawal, and a new generation of Pakistani leaders

With the leadership of most parties either near or well into their seventies (PTI included), the conversation turned to who does Reham believe would step up as the next generation of leaders to succeed leaders of national parties. 

Reham categorically stated that there will always be a future for people like Maryam Nawaz in Pakistani politics because "she is one of the most charismatic speakers that we have seen in recent times, and she is a natural crowd-puller".

She believed that it was unfair on the part of the Sharif family not to have brought her into politics sooner like former premier Zulfikar Ali Bhutto took a young Benazir Bhutto to Simla in 1972. 

"So if you actually want to make an heir who has some natural flair - they will be blamed for nepotism anyway - then where was the confusion?" Reham asked before sharing her assessment that Maryam Nawaz may have been 'deliberately' kept out of politics. 

On the other hand, she said that in the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Bilawal got the opportunity to speak on the floor of the National Assembly, and "he made excellent speeches as an opposition member of the Parliament."

"He's probably the only parliamentarian whose speeches I have enjoyed watching," she said, describing Bilawal's 'forceful verve', the ability to mix his Pakistani background with his sense of British sarcasm, and a surprising but growing support for Bilawal in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. 

"I am sure Bilawal's popularity has increased in KP as well as in Punjab, he has that likability factor, and people who meet him are attracted to his genuine, approachable character," she said.

But on things that matter and on what one is judged by, Reham said, "As a foreign minister, his performance has been brilliant; he has hit sixers upon sixers, and it was the perfect choice for Bilawal to be the coalition government's foreign minister."

Offering a prediction for who will prevail in the upcoming polls, Reham laid out some prerequisites which will decide which way the country will ultimately tilt.

"If the economy stabilises, and if Nawaz Sharif returns to Pakistan, then the PML-N vote bank remains intact and still quite strong," Reham said predicted. However, she was of the view that, unlike Bilawal, giving Maryam a serious constitutional position at the outset would be a mistake for her overall political future. 

"For example, becoming a chief minister without having worked as a minister in the cabinet beforehand, it will be very difficult," she suggested, adding that if she was in Maryam Nawaz's shoes, she would be quite nervous at such a prospect.

"There is a lot of factionalism and grouping around Maryam Nawaz, with some of them secretly wanting Maryam to fail," Reham said, reminding of the challenges that Maryam Nawaz faces in ultimately taking over the party one day.

These people, she suggested, are spread around, in the media and in the party.

"I feel they behave in ways that damage Maryam's position in the party. I am very blunt about it, I could be wrong, but that's the sense I get from it," was Reham's assessment.

However, Reham crucially pointed out that the Sharif family was not the only cause for deep rifts and infighting in the party. 

"Becoming the chief minister of Punjab is not an easy task because dealing with the bureaucracy of such a large province, getting things done, ensuring effective administration, that is more suited to the temperament of someone like Shehbaz Sharif," Reham stated, adding that not even Shehbaz's heir apparent, Hamza, could not match this mode of working.

 Performance of the Punjab caretaker government

"If 'Shehbaz Speed' and his administrative management, his way of leading the bureaucracy and police, giving them a vision and direction, maintaining supervision of their work, ensuring they have the tools to get the job done, if someone can emulate that, only then can the person be a good chief executive of Pakistan's largest province," Reham said, adding, "I completely agree with PM Shehbaz Sharif when he said that 'Mohsin Speed' has overtaken 'Shehbaz Speed' in Punjab since the caretaker government came to office". 

"Punjab caretaker chief minister Mohsin Naqvi, as a journalist and as the owner of a news channel, we have seen him only work and never seen him sit down," she said.

"He is a young and very dynamic person... Mohsin Naqvi is a very humble person and is very easily approachable. If you say something harsh to him, he does not react to it, and I have seen that firsthand. He is a workaholic, and he understands provincial dynamics and 'the monster' that is the Punjabi bureaucratic leviathan," she said.

"The fact is that you need to be a certain kind of personality to survive in the CM Punjab's role," Reham stated, adding that, "like Bilawal Bhutto, Maryam Nawaz should also be given the opportunity to 'learn from the factory floor' like her father Nawaz Sharif did". 

But Reham warned that "it's a long, hard road, and nobody is going to earn any credits for it". 

Political activism for a better Pakistan

Asked where her political activism and philanthropy will take her, Reham said that she will continue speaking out on issues where she feels the voice of the downtrodden, oppressed and the forgotten will not only be heard, but due attention will be given, and grievances will be addressed.

"I have set the ball rolling, She said, outlining that she really wants to help improve the personal financial situation of households.

"Do something meaningful in vocational training and skills training, especially empower women to sustain their families and support their households alongside their men," she explained.

"Once these basic daily necessities are taken care of, only then will the Pakistani citizen come out to vote meaningfully and even be able to contest elections and become a public representative themselves," she said, adding that the national economy will improve only after the welfare and prosperity of Pakistani households is ensured. 

"If the factories don't work and produce jobs for thousands of educated and skilled youth are unemployed, then all they will do is use social media to rant and rave against the government and the system," Reham explained. 

Women's empowerment is the key to unlocking Pakistan's potential

"The space for women should not be decorative," according to Reham Khan. "I believe that the space for women in mainstream Pakistani politics is still constricted because even in cases where women make the space for themselves, they have to co-opt male politicians whose demands eventually threaten her own position," Reham explained, adding that "this adds to the insecurity other women feel when they try to make space for themselves in mainstream politics". 

Reham Khan also clarified that she would be strongly opposed to demagoguery and dictatorship, as she has seen in other parties. 

"That is just the way things are, so I am working to facilitate an environment where I make space for other women, not just myself, and it should be democratic in the manner as well as ethos," Reham said before explaining that "it is better to have a woman with good qualities who does good work than to just have a woman" for the sake of gender balance. 

"I just want to roll up my sleeves and get to work... there is a limit to how much you can do playing at the gallery. I don't like that, I'm allergic to that," Reham stated before concluding that "I want to actually get down to doing work" for the people, regardless of whichever political or social or advocacy programme gives me the opportunity to help Pakistanis.  

"My persona is such that I do not like to talk much about my personal faith or use it for politics. I believe we as a nation have started going down a path where these attitudes are dangerous and anti-social. We should refrain from confusing people's faith with their politics," Reham added. 

"All of these parties, however, they started, nearly all of them have evolved if not become distant from their original ideologies... I am a Bacha Khani, but I feel I don't see the Bacha Khan ideology anymore. Similarly, the PTI manifesto we were shown was a 'middle class' manifesto, but it was made for those with private jets and factories and shrines". 

Elite capture

Reham Khan referred to a 2021 UNDP report that exposed how one percent of the Pakistani elite control the Parliament, the corporate and the agriculture sectors.

"They are the tycoons, and some of them own nearly 22% of the most lucrative Pakistani land resources". 

She said that such people are in all political parties represented in Parliament.

"Are there people like you or your cameraman, or other average Pakistanis, who are in Parliament?" she asked, adding, "Is there any person like me, or anyone there to represent all widows? Who is there to represent government teachers or even farmers who are the backbone of Pakistan's agriculture?" 

The minister for food security is a feudal lord, Reham concluded as she listed the litany of problems with Pakistan's democracy and how it does not fulfil its basic function of representing the Pakistani people's interests.

Bravery and cowardice

Reham rose to become the darling of PTI's social media ecosystem after it emerged that she and Imran had secretly contracted marriage at the height of the latter's 124-day-long sit-in outside the Parliament in Islamabad in 2014. 

The two went their separate ways, their relationship crashing into divorce less than a year later over suspicions of infidelity.  

But the fairy tale turned into a nightmare as soon as she published a tell-all book on her time with Imran Khan.

The 2018 publication came out as Imran was contesting to become Pakistan's 22nd prime minister. 

Ever since, she has been a regular – some would even say favourite – target of the PTI's social media keyboard warriors who feel that she had somehow 'betrayed' their beloved leader.

It meant that she was subjected to a ferocious torrent of virulent and pernicious troll attacks that spared neither her gender, character, integrity, professional career and her very existence on a daily basis. Perhaps doing so as a homage to the PTI supremo who they exalt, venerate, and practically worship.

While talking about the harassment, trolling and abuse that she and her family faced at the hands of the PTI, Reham said that circumstances force the victim to decide what they truly believe in and whether their cause and principles are actually worth taking a stand for.

Braving all the negative, poisonous criticism, trolling and online harassment thrown her way, Reham said it gave her clarity over who her former husband truly was. He was called out for being a coward and lacking the ability to lead; how he incited his workers to fight and die for him while he bunkered up in his reinforced mansions houses, protected by platoons of private guards, and travelled to the courts in extraordinary, often ludicrous security arrangements. 

What next for Reham Khan?

Now that she is back in Pakistan, will Reham Khan join a media organisation or will opt for something bigger, like political activism or public service? Will she join a political party and run for elections? 

To find out, watch the full episode of Reham Khan's interview with Hassan Naqvi :

The writer is a senior correspondent at The Friday Times with a focus on politics, economy and militancy.