He is obsessed with politics and is an articulate opponent in the Pakistani landscape. Imran Khan, former cricketer, chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and the man currently pushing the Nawaz Sharif government to inquire into the Panama leaks, took time off for a candid conversation on marriage, love and relationships. Excerpts from an interview at his home in Islamabad...
Do you believe in the institution of marriage? How important is it to you?
I am 63 years old and have been married for only 10 years, but I am more of a staunch believer of marriage now [after two divorces] than I ever was. I led a very envied bachelor’s life. Many people would have loved to have the kind of life I’ve led, but if you get marriage right, it is a very civilised way of life. I believe it gives you a much deeper happiness than the pleasure-seeking that you sacrifice. Unfortunately, pleasure-seeking is what is being promoted in advertisements, the media and films. My greatest happiness was watching my children grow up. From the time they were born [his sons are now 17 and 19] till a year or so before my divorce was the happiest time of my life. And my marriage would have worked too, but it was just not possible for her [first wife, Jemima] to live here in Pakistan. She was young and the cultural life in Pakistan was difficult. The combination of living in a different culture and that too with someone who had just started a career in politics wasn’t easy. [Wistfully]... maybe now I would have dealt with it differently because now my political party is established, but... our relationship reached a dead end. She couldn’t live here and I couldn’t leave Pakistan.
Are you still friends with the mother of your children?
Very friendly. We have a great relationship, which is so good for our children and, Masha Allah, they have turned out to be the biggest blessings and the greatest happiness in our lives.
Would you say you’ve had bad luck with marriage?
That is not how I look at life. We grow up with fairy tales, but in life there is no happily ever after. And if there were, I would get bored of life. To me, life is interesting when one is struggling. In fact, and this is probably the first time I’m saying it, the only time I lost motivation in my goal to make Pakistan a democratic welfare state and an example for the Muslim world, was when my boys were three and five years old. I just couldn’t tear myself away from my family. And then of course we divorced. So, life has been a struggle and I enjoy the struggle. My motivation for politics has never dipped since, despite many, many disappointments. I enjoy waking up ready for another fight. So my marriages failed, and that’s part of life. You try your best and accept it as the will of God. And I’m very lucky that [Jemima and I] have a great relationship. Even today — 11 years after my divorce — I go and stay with my mother-in-law. The boys come and see me there. She still hasn’t taken my pictures down.
Given a second chance, would you do things differently?
I never really had regrets. You only have regrets if you think you didn’t try hard enough. I tried my best, Jemima tried her best. We reached a dead end. It was a very painful ending because it wasn’t a natural ending. But that’s life. I think bad experiences are only bad if you don’t learn from them, so I learn from them. You dig deep, you soul-search and you come out a better human being, with more depth, more understanding. Overall, I have faith in God and I don’t see this world as the be-all and end-all.
You obviously had faith in the institution of marriage, because you attempted it a second time...
Every young Pakistani wanted to be me, and yet, given the choice between someone to live happily with and the bachelor life, I would always choose married life. Because bachelor life is: all that glitters is not gold. It is very shallow and empty. It is a superficial existence. You cause a lot of pain. As a bachelor there were a lot of heartaches, and I regret that.
Were you able to detach yourself in a relationship more than the women could?
In my cricketing days, I would avoid the subject of marriage because I knew the two did not go together. All my cricketing colleagues had disastrous marriages. How can you do justice to a marriage if you’re on the road all the time, like a rockstar? So I always thought I’d leave cricket and then get married. But I thought I’d leave cricket at 35, and ended up playing till 39. Three years later I did get married. And I’m very proud to say that while married, I’ve always been faithful. I had told myself I would not indulge in infidelity and I never did. It is the greatest pain a human being can cause to their partner, which is why in all religions it is a sin.
How upset were you when it didn’t work out for the second time?
The second time was much more difficult. I didn’t get remarried after my divorce because my children were young and a child psychologist had told us that divorce doesn’t affect kids as much as a parent getting remarried. So their happiness came first. When they were old enough, I thought I would try again, but it just didn’t work out because when you have grown children and she has grown children, it’s very difficult. There’s your family, her family. It was too complicated.
Listen to Khan talk at a Lahore rally
Would you contemplate marriage a third time?
Of course. It’s not in my blood to give up. But it takes a lot. There’s nothing worse than divorce, I tell you. It’s one of the worst things that can happen to a human being. It doesn’t matter who initiates it, it’s a terrible experience. So I would be a bit more careful.
So you haven’t closed your mind to the idea...
No; it’s even more open than before. But marrying at 60 is not like marrying at 30. The great thing about life is that it’s unpredictable; you never know what’s going to happen tomorrow.
Your children wouldn’t have a problem with a third marriage?
I spoke to my kids before I remarried. The last time they had some difficulty but I think they would accept it now because they realise that I live alone and it’s not a natural way of life.
Is there somebody on the horizon?
No, sadly, no. Not even remotely.
Watch Reham Khan interview Imran
So, for someone for whom politics is more than a full-time job now, how does this work?
Actually your wife can be of help. She can be a good facilitator, a good companion. It isn’t easy to find someone, at this age, that will interest you. But, then, you never know.
Somebody like you must attract women half your age...
But, you know, you’re not going to want to babysit them. You need someone who has challenged themselves as much, who has evolved. I never judge people for what they are. I judge the type of person they aspire to be. You have to be with someone who is stimulating. You know, I’m not into looks that much. I’m not impressed by glamour or fashion. I get impressed by someone who has a belief system, convictions, who can think beyond themselves, who has a reason to wake up and a purposeful existence. That’s what stimulates me.