The elusive and enigmatic First Lady of Pakistan

Published: October 8, 2018
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Bushra Maneka has remained an elusive presence in Imran Khan’s private life. PHOTO: FACEBOOK/ PTI OFFICIAL

Imran Khan’s political gusto may have weathered several storms, but his penchant of collecting various wives over the years has been a constant source of amusement to his political opponents as well as voters in Pakistan. From his playboy days of yesteryear to his days of peddling a more Islamic demeanour, Imran’s wives have adapted to his constantly evolving personas.

I was merely 12-years-old when I discovered Jemima Goldsmith was marrying Imran. I was in awe of a man who happened to snag a blushing, demure and outrageously beautiful daughter of a British billionaire. From watching their first interview together when they coyly evaded questions about ‘love’ and inter-religious marriage, I was convinced Imran had found the one. Goldsmith was besotted and Imran looked truly happy. But alas, it was not to be.

Despite giving birth to two strapping young lads, the marriage could not survive the political heat and various conspiracy theories of Goldsmith being an Israeli spy (which I still roll my eyes over). The heartbreak was clearly etched on his face as his party was at its lowest ebb and he lost his family in the ensuing struggle.

After a long hiatus, during which Imran concentrated on building support for his fledgling political party, he decided to get hitched again, once fervour for his politics reached fever point. In comes the suave, well-groomed and stunning Reham Khan. A former BBC news presenter, who was also divorced with children, suddenly splashed all across domestic and international TV screens. She was confident, cheerful and complemented him in almost every aspect.

Following their shotgun wedding, Khan donned a partial dupatta and started doing TV interviews with Imran, which involved more of the former talking and the latter listening. However, after a short, tumultuous 10 months, they both decided to part ways, resulting in a vengeful Khan tweeting and writing all kinds of salacious gossip about Imran, including allegations of rampant drug use, alcohol and affairs with other people’s wives. In light of this, Khan has quickly been pushed to the backburner.

Bushra Maneka, the third wife, remains an enigma of sorts. She wafts into a room with silky white robes, covers her entire face, and never engages on social media to the lengths that Khan and Goldsmith do. However, she did agree to partake in a TV interview recently to quell the numerous rumours circulating around her mysterious appearance into Imran’s life. Was she told to marry Imran by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in a dream? Was she still married to her former husband when she agreed to marry Imran? Regardless of the matter, Maneka has remained an elusive presence in Imran’s private life; a stark contrast from his days of rubbing shoulders with Bollywood actors, the upper class in British society and Pakistani elites.

Since she agreed to do the interview, the country was braced to finally hear her side of the story. There is no doubt she interviews very well, coming across as classy, elegant, morally sound, and a philanthropic ideal. Her constant praises for Imran were cringe-worthy but expected, considering she married him just in time for the commencement of his tenure as prime minister. She considers him to be an honest and trustworthy politician, which is something she reiterates on a number of occasions. Her praise for him is all-encompassing, without fault, and extremely one-sided. It’s as if Imran has no flaws at all and is the saviour the whole country has been waiting for. The interview definitely painted Imran in a more positive light, especially in comparison to Reham’s decimation of her former husband’s character and moral integrity.

I felt the interview itself was very well executed, but Maneka seems to stick out as a sore thumb in the concept of Naya Pakistan. Imran talks about developing Pakistan and making it corruption free. However, he clearly has to pander to the whims of the hard-core clerics, and it feels like Maneka is an addendum to that desire. Her niqab is an awkward imposition for a leader who has global aspirations. She has also stated in her interview that she doesn’t enjoy meeting people and spends most of her time praying or sleeping. This is hardly the kind of first lady a ‘Naya Pakistan’ should be aspiring towards, since it worsens the stereotypical image Pakistani wives have of being housebound and not interested in a career, or even a life.

When you look at Goldsmith and Khan, they come across as independent women who have an identity and achievements of their own, apart from being former wives of the current prime minister of Pakistan. Where is Maneka’s own identity? She portrays a stereotypical housewife and a woman of religion, but what else is there? What are her likes and dislikes? What does she do in her spare time, when she’s not devoting her time to religious rituals or her husband? What are her opinions on matters other than how great her husband is? Sadly, her interview only raised more questions regarding the enigma that is Maneka.

Maneka may be the ideal partner for Imran; quiet, demure, someone who refuses to steal the limelight from him, but can this religious façade survive a country which is struggling to provide water to the masses, where corruption is rampant, and where the poverty-stricken are struggling to feed and clothe themselves? Only time will tell. One thing is for sure – Maneka doesn’t seem to go hand in hand with the Oxford-educated, westernised playboy turned shalwar kameez donning, tasbeeh-holding Imran. Her presence seems to comply with Imran’s silent nod to the religious masses, but she clearly has a long way to go in persuading the rest of the country of her mettle, and even of Imran’s praiseworthy temperament. Until then, we can only cringe.

Faiza Iqbal

Faiza Iqbal

A law graduate from King's College, London Nottingham Law School. Having worked at Mandviwalla & Zafar as an Associate, she now writes freelance articles and is trying to qualify as a barrister in Canada.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Daniyal Shamsi

    “Her niqab is an awkward imposition for a leader who has global aspirations.” Your perception for an independent lady needs attention. If an independent lady means wearing tees and jeans, shirts and tights; you should throw your in-dependency to a dustbin.Recommend

  • Redrock

    OH i see, if she was wearing a skirt and sleeveless , then and only THEN would she be considered to be a part Naya Pakistan! it just shows how misguided you are. I for one feel her attire is exactly what the young generation of women in Pakistan need to follow. maybe not the face but the rest is spot on. The last two paragraphs of yours made me sick!!Recommend

  • suraiyakasimhasham

    I don’t get it, why does her appearance matter? Why what she thinks, or does matter? Did we elect her or Imran Khan? If she wants to have a private life then respect it. A woman doesn’t always physically need to be around her man for all to see. She is at a position where she can do a lot of good for the women of the country and in my opinion she should use her position do that but if she doesn’t then that’s her choice. And if she is a private person then we must respect that too. She doesn’t represent all the women of Pakistan as we are very diverse and don’t need just one woman to represent us.Recommend

  • Awais

    She ‘s not syereotypical, why include niqaab and her religious activities in political matters?? Whats the point of discussion about her lifestyle when the while country focuses es on whether or not abides by his promises.Recommend

  • Sardar Ameen

    The Blog post by lady is emphatic rather elephantic but Mrs Imran is a public property now being first lady and Pakistanis need to know the reality about her, I mean more facts as rightful expectation of the PakistanisRecommend

  • Dawd

    1) Imran Khan has stood on a platform criticising nepotism. And fmaily politics. To that affect the first lady should not be a political figure solely on the basis of being married to the PM
    2) From your article it is implied that she is a private person; let her live her life in privacy. The media has already violated her privacy by making public her pictures without a niqab. But ultimately she is entitled to live a life away from the cameras. This does not make her a walking stereotype. (E.g. Zidane, the footballer was famously private about his private life)
    3) I feel that you yourself have stereotyped her due to her niqab, her wearing a niqab is a form of worship of the Almighty.Recommend

  • Just Someone

    Imran Khan is like a spoilt child who never grew up. He is like a kid in a toy story who always wants the latest toy but soon gets bored when he gets the same. All his life’s decisions are based on whims and fancies at that time to gratify himself and not any forethought or foresight. He is admittedly a talented guy who can coast along in life without too much effort or application. He made a mess out of his personal life and now he is in a position to mess up Pakistan’s government with his mercurial decisions and U-turns on policy and pronouncements.Recommend

  • Greywolf

    sorry i have to agree with some of the other comments. while covering the face is not a normative belief among all the major schools of law, to look down upon her for choosing to wear it is in poor taste. my impression from a few brief minutes of watching the interview was she does truly care about IK, and more than that is devoutly committed to God and His Prophet (pbuh). faizas idea of what it means to be independent and what it means for a woman to have a life differ very much so from traditional understandings of this role. for her to be at home is perfectly fine and not have an interest in a career is also perfectly acceptable. to each their own.Recommend

  • Parvez

    From reading this I gather that the first lady does not meet the criteria conceived in your mind as to what a first lady should be or even look like …. and so we can only cringe ( your words ). Aren’t you being extra judgmental, simply because she has chosen to adopt a rather strict dress code and observe a discrete social profile…..Recommend

  • cheebz

    A Very disturbing article from a “liberal” who is not aware of Pakistans culture.. people selected Imran to run the country, not his wife.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Sorry, there is no enigma there. It’s the blogger’s imagination running wild. Bushra, or Maneka, or Mrs. Khan, is not a mystery. She want’s to observe ‘purdah’ then let her be. She has that choice.Recommend

  • Fahim

    “Her niqab is an awkward imposition for a leader who has global aspirations.” just wow and too much judgmentalRecommend

  • Sledgehammer

    Her choice of attire would certainly not bode well for her country’s image on global platforms.However its not going to harm any more as the reputation of this hapless nation has alrady touched the abyss.Recommend

  • Iftikhar Khan

    I think everybody is missing the most important point to make about Mrs. Khan’s attire. While comments about her attire as personal matter or suitable in Pakistani conservative culture to misfit on the world stage where most men and women do not wear diametrically opposed outfits. Here is the missing part.
    She wears this particular attire because in her mind, it is very Islamic. Many Muslim women in the world wear some kind of hijab or niqab. This has led to a stereotypical image of people practicing Islam where men are bearded, many are jihadi, fundamentalist and radicalized and women having limited role in the society and only go out in hijab or niqab. However, when Mrs. Khan puts on this attire and practices as a spiritual guide, most would expect her to be truthful and honest. well, as a Muslim spiritual guide or peerni or Imam, she must have come clean on the matters about her husband and PTI forming government on the basis of an elaborated scheme of rigging the electoral process, starting with disqualification. If you are not “Sadiq” and “Amin” after putting on white robe and niqab as symbols of high moral grounds according to Islam, isn’t it just fooling public?Recommend

  • AmericanMuse

    I fully agree with the writer here. Bushra Maneka’s attire reveals much about the subjugation of women in the society she lives in.Recommend

  • Mahmood Anwar

    Wow! Stereotyping at its worst How the marriage pans out is left to Allah but why are we as a nation always pining for Western ideals. Jemima and Reham’s modern looks didn’t support IK’s political cause or help the nation. Let’s look at the American first lady; could you pls clarify what her role/profession is apart from looking good with the PM? If she is engaged in philanthropic efforts than the same can be said for our first lady minus the scandals accompanying the former. For the sake of our nation we should hope she provides complete support to PM in his arduous undertaking.Recommend

  • ali

    Why your good self thinks that we will be interested in her mettle? You should also revisit your concept of ‘Naya Pakistan’Recommend

  • ali

    some one find niqab awkward. some one finds swim suit awkward. learn to live in this world judgement free.Recommend

  • Dawd

    I agree here, however I would disagree with the statement it is not a ‘normative belief among all major school of law’. The ruling given by most schools of law (with caveats) is that it is recommended (and not obligatory). The normative schools do not hold it to be just permissible (however, some small in number contemporary scholars do hold that view)Recommend

  • darsaal Pakistan

    There is no doubt she interviews very well, coming across as classy, elegant, morally sound, and a philanthropic ideal. Her constant praises for Imran were cringe-worthy but expected, considering she married him just in time for the commencement of his tenure as prime minister. She considers him to be an honest and trustworthy politician, which is something she reiterates on a number of occasions. Her praise for him is all-encompassing, without fault, and extremely one-sided.Recommend

  • Kites

    Typical pseudo-liberal rant about a woman covering herself without any compulsion. It is illiberal to impose one’s worldview on someone else. Also shows the double standards of feminism where a woman can do whatever she wants unless she wears a veil or follows normative religious traditions. Not surprised that ET published this piece given that it coincides with its overall pseudo-liberal narrative.Recommend