Private lives and public figures

Published: November 30, 2013

The writer is a London-based lawyer who tweets @ayeshaijazkhan

Prior to the historic 2008 American presidential election that brought Barack Obama to power, I remember watching a presidential debate on television. And although I don’t recall many of the pressing policy questions asked of the candidates in that debate, what stuck with me was the question asked about whether the children of the respective candidates attended public or private schools. Not only did each candidate have to explain his choice of sending his children to private or public schools, but also answer detailed follow-up questions on this topic. Like most, though not all, of his fellow candidates, Obama too admitted that his children were enrolled in private schools at the time. The electorate still voted him into office and it may not have been so important to the average voter. Nevertheless, the question was asked.

In Pakistan, I often notice that whenever a public representative’s wife or children are mentioned, there is an outcry of ‘leave that aside, it’s his private life’. It may be private but it’s still relevant to his public office. Let’s take, for instance, the recent call by our Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, stating that the drone strike that killed Hakimullah Mehsud was “an attack on regional peace by America” and that as a result, bilateral ties with the US will be reviewed. This is rich coming from a minister whose wife and children are US citizens and who, according to a certain Wikileaks cable, admitted to a US diplomat that he renewed his daughter’s American passport at the US embassy in London to avoid it making news in Pakistan. It is curious that the other anti-drone champion, Imran Khan, who is out to block Nato supply routes, also happens to have chosen a Nato country, the UK, for his children’s future.

Personally, I see nothing wrong with either dual nationality or living abroad. However, it is most hypocritical to partake of the benefits of Western society for one’s own children, while insisting on policy such that others’ children are deprived of those benefits. For as journalist Saleem Safi very aptly suggested, if these leaders are to protest drones, why don’t they do it by burning their US/EU/UK visas and by vowing not to visit those countries till the drones are stopped? Surely, that makes a lot more sense than having vigilantes harass hapless truck drivers who are simply making a living in a rough economy.

In Western democracies, which we often look upon as models, it is generally fair game to question and cross-question public figures on their personal lives, especially if dichotomies exist. The American public is particularly unforgiving of indiscretions in personal lives. The CIA director, David Petraeus, lost his job last year, for example, after admitting to an affair with his biographer. Bill Clinton underwent impeachment proceedings for perjury and obstruction of justice after his affair with Monica Lewinsky came to light. In Britain, too, there are examples of personal lives causing embarrassment to public office holders. Former home secretary David Blunkett resigned after having fast-tracked the visa application of his ex-lover’s nanny. Tony Blair, moreover, had to explain his 16-year-old son’s drunkenness soon after suggesting spot fines for drunk and disorderly behaviour.

The point is that the personal life of a public figure is not a taboo subject but rather often a gauge of his integrity and a means to determine whether he practices what he preaches. The more important the figure, the more interest there is in his/her personal life. Benazir Bhutto, for example, knew that she had to marry a Pakistani and most likely a Sindhi if she wanted to become prime minister. Bilawal, too, will need to be mindful of cultural sensitivities in making his marital choice. Or, of course, there is the example of King Edward of Great Britain, who gave up the throne to marry the woman he loved.

In a democracy, particularly, the press is within its rights to focus on the private lives of public representatives. After all, we are not Saudi Arabia where only once an octogenarian crown prince dies, one reads in the obituary of a Western publication that he married 12 times!

Published in The Express Tribune, December 1st, 2013.

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Reader Comments (36)

  • what?
    Dec 1, 2013 - 12:48AM

    just because your children study in a country, does it mean you should not protest when that country kills innocent children in your country?Recommend83

  • Parvez
    Dec 1, 2013 - 12:51AM

    Brilliant… on… have said what needed to be said out LOUD.
    Our hypocrisy knows no bounds……….and it will be the death of us.


  • Saad
    Dec 1, 2013 - 12:51AM

    Absolute hogwash. Author just made me feel vomit after reading her op-ed. You can criticize the policies of a certain country and can ALSO live there. If you disagree with U.S drone policy, it doesn’t mean you’ve become its enemy. That’s a ridiculous school of thought.

    And for your information dear author, a bit of research on Imran would have done wonders prior to writing this article. According to a court’s decision, his kids have the legal permission to live with Jemima. They, unfortunately, can’t stay with IK for the rest of their lives.


  • june
    Dec 1, 2013 - 12:54AM

    Imran Khan didnt choose UK for his children, they are living with their mother who happens to be a UK citizen!


  • Zoaib
    Dec 1, 2013 - 1:42AM

    Short answer to your “article” ma’am: Protesting and standing up for your rights in the comity of nations does not mean you boycott everyone and everything. Next you’ll say it’s hypocritical to watch American movies while cursing them for drone strikes and other excesses in the world. As a nation we’ll have to realize one day that there is a middle way between outright war and acting as virtual slaves. This is what politicians such as Imran Khan and Chaudhry Nisar are trying to convey…


  • Asim
    Dec 1, 2013 - 2:00AM

    Not that I don’t agree with your fundamental argument but its hard to digest that a “London based” writer could be naive enough to not know about UKs or for that matter any country’s law which clearly states that dependent children will preferably live with mother (conditions apply). I hope you remember that Imran Khan had divorced her “London based” wife long time ago so naturally she is living in her hometown now with her kids. And you are comparing this with Nisar’s existing Pakistani-cum-bychoice-American Wife and kids.
    Whaoo whaoo hold on! Bilawal needs to be mindful of what? Again you forgot, Bhutto married an Iranian and skys didn’t fall. And I am unable to understand how your citation of King Edwards example fit in here. It was an “exceptional” historical event where he stood against Church. And you saying in “democracy” press has the right to focus on private lives of public representatives just after you cited an example of a “Monarch”.
    you could have just made your point without quoting such examples. Recommend36

  • Tek Singh
    Dec 1, 2013 - 6:32AM

    Let me get this right: If Bilawal marries a Pakistani for political reasons, this demostrates his ….. integrity?Recommend22

  • Tek Singh
    Dec 1, 2013 - 6:36AM

    You know, if IK or Nisar gave up their children’s dual nationality, you’d criticize them of insulting ex-pat Pakistanis who sent nearly $14 Billion in foreign remittances.

    Besides, must you conflate vehement policy disagreement with kneejerk personal hate for US? Intellectual dishonesty.

    Thirdly, there’s a clear difference between mudraking using politicians’ families and legitimate scrutiny of personal lives. President Obama himself said, “I have said before and I will repeat again, I think people’s families are off limits, and people’s children are especially off limits. This shouldn’t be part of our politics.”

    Lastly, Gen Petraeus had to resign because US military policy BANS extra-marital affairs. It is standard operating procedure to fire/force resignation if discovered. The scribe seems ill-informed.Recommend12

  • Saleem
    Dec 1, 2013 - 7:36AM

    You have pointed out very correctly that regardless of what politicians say to people their personal lives really tells a lot about them and their beliefs. As you pointed out as well, Saleem Safi is correct when he suggested that in addition to protesting these politicians should vow not to visit countries against whichc they are venting their anger. It is very odd that until yesterday PTI was getting hundred of thousand dollars from Pakistani American but today it is chanting against the US. Would PTI vow not to take dollars from America and citizens and Imran khan swear he will not visit USA or any other NATO country until it meets PTI demand?


  • Brig(R) Waheed Uz Zaman Tariq
    Dec 1, 2013 - 10:43AM

    The scrutiny of the day to affairs, business and family life of a public figure is a norm, in A civilized society. Personal behavior, conduct, dealing and day to day interaction with others make a person known for his morals and values. Hypocrisy prevails in a set up where the personal life is kept as a secret. Today the royals are discussed in open. I rmemeber my discussion with a British. Friend about 16 odd years ago when Princess Diana and Sara Furgossen’s behaviors were being badly criticized in their press. I asked if any girl has a right to enjoy in your society and you remain aloof of the all that, why are you all after these two ladies. She told me that we as children are brought up with an impression that there is a family, which is a role model, in terms of its morality, conduct, words and behavior. As the royals behave, they gain the respect. These two ladies may enjoy the life but then they have to loose their respect Nd Royal titles. They may only be royals if they live according to our expectations.
    In Pakistan, an influential person may live as he likes and considers himself above law and accountability. The rulers think that corruption, nepotism and favourtism is their right. The beuraucracy, aristocracy and even the rich people my dispense with their deeds. We cannot continue with that and ultimately a culture of responsibility has to prevail.


  • Talat Haque
    Dec 1, 2013 - 11:37AM

    What is relevant is their hypocrisy ……….. and they are hypocrites , big time …………. that is why the powerful message of anyone and anything has no power in it anymore ……….. a person is only as good as his word.


  • A Peshawary
    Dec 1, 2013 - 12:00PM


    “If you disagree with U.S drone policy, it doesn’t mean you’ve become its enemy. That’s a ridiculous school of thought.”

    Yes, What is ridiculous let the people decide because at the end it is democracy and don’t judgmental about it. Disagreement of ideals to the extent of hate (as always being proclaimed by the leaders of IK class) is perhaps in love for America and not enmity. Isn’t it so Sir?

    A Peshawary


  • Hassan
    Dec 1, 2013 - 12:06PM

    For as journalist Saleem Safi very
    aptly suggested, if these leaders are
    to protest drones, why don’t they do
    it by burning their US/EU/UK visas and
    by vowing not to visit those countries
    till the drones are stopped?

    Oh that makes a lot of sense. America will surely stop drone attacks when Chaudhary Nisar stops visiting.Recommend16

  • SS
    Dec 1, 2013 - 12:46PM

    Weak comparison. Just because I disagree with the unlawful drone war doesn’t mean I am going to give up on traveling to/residing in Nato countries. Why on earth would I burn my visa? Why do we have to always go to such extremes? I think IK has taken a very moderate stance – he has repeatedly said he is not anti America nor does he want to go to war with the Americans, he is simply against drones as they are a breach of our sovereignty. Quite simple – please do not over think it


  • Muhammad
    Dec 1, 2013 - 2:57PM

    Our people are the biggest hypocrites as evident from the trolls on here. They want govt. to do everything for them but will not pay any tax. They think they own everything. No surprise when their leaders are the same, i.e. only worse of the lot. Yeah sure stop the roads and harass the poor drivers out to make a living. Then go home to eat your sushi nigri and skype your children living in the countries you were protesting against. How convenient. We have no shame left either and are openly criticising the writer of this article for exposing our true self.


  • obama
    Dec 1, 2013 - 3:59PM


    You write jebberish


  • Mani
    Dec 1, 2013 - 5:04PM

    What a stupid, stupid fundamentally flawed argument. IK’s children are half british and are living with their mother who is NOT a Pakistani citizen.


  • Zohaib
    Dec 1, 2013 - 6:19PM

    Burn Visas? what a ludicrous suggestion, US & NATO would stop drones just because few Pakistanis stop visiting those countries, The will come begging, please don’t burn ur visas, our economy depends upon you !
    At least blocking NATO supply hurts them.


  • usman
    Dec 1, 2013 - 6:26PM

    Jinnah’s daughter never liven in Pakistan even not married Muslim but still Jinnah is father of nation as he elevated himself from just your father role.


  • Muhammad Ali Samo
    Dec 1, 2013 - 7:15PM

    Pakistan possesses very few politicians(Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto) , who had that sense of public spirit, disinterested service and nationwide vision, which is necessary for the efficient working of democracy . Here all the politicians are power-hungry , demagogues who exploit the religious ,provincial parochial and other divisive sentiments of the people , before the revolution , Pakistan had been driven into a terrible chaos and political instability . Political leaders had feverishly intrigued and conspired against one another and political parties had been reduced to factions. Political stability was reasonably achieved after the revolution but the rivalry , self-interest and intrigue of hardened politicians still contaminates public life . There is a crying need for leaders who really care for the people and to do not simply indulge in shouting empty slogans . The danger is heightened by the fact that the meagers are highly emotional and can be easily swayed by political agitators and stumps-orators.
    Religion plays an important role in the lives of our people. Theologians and religious leaders have gained political power through this source . Islam can not be orthodox and modern. The controversy is purely artificial . It is universal and for all times and is not opposed to democracy. Religious factions , religious superstitions and ill-informed religious leaders have many times proved an obstruction in the smooth running of political institutions and programmes.
    Corruption is practically found in every society , but whereas in other countries it usually forms a nuisance , here it has become a menace. The disease of corruption is fast spreading in all branches of society and a corrupt society can never be democratic.Unfortunately the ruling elite has failed to deliver , what we have had expected, Their slogans are very attractive but in reality , they are very far from the realism. They have deprived the public. Finally , I would like to request all the US/U.K submissive politicians , please leave us , we have to elect self made persons rather than supporting more plutocracy in the country. establishment of Pakistan should raise their brow and oust these polluted politicians. We need our Quaid’s Pakistan , free of racism,ethnics and other differences.


  • waqasamirza
    Dec 1, 2013 - 7:45PM

    very well written and thought provoking ……..

    as a nation we need to undertand that if we want to protect our sovereignity and get some respect from others we need to to build this country.

    otherwise we will have double standard as ayesha aptly point it out. specially for chaudhri Nisar and Imran Khan. i admire them both but they made a choice for the better future of their children which is rather in contrast with their political point of view.

    for example, creation of lums and KSBL. such type of inistutions have provided the opportunities to those parents to ensure quality education for their children here in Pakistan, who were reluctant to send their children abroad.

    again both thumbs up for you ayesha….


  • Kashif Jan
    Dec 1, 2013 - 7:59PM

    Valid argument about public lives being scrutinised – but pretty lame to quote an idiotic comment from Saleem safi to burn visa if you are against a policy – by this warped logic I cannot say anything against Pakistan if I disapprove of a policy because I will have to surrender any right to visit the country – wow makes a lot of sense


  • Dec 1, 2013 - 8:01PM

    Many Britons protested against killing of innocent by drone strikes. The journalists who drag Imran Khan’s Children living with their mother in UK to accuse Imran Khan of hypocrisy fail to see that PTI is not a personality cult and their policies are formulated by their executive committee. And Some critics remind me of a quote:
    “Personal columnists … are jackals and no jackal has been known to live on grass once he had learned about meat — no matter who killed the meat for him”.-Ernest Hemingway


  • Taimy
    Dec 1, 2013 - 8:45PM

    What a weak argument!

    To start off, I would even not question Ch Nisar on this issue in context of his condemnation of drone strikes as his family is living in US legally and he has every right to oppose ILLEGAL US actions. No only he, but also his family, who is US citizens, can do the same! And many Americans do that.

    Yes, you can question Ch Nisar’s commitment to Pakistan overall given his family living abroad (unless he comes up with a valid reason), but you CAN’T question his condemnation of drones. Because drones are illegal and wrong, while what his family is doing is not against any law of any land. So why should he be apologetic?

    Having said this, Imran Khan’s case is still distinct. Imran Khan believes that a leader must have his future invested in his own country to be a true leader, and that concept is fine. And he is true to his commitment as all his financial assets are in Pakistan. Actually he earned most of his assets in Britain and transferred them to Pakistan.

    However, in case of his kids, there is an issue of divorce. He is a divorcee and his children are as much his as his wife’s. So the children grew up with their mother and live with their mother, who happens to be British citizen. Do these pseudo liberals not respect the mother’s superior right to the kids?

    Grown up kids is another matter for me. Grown ups can make their own decisions, however, their endeavors in foreign lands must not be linked to their parents’ politics, according to the above philosophy.

    Lastly, this resort to personal attacks on opponents politicians show the bankruptcy of those who are desperate to be more loyal to America than Americans themselves. By employing such tactics, they want to diffuse the criticism of American illegal actions. Isn’t it worse than being an American citizen and yet standing up for what is right?

    And what about Bilawal who grew up in Britain and Dubai? Does it mean Bilawal has lost the right to criticize or stand up to any illegal act of UK or UAE government?


  • ali
    Dec 1, 2013 - 8:54PM

    Your argument is based on a classic logical fallacy, as the examples presented, are in no way related to the argument you are trying to make.
    One may question the logic or the motive behind anti-drone protests, however the fact that IK’s (or Ch Nisar’s for that matter) children are studying/living abroad is completely irrelevant to it, as the protest is against a specific act of transgression, and not against the British or US education system.
    Even if we do consider your argument to be valid, drone attacks are carried out by the US, and at least in IK’s case, his children are studying/living in UK, two different countries on two different continents, so if you are hoping for a Pakistan free from racism, a good start would be to avoid generalizing on the bases of race/language.
    As far as discussing personal lives in public is concerned, you do indeed have a valid point. However it is critical to realize that a personal matter is made public, only when the consequences or fallouts, of such an act, affect the public at large (as is apparent with every example you have presented).


  • Rex Minor
    Dec 1, 2013 - 9:09PM

    The lady lawyer author has made one mistake and that is what we call “DENK FEHLER”, the mistake in thinking! Those politicians who have criticised the actions of the current American administration did not medan to demean the American Nation or its institution per say.

    For the electorates of a country it is important though not always decisive to know about the hypocracy of their candidates, especially those who condemn private schooling, promote state sponsored school system, but send thedir own children to private schools.

    Rex Minor


  • AHK
    Dec 1, 2013 - 9:30PM

    So living in a country and opposing its government’s policies makes one a hypocrite?


  • Amber Fida
    Dec 1, 2013 - 9:39PM

    I just want to laugh…lol nothing to say.Recommend2

  • Ali
    Dec 1, 2013 - 10:04PM

    Lets agree with the author.
    Most of us enjoy the hospitality and welfare of the west or the middle east somehow.
    So lets allow them to kill us through drones or otherwise. Of course, its either slavery or war – no term exists in between.


  • Basil
    Dec 1, 2013 - 10:41PM

    There is nothing in the article.. Sorry to say. In pakistan everybody is pointing on others
    . Nobody looks upon himself


  • danish tahir
    Dec 1, 2013 - 11:45PM

    Imran Khan didn’t select UK for his kids. They live there just because their parents have seperated and mother lives there. Some common sense please…


  • vibhuti
    Dec 1, 2013 - 11:58PM

    Its hypocrisy hiding behind the garb of privacy. The Indian media would do well to take a few tips from this write up.


  • x
    Dec 2, 2013 - 4:53AM

    Couldn’t have said it better myself; and this lady is a lawyer. Wow.


  • Pushtun Voice
    Dec 2, 2013 - 7:11PM

    This article properly exposes thos hypocrites who expect the Pakistani population to show ghairat and stand up to the West but at the same time have their kids in the UK and attend parties with royalties to save African elephants.


  • Anon
    Dec 3, 2013 - 1:31PM

    However, it is most hypocritical to partake of the benefits of Western society for one’s own children, while insisting on policy such that others’ children are deprived of those benefits.”

    Is she suggesting that children in the UK are subject to drone strikes? That’s the only way this sentence can make any sense….


  • AMR
    Dec 4, 2013 - 3:05AM

    article seriously devoid of common sense. no wonder why such controlling and btw according to your own logic do u think u have the right to write on these critical issues.


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