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KOGON PLAN

Naeem Baig

UMT Press, 2014


UMT Press is the Pubblishing House of the,
University of Management & Technology
Lahore, Pakistan
No part of this publication can be reproduced, copied or
transmitted without written permission of the Author and Publisher
in accordance with the provisions of the laws of
copyright applicable in Pakistan, or under terms of any licence
permitting limited publishing issued under the provisions.
Kogon Plan by Naeem Baig
skanz.ex@gmail.com
This is purely a work of fiction. All the names, characters,
organizations and events portrayed are either the products of
author's imagination or used fictitiously for the purposes of
verisimilitude. Any resemblance to any actual person living or dead
or any organization is coincidental.
All printing rights are reserved by UMT Press
First Edition 2014
ISBN 978-969-9368-10-7
UMT Press
University of Management & Technology
C-II Johor Town, Lahore, Pakistan
Phone: 92 42 35212801-10
Fax: 92 42 35212819
Web: www.umt.edu.pk
Typeset and Title by:
Summit International, Lahore Pakistan
Printed and bound in Lahore by:
Advoice Communications

To my Grand Children
Wania Khan
Emaan
Umar
Salaar
Ahmad
Fatima
Hamza
Abdullah
& Usman

Acknowledgements
At the outset, before I acknowledge and pay my respect to
whom Im indebted, I must admit, this book could have not been
written without the inspiration I had acquired in my thoughts and
spirit from the great Urdu fiction-writer Ibne Safi, author of
hundreds of espionage books read in my early age. Besides I extend
my thanks to a close friend of mine Major Nadeem, later became Lt.
Col, in the early eighties. While he was posted in Baluchistan, I used
to learn a lot about the working of Army and intelligence agencies,
behind the iron curtains veiled from the naked eye of the general
public and that informal experience contributed a lot in my netting
the story of Kogon Plan. I regret that I lost contact with him since
then.
Moreover, I would like to express my gratitude to the University
of Baluchistan where from I graduated in Law and learned more on
research work from many of my friends there. I want to make a
special mention of two learned Professors, especially Late Dr Farooq
Ahmad Dean of Arts and Mohammad Zafar Professor and English
language Consultant, AKU Karachi who literally taught me how to
carry out manifold and assorted research work.
Furthermore, I also want to thank Saleem Shahab, a friend indeed
and professional editor and Ahmad Safi son of Ibne Safe a sincere
friend, whose dedicated efforts spending their valuable time to study
the most parts of the this research work and corrected many
mistakes. I still do not forget Anees Yaqoob a marvellous Artist,
Calligrapher and Painter having country-wide repute who had been a
source of constant encouragement all the way through beginning to
end in the Kogon Plan.

I am largely indebted as well to the University of Management


and Technology Johar Town Lahore for recognizing this piece of
research work, though written as fiction novel, worthy of
publication with particular interest shown by Dr. Hasan Soaib
Murad Rector UMT, Abid HK Sherwani Member & CEO UMT, and
Mirza M. Ilyas is highly praised. UMT is a model of organization
whose relentless efforts to promote education and wisdom among
the youth are constantly applauded among the top universities of
Pakistan.
In the end a special word of thanks to my family my children and
grand children who have been sources of strength to me and my
work by persuading me all the time to do something innovative. I am
also thankful to my friends and fans around the globe whose love
and affection played marvellous role to live upon. Their expressive
words, encouragement, admiration and critical analysis through
Emails, Google +, FB, Twitter etc on my English and Urdu work had
been a great source of strength for me. I love you all.
Naeem Baig
April, 2014

Author's Note.
Kogon Plan is fundamentally a work of fiction on war against terror
particularly in the background of terrorist activities in Pakistan.
However this is my humble endeavor toward my contentment to
bring such a book which could attract a large number of readers
across the globe and in Pakistan as well. Long ago at my childhood
Urdu espionage and thrill writer Ibne Safi was my ideal, then
Fredrick Forsyth set new horizon on espionage, thrill and suspense
among fiction writers of 1980s and afterwards. Both the
contemporary legends left great impact upon me which ultimately
sparked my pensive fervor to conceive the idea to write something
behind pretty heavy curtains against terrorism. This is a story of a
brave young undercover soldier Sahel Farhaj, who in relentless hot
pursuit confronts a notorious terrorist Razmak Bilal. I have tried to
draw a structure where I can put colors of patriotism with
professional ethics and bravery of a soldier.
Besides, how great sense of loyalty among the professional officers,
fetch far beyond intrinsic ultimate goals in espionage work, is the
subject described in detail. How does an undercover soldier fight
against terrorist organization? That's the exactly theme of this novel.
This is very much fictional novel and the characters I built may get
the semblance as genuine as I portrayed but anyway created through
imaginary workshop. However, I have tried to set the situations on
real locations or with similar background just to make this book
more dramatic and thrilling.
Author
April, 2014

Kabul
Chapter 1
March 2003
It was cold in Kabul that morning, raining but without snow. It
was still early, yet the light would remain the same all day like Siberia
or Finland in the north.
Sher Ali sat at a small table in a safe house in City Centre area
near Masjid Shah Do Shamshera. The table was ugly, a stained round
Formica top and peeling brown metal legs, but it was good enough
for a student. At the moment Sher Ali wished that he were a student.
He looked through the small lead glass window, yet he could
not see nothing of City Centre, for the kitchen faced the stone facade
of other half of the building. The flat has been carefully selected.
Second floor--- you could jump off the kitchen window if you had to.
Wooden stairs you could hear anyone on the landing. There was only
one set of scenic windows and that was at the front of the flat
facing street along the Kabul River. If you set up camp across from a
Mosque, anyone who wanted to observe you would first have to get
past a Pesh Imam.
These things were always well thought-out.
Sher Ali sipped at a cup of tea, but he could not eat.
Baba Feroz on the other hand seemed to be having no trouble at
all. His side of the table looked like a ravaged platter. He had
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finished half a litre of orange juice and was on his third cup of rich
dark tea with sugar. Before him sat a large dish with two half-boiled
eggs to be taken care of in the belly and he was violently jabbing
buttered slice of a bread roll. Adding to Ali's gastronomic disbelief,
Baba punctured his light breakfast with gnashing bites from the
greasy roll.
What an appetite Ali's tone was veined with disgust, though
he knew, he was simply jealous. He wished he could eat too.
Feroz looked up. He swept his shaggy dark brown hair back over
his forehead and stared out innocently from his bright brown eyes.
His mouth was full. Don't you feel hungry?
Ali smiled and shook his head. I'm not an animal.
Feroz shrugged, taking no offence. Ok...I am an animal.
He returned to his plate. Then he reached across the table,
picked up his packet of Marlboro and begins rolling a cigarette. That
was another thing that Ali could not understand. Food that could
sink a battleship and tobacco that could burn asbestos, what an Iron
stomach and Iron lungs?
Then as if to dispel Ali's envy, Baba glanced up again, grinned
sheepishly and said I guess I am nervous.
Yes Ali nodded. Pleased to be once more in the company of a
human.
You see, everyone has his own way of dealing with pre-combat
jitters. Ali pushed his cup away, got up and walked through the
lounge to the front window. He looked at his watch perhaps
twentieth time. It was still only 7.30 AM.
He put his hands on the hips and stared through the freckled
glass at the Masjid Shah Do Shamshera, whose Red dome wavered
like a dream behind the smoky sheets of water that coursed over the
window. He blew out a sigh and turned to gaze at the small flat.
Everything was Afghani. The furniture, the books, the piles of
daily Outlook and weekly Kabul and the fat volume of Omer
Khayyam along with the Holy Quran wrapped in Red linen cloth on
the upper part of the only wardrobe cabinet. His cloths were Afghani
and Baba's as well, right down to the underwear.
The only foreign items were their American .45 calibre Colt, yet
these two were accompanied by forged licensing documentation
associating both men with Afghan anti-terrorist team. Even the
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subsonic ammunition was American, designed to kill but not to


penetrate the target and possibly injure a wideeyed passer-by.
Someone brilliant enough to think of everything, which allowed
Sher Ali a certain relief from responsibility, yet it also caused him to
feel rather primitive.
He felt like Doberman at the tail of wedding parade.
Something was gnawing at the pit of Sher Ali's stomach. He
swore to himself, for the hundredth time, that he would give up
smoking that corrosive poison as soon as the mission is over. He was
too dame jumpy. He had to begin changing gears, closing down
emotions. The mission's team leader had to command with cool
objectivity and sharp reflexes, all the while seeming to his
subordinates to be in complete self-control. As he has done many
time in the past, Ali now searched for a focus which would help him
attain this state.
On the far wall of flat was a large poster framed in glass and
aluminium. It was a soft focused, warm and colourful of the lush
green lawns and bird-bedecked ponds of the Taimoor tomb across
Kabul River with a girl standing at the end of the street leading to
tomb.
Ali has seen the poster countless time but it was only now that
he really noted the girl who was grabbing a stick sneaking below the
bush. He really noted the irony and laughed out loud.
What's this Baba called from the kitchen.
Ssshh Ali continued the stare at the poster. He has broken his
mood.
He dropped his hands to the sides, willing the arm to relax, his
fist to open, the fingers to dangle. He narrowed his eyes and saw his
own reflection in the glass, short black hair, brownish eyes, and a
strong neck and below that mid-length black leather coat.
His image reassured him, smoother and calmer now. He
directed his mind to Operation Darkroom.
Amusingly, that Sardar Jagat Singh Khan had chosen such a
name for this mission. In Urdu, the word for darkroom was a room
where negatives are turned into positive, and the sound of that word
was really too much like the Target's real name and to eliminate its
features. But since you never, ever choose a mission an operational
code that remotely resembled reality, Sardar has surely done so
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intentionally. In this business to be predictable was to be finished


and Sardar was never predictable.
By now Ali was sure Sardar Khan would have been in his office
for over two hours. Ali was equally sure that the mission commander
had been arriving for work at that hour since he had rented the
vacant import/export office, if for no other reason than to quell any
suspicious regarding his early arrival on this particular day.
The office was situated in Marhaba Complex close to the Kabul
City Centre for obvious cover reasons. But the precise choice of
office 234 seemed to have been selected to satisfy Sardar's sense of
comical-ironic. For Sardar insisted on calling it Raphar in keeping
his oft-repeated opinion that espionage was a shitty business.
Ali began to review the pre-mission details.
Bano Abagull would be moving into position, setting up her
easel on her glassed-in veranda which over looked in the Kabul
Bazaar Street in the quiet borough of City Centre. Ali had not, of
course, ever set foot in Bano's flat. But her detailed description
enabled him to picture the environment.
Wearing a local Afghani Shalwar Qameez embroidered at small
pits on its arms and breast. A telephone would be on her side next to
a large pot of black coffee. Her petite black head would bore a
number of items ---dangling chain-and ball earrings, the earphones
of a Walkman, and on her crown a pair of half spectacle, half opera
glasses. The veranda would not be heated today, so that the window
glass would remain clear. Bano would shiver along with the leave of
her veritable greenhouse, as the cold March wind invaded through
the still cracks.
As befitted an art student, she would have tens of brushes, tubes,
trays, and ink surrounding her legs and as befitted the Team's
Communication Officer, her art-work would suffer today as she
looked and listened in a coldly un-aesthetic manner. After a month
of work the large canvas of City Centre across Kabul River was still
only half-finished. Had Bano not been quite so attractive, friendly
and aggressively eccentric, her neighbours might have asked her why
it was taking so long.
Ali did not allow his thoughts to linger with Bano, for he had
feelings for her that somehow were less than professional.
Barat Khan, now there was a man who could not possibly sit
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and wait; and fortunately for him he would not be required to do so.
Barat's triple duties as Transportation Officer, Primary tail and backup would keep him moving all day long.
Already at dawn, Barat would have commenced his check of the
motor pool. There were to the dismay of the Department's Logistic
Head, ten rental vehicle involved in the operation as well as a
purchased Van and an ambulance. Each vehicle has to be inspected
for fuel, oil and water and then started and warmed to its health.
The entire rental vehicle had been hired from different firms
with one of three with Master-Cards which were linked to relatively
with small cash accounts in Egyptian Banks. Throughout the early
morning, Barat would have gone systematically from one
compartment to other compartment, inserting type written notes
into each rental agreement. Long after the cars were abandoned, and
hope fully recovered by their irate owners, the message in Persian
would intentionally appease;
Terribly sorry for inconvenience, please forgive and charge our
account
Ali had developed a consummate respect for Barat and he
trusted his technical judgements implicitly.
He could picture the diminutive, muscled ex-motorcycle racer
gleefully flying through the rainy streets of Kabul, flitting from one
machine to other, fretting like a Pit Manager.
Then there was Shabana Mir, as secondary tail and emergency
decoy, Shabana was going to have an extremely unpleasant day. She
would spend all morning outdoors within five hundred meters of
the City Centre North-west Street facing River Kabul wearing her
Walkman waiting for her cue. If she had ever harboured fantasies
about the romantic life of an espionage agent, today she would sure
be cured of such notions.
Shabana's task was somewhat more difficult than Bano's
inasmuch she was the Team's character actress. Inherently she
possessed all of Bano's dynamics qualities, yet she could play her
own type and was therefore called upon to do so with regularity. Her
speciality was going completely unnoticed, and she had practiced
donning this cloak of invisibility until details of her physical and
personality traits were obscured and encounters with her quickly forgotten.
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Her form was slightly athletic, so she wore over-sized shirts and
fatigue like trousers. Her hair was dark brown and of naturally
groomed textured so she refrained from washing it much while in
the field. She would pull it back into a tight bun and thick glasses to
dull the liveliness of her hazel eyes. Everything suggested a total lack
of sexuality that man can look at her with fairly grimace.
Today Shabana would fairly disappear within her operational
area. Wearing a dull raincoat, a scarf covered his head and earphone
of Walkman. She would be forced to listen and she would move from
cafe to cafe, never lingering more than half an hour, yet constantly
forced to order food for which she has no appetite.
She would wait and by mid-afternoon she would be sick to death
of eating...
Ali moved forward with his mental checklist, arriving at the
image of one of his favourite comrade
Faizi Jaffar was the elder of the primary field team, and thought
of him always sure to improve Ali's mood.
Karachi born, Faizi frequently amused the younger members of
Special Operations with his tortured dialect in twisted Punjabi. He
was close to forty, tall, bony, stooped and mostly bald. His sharp eyes
were creased with smile lines, his side burn going grey. His hawkish
sly nose with quick smile completed the character of some sort of
comic master, constantly on the verge of tossing off one-liners which
served to force someone to smile even in the gravest situation.
On 'Darkroom' Faizi would be serving as the team janitor, with a
secondary function as Emergency Decoy.
As with all complex intelligence missions, operation Darkroom
had a window within which it would have to be executed. After a
certain amount of elapsed time, the operation could no longer be
considered secure and it would have to be abandoned until some
future date and place. Today was Darkroom's final day.
Ali still lost in half-thoughts of pre-mission review, did not
realise that he was smiling stupidly.
Kis ki yaad Aa rehi hey Baba had finished his dish washing. He
had removed his waste coat and his pistol was down on the table.
Thinking of Faizi Ali said.
He is getting too old for his work Baba wilfully teased Ali.
Oh, No... He's at his peak, relaxed and unlike us. And don't do
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too many to spoil your aim.


Baba obediently switched to sit-ups, but first he took a drag
from his cigarette, which was perched in a metal ashtray on the
kitchen table.
The smell of the tobacco made Ali want one too. He dragged his
own pack of Rothmans from his coat's pocket and lit up with a
disposable lighter.
The Great Game--- as the seniors liked to call the intelligence
business--- took its toll.
All of the primary team members were fit, but all of them were
smokers. Ali wondered that if the entire team was rounded up for
questioning and deprived of their cigarettes, they might all begin to
sing a Qawwali in chorus.
Sardar Khan, Ali was sure, would also be smoking at this very
moment... he would be hunched over his desk at office 234, his
bogus toy import/export firm Toy House, staring at three black
telephones like an optimistic vulture. The small office filled with
maps, catalogues and shipping forms would be foggy with smoke.
Sardar would not move from his chair, the only evidence of his
anticipation the ruined red-and-white pack of Wills filter at his
fingertips.
Sardar's usually optimistic expressions would be devoid of all
humour as he waited for word from his team of Casuals. The Casuals
were local resident operatives whose only function would be to
identify moves of the Target, report in, and then quit the mission.
Ali thought of the mission again and sighed as he marvelled at
the complexity of the operation, the number of personnel involved.
Ali took pride in his fellow colleague's ability to cooperate, maintain
security, compartmentalize issues and still execute a difficult
mission. Today Darkroom would involve the facilities, the personnel
of Diplomatic Security, Civilian Intelligence and Special Air
Operational Unit. If it succeeded the credit would be consumed by
all. But if failed everyone would lodge their logistic claims with the
Directorate.
Perhaps this attention to operational details served as
psychological compensation for the missing factor---Unknown
quantity. The single indistinct entity was inevitably the Target, for
while preparations might be perfect. Everyone in proper position,
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you never knew precisely what He was going to do.


Razmak Bilal.
Was he still in his room in the Spinzer Hotel on Kabul River?
The watchers had been on him all night, sealing the hotel as best as
they could without blowing the mission. At last report at 0210 hrs.
Razmak had retired. But who could be sure.
And then if and when he finally appeared, would Razmak play
the game. Would he proceeds, as he had done for last four days
running to his office beneath the Central Pamir Cinema, and if he
did so, when he finally emerged, would he still have his romantic
appetite for a risky call to his girlfriend. So many variable, so many
chances, you never knew the next step, so many reliance's of the luck
and chances. It all suddenly seemed to be foolish to Ali, bordering, in
fact on the impossible.
They had been tracking the Target across the Middle East for the
last three months, yet he always seemed to escape their grasp, like a
magician. At times Ali had to remind himself of the importance of
the mission and he would hard back to the initial briefing when the
team was assigned to Operation Darkroom.
What did he do now he had asked Sardar when the
commander first announced their Target. Razmak certainly has
bloody resume. He had blown up a Police HQ in Nowshera. He had
operated several bomb blasts almost in all the Provincial HQ which
killed almost more than 350 innocent people including women and
children besides an attempt to blow up an Official Convoy of the
Governor. In the last year he had himself plotted to kill a Diplomatic
entourage which instead under a sheer unfortunate chance targeted a
friend country's Ambassador who died instantly with his three
embassy personnel in Black Ultimo 2.5. He was moving around in
Margalla Hills on a personal trip without the knowledge of local
police. The case was later taken up by the Americans with its code
name ISD-3355.
If this is the case, then why doesn't this friend country himself
catch him and execute him for the murder of his one ill-fated
Diplomat. Baba never could stop his slip of dialect but the question
had a merit.
Because they would have to have eye witnesses, Razmak's
fingerprints and Act of parliament to do it, and above all this
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incident happened in our country. Sardar Khan had said with a


mixture of pity and scorn.
Ali needed no more reasons, for Razmak was now responsible
for mass murders that cut across international lines, but he also
wondered whether the team has finally met their match.
He sucked on his cigarette watching Baba to perform his
exercise and his stomach began to churn again.
The telephone rang.
Baba stopped in mid-sit-up. Ali flicked head towards a corner of
the lounge where the dirty white instrument sat on a small wooden
table.
It rang again.
Baba sprang to his feet but Ali was there first, snatching up the
receiver. He forced himself to produce a normal tone, even a touch of
drowsiness.
Suba Bakhair It was Sardar's basso voice. Is this Bus
Company?
I am sorry, it's not, may be wrong number, Ali was already
nodding to the expectant Baba.
I am sorry too... have a good day, Sir Sardar hung up and Ali
put the receiver into the cradle. He was already moving to pick up his
small overnight bag. Baba threw his jacket on and pulled a black
smoky cap onto his head. Neither of two men spoke as they
examined the rooms, quickly one last glance. They have done it twice
already. It was just habit.
Ready Ali faced Baba in the middle of the room. Baba patted
the small bulge under his jacket.
Ready.
Allah pe Rakh
----The cold rain sounded suddenly like ball bearings on steel plate, but
Ali cap-less, ignored it. Alone he slowly walked across the street to the
dull Blue Corolla parked in front of the Mosque, opened the door,
slipped into the front seat, briefly warmed the engine and slowly
eased out from the street. The rain was bouncing up white halos
around the parked cars and hardly anyone else was driving. He
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swung around the Mosque, headed north and stopped forty meters
up the block.
Feroz waited by the apartment house-door, as he reluctant to
brave the downpour. He counted to a full twenty seconds and
satisfied that no other vehicle had followed, Ali went out into the
street. Baba walked casually towards the corner and then jumped into
the passenger seat, welcoming the growing warmth of the engine.
Aik aur Musibat, Baba spat, complaining about the weather.
He stuffed his bag into the rear seat, while Ali pulled away taking
slow right onto service road and heading west towards Kabul River
Bridge and then to City Centre.
It's going to stay this way. Said Ali, tried to concentrate keeping
his speed slow. Nothing above third gear, he told himself. Better get
used to it.
Baba blew out a breath and looked at the little cloud, Can I at
least take an umbrella?
As long as you don't use it Ali smiled on him.
They were already on the main road alongside on the Kabul
River.
The Radio Ali ordered.
Baba sarcastically obeyed.
The Corolla's cheap Panasonic had been extracted from the Dash
Board, and in its place as with the entire primary's team vehicles,
another Cassette player had been placed which was a creation of the
department's magician.
On the outside it was black high-tech AM/FM and on the inside
it was all connected with special UHF technology wireless
transmission. The receiver contained some unusual features
uncommon to simple car stereos.
Below the tuning were six pre-set buttons. The three on the right
functioned normally and could be pre-set to choice commercial
stations. The three on the left were set to engage only the operational
frequencies of Darkroom. While the hole for cassette contained no
apparent tape rather it was fixed with a sixty minutes continuousloop microcassette.
Pushing the radio's power knob, rather than turning it activated
only the cassette and the operational frequencies. The tape played a
pre-recorded local pop station, from which all references to time, day
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and date had been edited. The disc jockey was a female. From her
chilly veranda of Bazaar Street of City Centre, Bano Abagull would
control all broadcasts to the primary team. Though her modified
Walkman, she would monitor Kabul police traffic. Her telephone
seemingly one of those push-buttons clock-radio extravaganzas,
served a dual function. It received incoming call, yet through it Bano
could also broadcast to the car radios. She could switch operational
frequencies with numbered combination on the push-button
handset.
Bano's coded message would be brief. When necessary she would
override the sultry taped disc jockey with a weather report or a
birthday greetings, offering team updates, instructions or
frequency change. Excepting a special alteration to Ali's Radio, there
was no provision for two-way transmission.
Bano liked it that way. No one could talk back to her.
Feroz reached over and pushed the power knob on the radio.
Immediately the tape engaged in the middle of a recording of Radio
Kabul on Indian old songs. Baba laughed but Ali was concentrating
on the traffic. He was following a Blue-ended serene police car, and
his knuckles tightened under his leather gloves.
Baba pushed the far left pre-set button, engaging the first
operational frequency. It added nothing to the tape broadcasts as
only Bano's voice could actually open the wave.
Ali stared past the droning wipers of the Corolla. He blew out a
breath when he turned onto Jaime Street as the police car continued
on main road. The traffic was still light and he wondered if weekend
late night activities had kept most of Kabul in bed today. It was not
good. No traffic means less police work and he wanted the police to
be very busy today.
The National Museum appeared ahead, the grey stones of the
building pressed under a white curtain of thin steamy fog. Ali turned
onto the sideway and stopped the car near the cemetery.
Go and see your friends he said.
Baba groaned and walked off into the sideway entrance and went
inside on lawns area.
Ali moved on and quickly found a space and parked the car. He
left the engine running, the radio on. He turned off the wipers and
opened the window half way and lit a cigarette.
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After a moment there was a knock on the passenger window. He


opened the door to admit a tall red-scarfed girl, who fairly fell into
the front seat, shivering under her long woollen coat.
Hello he smiled.
Long ago the department had decided that a single man waiting
in a car was a suspicious sight. However a loving couple usually does
attract nothing more than a smile.
The girl was a resident consular employee, totalling
compartmentalized, knowing virtually nothing. Her cover was light
and to an inquisitive policeman, she would respond with blushes
and confess to more than a recent one-nighter with Khan as she had
been told to refer Ali. She opened her coat and then moved closer to
Ali, who stretched his arm around her shoulders.
Could be worse the girl said, smiling shyly. At least you are
good looking. It would probably most exciting day of her
diplomatic career.
Shh Ali whispered in her hair.... Let's listen to the radio.
He wondered if this couple routine might be as usual. He was
certain that the Department must know it too; soon they will be using
pairs of children... or worse than those midgets.
He thought and the image brought a smile on his face, quickly
vanished by a glimpse of Baba outside along the grill around the
cemetery garden mourning no one in the rain.

At 09.30, Razmak Bilal had finally left the Spinzer Hotel,


prompting his grateful watchers to make a public telephone to office
234 Marhaba Complex. In turn Sardar had promptly dialled
Spinzer, got the desk at the hotel and asked for room 515. He had
held his breath for five rings, and when no one answered he hung up
and began dialling again sending all the primary members into
streets.
The chase was started, but from this point forward it had to
played courtship rather than a pursuit. The Department's military
psychologists had made extensive studies. Animals in the wild sensed
while they were being hunted. Sentries guarding enemy bases seemed
to feel it when they were about to be taken down. Even in the
crowded streets of a major city, Targets could often smell a tail.
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So Razmak Bilal could not now be followed in the classic


manner. He would be picked up by the Casuals at various points, the
sighting not even reported and left to go on his way. If he did not
adhere to the pattern required by the mission that would be reported
and the operation would be postponed. This was where luck would
become a major player in the game.
So far, Razmak was cooperating. He walked out of the Grand
Hotel Spinzer and stood under the large green fibre-glass shelter for
the waiting people in front of the outside of Hotel, seemingly
sniffing the weather, or perhaps someone other's scent. He was
wearing expensive brown leather long raincoat. A shocking pink silk
scarf with delicate paisley ends was wrapped around his throat. His
short silky black hair was covered by a soft gabardine pea cap. He
carried a brief case in one hand and a folded umbrella in the other. It
would be fairly easy to track him today, if he did not alter his attire.
He went into the hotel's underground parking lot and came out
driving a four door immaculate Blue Mercedes SEL-500. He
switched on the wipers and moved down to service lane which
connecting main road to Kabul Bazaar Street, at least seemingly
heading towards Kabul Central Pamir cinema. That was when the
first set of casuals made their call, describing Razmak's dress for the
day.
While the primary team hurried out to assume their first stage
positions, Razmak continued driving. Now as long as he did
nothing totally unexpected, there would be no more casual reports to
Sardar until the second stage.
On the corner in front of the River Complex a middle aged man
was walking with a shivering German shepherd. He watched the
Mercedes as it passed the River Complex, but he was not alarmed.
The wide double thoroughfare was one way on this side. Razmak
would have to make U-turn and back if he was indeed headed for
Pamir Cinema.
The man crossed over onto the broad medium strip. His
shepherd seemed happier to be among the tall trees, though they
were winter dark and threadbare, dripping with water. The man
stood staring up at the huge white Coca-Cola sign over the curved set
of five-story stone offices on the north side of the square. He looked
as though he longed for such a luxury vehicle, though he was
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actually counting the endless seconds.


When the Blue SEL-500 passed him, headed back the other way,
he smiled and bend down to pat his grinning companion.
For the past four days, Razmak had been coming from his hotel
to the Pamir Cinema, some time he made elaborate detours through
the Kabul bazaar Street, but he always arrived at the same place.
Even in winter the Pamir cinema was one of the Kabul's most visited
square. Above ground there was a large circular fountain with tens of
jets ringing the circumference spraying into a central geyser. Lining
the stone square on its north and southeast were two semi-circular
business edifices of an unappealing yellow colour.
Grand access to the Pamir Cinema was from the east, through
the grey medieval arches which looked the entrance to a moated
castle. Below the cinema accessed by wide stairs was sprawling
shopping centre and pedestrian mall with passages leading to the bus
stop and taxi stand. One of the many shops was a small jewellery
concern. It was owned by a man named Jabil, who was under cover
representing Boris Yaakov, a senior intelligence officer of the
Russian External Services. Apparently Razmak had some interesting
business with Boris whom he had not met, but as far as the Darkroom
personnel were concerned, at this point the said information was
irrelevant.
On the first two days, after spending some hours with Boris,
Razmak had gone to visit a woman in Kabul downtown area near
King Tomb. He has been seeing the woman on and off for a year, and
by the nature of her appearance blonde and athletic and encounters
were assumed to be sexual. An extremely loose tail was placed on her,
although no electronic surveillance. Yesterday she had been out of
town visiting a girl friend in Ghazni. Today she was back at home
and it was hoped that Razmak appetite had caught up with him in
the past forty eight hours.
The casual and his canine watched that Razmak's Mercedes
passed on the northern corner of the Pamir Cinema. The car pulled
into the indoor parking lot. The casual knew that attendants received
the vehicle, so the target whose name and function he did not know,
would shortly emerge. He waited for a break in the traffic, and then
hurried across the road with his shepherd. The downpour has turned
into a chilly drizzle and he sat down on the one of the large stone
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stool near to the foundation. He began to play with the dog, who
happily responded to cuff on the ears and short woofs from his
master.
The casual was no amateur. In his youth he has worked for the
British intelligence as deep cover agent in Kabul. Though long
retired over the ten past years, Babul has performed many brief but
essential tasks for Sardar. He had a vast wealth of street experience
and would watch a target almost without looking at him.
Razmak emerged from the parking lot, crossing the path using
his black umbrella as walking stick. Babul was confident that
Razmak was heading to the mall. In a moment his role would be
over, another clean entry would be weathered old intelligence diary
he kept in his head.
But Razmak made a sharp left and headed straight for the arches.
Babul continued playing with the shepherd, yet he blinked in the
rain as he watched Razmak receding back. The quarry was passing
below the large Billboard on the east side of the square, heading for
the endless expanses of the pedestrian way on the Street, where he
could disappear in a half minute.
Babul walked quickly to the south end of the square. He stepped
into a telephone booth, threw coins in to the slot and dialled a
number. The shepherd whined sensing his master's discomfort. It
was 9.46.
Sardar answered before the first ring stopped.
Morning
Sardar... this is Babul. Listen, I know we were supposed to meet
Razi for the luncheon, but he had to go east for the day.
Really? Sardar voice barely betrayed his concern. Are you
sure?
O, yes I am sure. Sorry for the inconvenience.
Not at all, Perhaps some other time. I guess you will have the
day off then.
Yes... thank you.
Both men terminated. Sardar now had a difficult decision to
make. Razmak has deviated, had not entered the Mall. He was
moving east to a new place. Babul has used the word go, so Razmak
was on foot. He might do something unexpected. If he has already
sensed a tail, then Darkroom was blown anyway.
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He called Bano. When she hung up with him, she made her first
broadcast on the frequency A. Her voice was as casual as that of
female disc. Jockey now chattering over the weather etc, cut in with a
brief commercial announcement.
Now, all you lovely Kabul girls, I know it's raining a bit today,
but there is big sale on at Mall in Pamir Cinema shopping centre.
You really should not miss it, Hat, business cases, umbrellas and
coats 30 percent off.
The message was intended for Shabana Mir, as Pamir cinema area
was her operational area. But every one of primary team knew what
the relay meant.
Still parked next to the cemetery garden, Ali recoiled from the
redhead and lit up a cigarette. She did not immediately realize what
had happened and took it quite personally.
In an open parking lot of the Kabul bazaar street, Barat Khan sat
in silver Audi. It was the only power car in the primary fleet, and as
Barat heard Bano's first report, he realized that all of his motor pool
work was going down the toilet. He slammed the steering wheel with
his fist.
In Wazir Akbar Khan area, Faizi was inside a large, leased private
garage. The cab of his long grey Corolla delivery Van was open, and
he sat of the running board, listening to the radio munching on a
sandwich. Hearing Bano's report, he did not miss a bite. He had been
on too many missions. It was still early in the game.
Shabana stopped short when she heard Bano's announcement.
Her Walkman used the same three frequencies as the mobile wireless,
but it played no decoy tapes.
She was two hundred meters away from the National Museum
area, walking north to the pedestrian mall on City Centre. She
cursed herself for having lost concentration, wandered too far from
the first-stage area. She quickly spun from the distant vision and
hurried back towards the spoke of her assigned compass. She cut west
into the side way nearly running.
If she reached quickly, she might beat Razmak, if he had not yet
turned into the side street. Her stomach was bloated, the Diana's
lifestyle & short Biography heavy in her bag. She was sweating,
panting and she struggled to remember what Bano has just said.
Hat, brown leather business case, umbrella and coat. Alright she
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has seen over twenty recent photos of Razmak and now she had a
good description of Target as well. She had to try and pick him up.
Perhaps only two minutes passed and Babul was still standing in
Booth miming a conversation into the dormant instrument. He
squinted through the fogged glass and began to smile. Yes, Razmak
was now strolling casually back carrying a newspaper.
Razmak Bilal was no amateur either. He has simply engaged in a
brief detour before he descended to visit Boris Yaakov. If he were
being classically tracked, he would feel the resultant shake up, sensed
the panic moves in the environment.
Babul called Toy House, hoping that his relaxed appearance was a
sufficient mask to his hammering heart. He began to laugh,
gesturing grandly and making his presence in the booth completely
innocent. My God, I am such a fool Sardar. He said. I was looking
on the wrong date, of course, we'll have lunch with Razi today.
Are you sure Babul? Sardar asked. You can make me crazy
sometime.
I'm sure my friend.
Within seconds Bano was excusing herself to her radio audience,
announcing a correction. The sale at Pamir Cinema Mall was for
tomorrow.
Shabana suddenly snapped her head to the gorgeous sound of
Bano's voice. She sat down on wooden bench, leaned back, closed
her eyes and then let the rain poured her face.

For the next two hours Razmak Bilal stayed beneath the Pamir
Cinema, and despite the continuous rain, the Kabul people did not
forget their lunch break, excepting a professional's team who had
immediately replaced Babul and his dog and all the Casuals had
been called off. Now the only operatives remaining on the Darkroom
were the primary team and a few emergency backups and a mother
and daughter in down town area. The local people who had briefly
participated would only learn of the mission's nature if it succeeded
and news reached the morning papers.
The two remaining non-primaries sat in the Kabul down Town
Street 13 taking an extremely long waiting. The mother was not really
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casual, but an analyst from the department. The daughter was a clerk
from the embassy. They were happily engaged in addressing
invitations to the daughter's upcoming wedding, and no one
bothered them.
On a signal from Bano, a reference to a possible improvement in
the weather confirmed Razmak's return. Everyone else had gone to
Stage Two position.
Ali reluctantly dismissed his parking companion, who had
belatedly come to realize that she was attractive and used an
erotically disturbing eau de cologne. He pushed the car horn twice,
and Baba came out of the cemetery, looking not too much wet. He
had found a tomb under which he had properly engaged his grief.
They drove to the down town area, moved the car every thirty
minutes and took turn grabbing something to eat and relieving
themselves in public areas.
Barat Khan happily put his Audi into gear, left the open lot and
drove west to the downtown area. He moved, then to the north along
the river and parked by the sloping bank, fifty meters short River
Kabul's Bridge. He sat in the car studying the enormous steel ropes
hanging on the bridge, watching a single elderly woman as she
leaned on the metal fence on the bridge.
He did not dare to leave the radio unattended, so he munched on
various nuts from a paper pack and drank coffee from a thermos. On
occasion, he slipped over to the passenger side, opened the door and
peed onto the grass from a sitting position.
Faizi left the garage in Wazir Akbar Khan area, drove across the
river and parked delivery truck in a side street near a small children
park. The neighbourhood was dead quiet, and he went through the
copy of Kabul Weekly.
Shabana Mir having no transportation, had to rush for a taxi.
Just a hundred meter away from her next station Taimoor Shah
Tomb, she left the taxi and found a small cafe. For the first time all
day, she was happy to be inside a cafe. She went to the washroom,
took off her sobbing scarf and dried her hair as best she could with a
paper towel. Then she took a table near the front, readjusted her
Walkman over her ears and actually manager to read a newspaper as
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she sipped coffee from a porcelain cup. She had already eaten
enough for a week.
Sardar remained hovering over his desk at his Marhaba
Complex. He did not eat or drink, but he finished another pack of
Wills.
Bano made contact once, to change frequencies, and every one
switched to channel B. The waited, it could happen in next five
minutes or not for five hours.
At 12.25 Razmak Bilal appeared at the top of Pamir Cinema
stairs. He walked around the fountain and headed for the parking
lot.
The woman timed it perfectly. They collected their invitations,
exited the Mall entrance and strolled arm in arm across the causeway.
They walked slowly further reducing the pace as they crossed under a
big Neon Sign, chatting and giggling like school girls. The nose of
the Razmak's SEL-500 poked from the parking garage, offering a
momentary side view of his face through the smoked glass of
Mercedes as he eased out into traffic and headed south at Kabul
Bazaar Street.
The two women quickly turned towards a telephone booth.
Sardar JS snatched at the phone like a cat after a bird.
Sardar, it's Ezra, the elder woman said, not even bothering to
conceal her pleasure. Don't forget to pick up Uncle Khan at the
Station.
Has he left yet?
Yes.
Did you see him off?
Yes, yes.
It was critical moment. Sardar has to be absolutely sure that the
target was positively identified. If 'Ezra' was really convinced, then he
could be as well.
Ok, just tell me again what he looks like.
Brown raincoat, pea cap, umbrella and a brief case, Ezra added a
touch of drama. I told you dear. You are so forgetful.
Sardar ignored her playacting. What was it you said about his
skin? He asked.
Light fair, dear. A Circassia had given Razmak a somewhat
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non-Semitic complexion.
Earlobes?
Detached.
Yes. Now he tried to trick her, just to make sure that she was
not being overly enthusiastic.
Did he limp?
Ezra hesitated for a split second. Then, she said. No, silly, of
course not
You are a good girl. Sardar voice was smiling.
I know. Shararti Bachey.
Acha Aunty Jee He hung up and made his decision in micro
second, and called Bano.

Just a short interruption before we get on with some fantastic


tunes, Believe it or not, Kabul tomorrow looks to be a sunny day!
Aye Shamina Tuk, Tuk... Maybe even good enough for a fascinating
picnic
At her cafe table, Shabana Mir lifted her eyes from the paper.
Picnic. That was it. Razmak was mobile.
She dropped a few coins onto the table, gathered her bag, pulled
on her floppy scarf and left the cafe. The rain had almost completely
let up and it was now turning to a light powdery snow.
Shabana walked briskly north on Kabul Stoor Bazaar; she had to
make the intersection before Razmak reached there. The midday
traffic was thickening, and she was sure to beat him, but she kicked
out a pace anyway.
In planning sessions, Barat has made a strong case for this route.
He has been over it in his own car possibly ten times at all hours of
the day and night. If Razmak was going to cut through and cross the
river towards Kabul Bazaar Street, this was always the best route. If he
had other plans what the hell did it matter?
Shabana waited at the corner, fiddling inside her large handbag,
her eyes shifted under the brim of her scarf towards the Grand
Shopping Plaza. Three minutes passed. Nothing. Then suddenly
SEL-500 appeared right next to her, having come from behind her.
Razmak turned the corner onto Plaza towards west. Shabana ran her
checklist: Blue Mercedes SEL-500, single passenger, last four license
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digits 7742.
Barat was right. Razmak was following the pattern. Shabana
would make no report. Now it was up to her Jawans to take care of
him.
She had one more assignment, and she walked happily after
Razmak car watching it blend into traffic towards the river. Her steps
were lighter now, her enormous tension fading as her chilled neck
muscles begun to relax.
She reached the German Consulate at the corner. The German
had great respect for their flag, and it had been pulled in from the
rainy weather. A pair of guards stood outside at the main entrance to
the old stone structure. Shabana felt sorry for them.
There was a trash receptacle at the corner. She reached into her
bag, came up with an apparently empty can of Coca-Cola and
dropped into the trash container. Then she walked across the street
to the King Mosque down to the large pond and stayed there,
watching the ducks, keeping her eye on a pair of public phones not
twenty meters away.
Barat picked up Razmak as the SEL-500 cruised onto the Shah
Bridge. He allowed three other cars to follow the Blue Mercedes, and
then he cut into traffic and crossed the river. He smiled tightly as he
drove. He has read the bastard's mind.
Faizi had already left the Children Park and driven down to the
west side of the Kabul Street Bazaar. He swung the truck along a large
High School and parked 30 meters south side of Kabul Street Bazaar.
Traffic from the west side of Kabul Street flowed naturally to the east
through this narrow funnel. Faizi was smoking now; he used a plastic
cigarette holder, something he could bite down on. To the west he
could see the low red-brick facade of a Church hospital. Further to
the west, but not far enough he knew was the Kabul Street Police
Station.
On the icy veranda at number 1 Kabul Bazaar Street City Centre,
Bano's body began to go rigid with tension. She had heard nothing
since two hours when she had issued her last operational order.
While she knew that no contact meant that Razmak was following
the plan, the waiting was torturous.
She turned her rocker more to the west, reached over and wiped
the porch window with a soiled rag. Below her the red roofs of City
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Centre Kabul Bazaar Street stretched away like gingerbread


housetops in a fairy tale. The quiet borough was being dusted with
light, flour-white snow, the narrow street traversed by the occasional
cautious driver. A few hunched figures emerged from the quaint
houses and neighbourhood shops. In the distance, Kabul spires
stabbed at a slate-grey sky beneath the already fading daylight.
No one had arrived yet. It was good time to change frequencies.
Then she thought better of it. At this crucial juncture, someone
might have a microchip failure.
She removed one of the Walkman's pronged phones from her
right ear, leaving the left one in. She turned up the volume. She
would be monitoring Kabul Police Band and simultaneously
transmitting through the telephone handset.
She chewed on the wooden shaft of paintbrush, Bazaar Street,
the main street of the neighbourhood, stretched away to the west
until it curved around the little Mosque and disappeared. Traffic was
one way coming towards her. From the north the small size street was
also one way, cutting south across Bazaar Street. Traffic-wise, it was a
good spot for an entrapment.
Sher Ali's blue Corolla was the first car to appear. It came
cruising down Kabul Bazaar Street and parked in the middle of the
next block, south side between two big shops.
Bano worked her telephone set, switching briefly to normal
function. She called Sardar on the speed dialler.
Toy House.
Are you open today Bano asked quickly.
Tomorrow, we are closing early.
Yes, maybe the weather will be better. Thank you.
Sardar hung up and opened a desk drawer, removing a Walkman
similar to Bano's. Yet with his device, one ear phone was tuned to the
Police band, others to Darkroom operational frequencies. He had
learned to be a team-leader. He pushed the headphones onto his dry
bald pate.
The next car was Barat khan's silver Audi. Like Ali's, Barat has
detoured in order to overtake Razmak and arrived in the operational
area first. He cruised past Ali and Baba, quickly swung north to
Small Street and came down the one way parking half down the
block facing Bazaar Street.
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After a few more seconds, the blue Mercedes turned the corner
the Mosque. Bano dropped the opera-glass spectacles down over her
eyes. A single driver. Last four plate digits, 7742.
Her breath was coming faster; she tried to calm it, the heat would
fog the window. She worked the telephone handset and said, Here's
birthday greeting from Jolly Komal in Ghazni to her Uncle Shah in
Bazaar Street.
In their stage three positions in all over Kabul, the backs of the
primary team members went stiff. A room becoming 'darkroom.'
Razmak parked his car on the north side of the Kabul Bazaar
Street just twenty meters ahead from Ali's Corolla. Baba mouthed
silent nonsense to Ali, and Ali watched only Razmak.
Razmak Bilal's paramour lived in a small apartment house on
the North-west corner Bazaar Street. Next to that was small cafe and
grocery shop with a green awning. On all of his visits, Razmak never
went directly into the apartment. Sometime he would just in the car
for a moment, but usually he would enter the grocery shop, take a
table, and watch the street for a while and then exit with a freshly
baked gift.
Razmak got out the Mercedes.
Nikal aya hey Baba whispered inside the Corolla. Both men
eased back on their door latches.
Razmak went into the Grocery shop.
Could be a few minutes now said Baba, but now Ali was also
watching the shop, his muscles would like steel suspension springs.
His heart was hammering against his leather coat and his breathing
was ragged. Inside his tight leather driving gloves, his hands were
soaked. He quickly pulled the gloves off, threw them on the dash and
smeared his palms on his slacks.
In less than sixty seconds, Razmak came out of the shop carrying
two long paper bags, but he did not turn left towards the apartment.
He turned right and his keys were dangling from one hand.
He is going for the car Baba hissed.
Keep the machine slow and get close, said Ali
They watched and cruised slow on the line along the pathway.
They registered a small blond child as the scarf figure darted out of
his way. He knew Baba was keeping his right hand flicked upon his
coat emerging with the glistering Colt with silencer ready to catch
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him from the other side, the moment they would step out to reach
him.
Fifteen meters, now ten, now five.
Get out, said Ali and he was out of the Corolla, spinning
quickly as he left the door ajar.
They mounted the sidewalk and closed on Razmak's back. They
cocked the slides. It was then Razmak turned and Ali was expected to
see snout of the Makarov pistol that he knew Razmak carried. But
instead, what faced him was an expression of initial greeting that
quickly turned to surprised horror and would haunt Sher Ali for the
rest of his unnatural life. As he reached close the target to grab his
both wrists in one stretch, a burst of .45 magnums automatic
suddenly sprayed on the chest and belly of the target blowing off
him in the air backward. Ali knelt down and shouted over to Baba to
get back in the car. A semi-automatic medium range fire, Ali was
sure.
A shot sounded shekel dropped in front of him after hitting wall.
Another rubbed his left shoulder. Ali squeezed it for a moment,
turned his face left and then shot three rounds from the Colt taking
shelter of Corolla over to the window on his left side building from
where he could see a mild smoke of gunfire. He quickly got up and
emptied his pistol aimed on the invisible shooters and jumped in the
car. No sign of shooters in window. They might by now have left the
window.
It was all over in ten seconds, and then Ali found himself on the
front passenger seat. His hands entirely their own masters, worked
the mechanism of his Colt, reloading. He heard Baba breathing
behind the wheel already; they looked each other quizzically.
Outside their footsteps stamped the light dusting of new snow.
Fast... Ali said to Baba though he, too, was staring at the
growing form of the Corolla, longing for its comforts, its shelter, its
speed.
At the moment, he certainly felt the onset of insanity, for he was
convinced that his target, now lying in a pool of blood on the
sidewalk, was victim of tragic misidentification. Yet in the eternity of
that moment, he had no choice but to behave as if the operation had
been executed to perfection in a sense. He was responsible for the
follow through, the safety and escape of his people, and any
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incursion of self-doubt could mean doom for them all.


Are you OK, said Baba.
Yes, it just blown my jacket's shoulder, Ali checked the hole in
the leather jacket. Feroz turned right down, somewhere, hissing a
sigh of immense relief as he achieved second gear, then third.
It was at that moment that the Uzbeks appeared. No one had
seen them. Not Bano, Ali, Baba or Barat. They had been sitting in a
white Mitsubishi Gallant, two blocks back on the Bazaar Street. The
perfect loose tail, they had not followed the team. They had been
there all day.
Barat Khan started cruising, seeing Ali's car moving up ahead,
knowing that they have failed to arrest the Target. But as he reached
in front of the grocery shop, a screaming woman running across the
road from where she had just had a close look at the bloody corpse.
Barat was forced to slam his brakes; the nose of the Audi swerved in
the slick snow and a white Mitsubishi Gallant screeched and went
careening after Ali's Corolla.
Bano Abagull knew that something has gone wrong. Her heart
fluttering like a trapped bird's, she watched Razmak down and her
team members getting back into the car hurriedly shooting over
their left side. Yet almost immediately Kabul Police Band began to
chatter like a cage-full of apes.
Kabul BS One, this is Lion. We have a reported shooting in
your area Bazaar Street.
It's just couldn't have happened that fast. Even the most vigilant
citizen would be temporarily shocked into inaction.
Bano reached quickly putting out a public service
announcement.
Kabul's driving conditions are worsening. Please be on your
best behaviour this afternoon.
As soon as Faizi Jaffar heard this driving condition
announcement, he moved. He had already heard banging of police
siren approaching from the North and he knew that the ambulances
would momentarily emerge from the Church hospital. His task was
simple yet exposed and dangerous.
He spun the wheel of the Van and drove the big Toyota down
towards the intersection of City Centre and Kabul Bazaar Street. He
gathered speed, hesitated as red-Nissan Lancer crossed in front of
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him, then stabbed the accelerator and almost simultaneously stood


hard on the brake pedal. The wheels locked and the Van swerved, its
nose dipping towards the slick pavement. The rear wheels rocked up
for a second and Faizi thought he might flip it, but then the vehicle
settled perfectly, completely blocking the fork as car horns blared all
around him.
He cut the engine, reached down and pulled the choke handle all
the way out. It had a modified cable and valve, and in two seconds
the carburettor was irreparably flooded.
Three blue and red Corolla police cars came speeding down the
River Kabul from the north, their beacons turning and sirens
hawking. The first car with a large number 101 painted on its hood,
stopped just short of the side of Faizi's Van. A young police officer
jumped from the cruiser throwing his arms up and screaming all at
once.
Aye you madman, move that goddamn thing!
Faizi obediently reached for the keys. He turned hard and the
engine whined, coughed and gurgled. But it did not start.
Faizi rolled down his window, shrugged at the policeman and
smiled a stupid smile.
Bano has also seen the white gallant cut in and follow Ali. Just to
make sure, she ran over the operational fleet in her mind. We have
no such car.
She called Sardar.
Yes Sardar snapped.
It's Zahra, father
What film did you rent, dear?
Marlon Brando. The Chase.
Sounds lovely. I am looking forward.
See you later then.
Sardar JS had also been monitoring the police band, and he also
knew that things were happening too fast. But The Chase? Someone,
other than police was after his team leaders. He called a number in
King Tomb.
Galaxy-Air A man answered in typical Hindi accent.
This is Sardar Jagat Sing Khan. Are you flying today?
We can be Mr Khan.
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Thank you. I may have a delivery


Very good sir.
Ali Sher, Baba Feroz and Barat Khan each had three tickets for
three different commercial flights. But if things were really too hot,
the outgoing flights were covered by a special private security agency
working for the HQ, then an alternate was in order.
Galaxy-Air was owned by a Singaporean Pakistani Firm. Its
facilities were available to Pakistani Missions abroad. One of their
aircraft a modified DC-9 Cargo and Medical transport had been
sitting on the repair runway at Kabul International Airport for the
last two days, a victim of mechanical difficulties. Within minutes it
was going to experience a miraculous recovery.
Shabana Mir's code had popped in her ears less than a minute
after she heard Faizi receives his go. Bano's voice sounded rather
pleading.
Kabul Girls, now please listen carefully out there. We had a sad
request from baby Shirin's mother from Kabul's King residential
area. She misses you Shirin a lot, where ever you are. Please call her
and all will be forgiven.
Shabana had hoped that she would not be required to perform
this next bit. She liked Germans so, they always so friendly and
generous, wanting to be everybody's buddy. However things were
apparently not going too well, and besides no one would be harmed
by her gambit.
She had already reached at a small cafeteria opposite German
consulate cross the dual carriage road. Thanks to the weather, no one
was in the area. She reached into her coat pocket and removed the
body of her Walkman. She opened the cassette player door which was
empty, and she pulled the plastic sprocket off the left-hand nub.
There was a small button underneath.
She turned towards the German consulate facing the building;
grey store hulk could be clearly seen through the trees. She pulled the
earphone off her head, for she had been told that they might squeal
madly and she pressed the button.
Inside the litter bin can lying in the trash receptacle the gunfire
simulator went off. It issued frightening reports, one after another,
although it hardly gave off smoke, both of the guards on duty went
to their knees.
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Shabana could hear the dull popping as it echoed through the


chilly air. She was already on the telephone, dialling 119 the police
emergency exchange.
Kabul Police, how can we help you?
Shabana was breathless; she needed no encouragement.
For God's sake come quick! Someone is shooting at the
Germans!
What's that please... calm yourself, young lady?
I told you... gun firing at German Consulate.
She hung up the phone.
Her hands were shaking. She began walking slowly back. There
was a car waiting for her in the parking lot at Grand Shopping Plaza.
She was trying to remember what kind of car.
In Sardar JS Khan's ear the police band went mad. Half of the
Kabul Police spun from their positions and headed towards the
Grand shopping Plaza area. In response to requests for clarification,
a Senior Police Officer came on the frequency and briskly
announced that the security detachment at German Consulate had
indeed confirmed gunfire, and if they didn't want to have another
Kabul Massacre on their hands, every available unit should get its ass
over there.
But Sardar was still terribly concerned about his team leaders.
Through the wild radio traffic, he realized that a certain ambitious
Lieutenant Farzai, car 101 was still at his position. He was about to
arrest the driver of the Corolla Van and then ram the stalled vehicle
out of the way.
Jagat made a dangerous decision. He picked up the third black
phone on his desk, punched the hold button and cut into the
police band.
Farzai 101, forget about the minor street crimes, you idiot and
get to the German Consulate now!
There was a moment hesitation and then the young Lieutenant's
challenging voice broke over Sardar's earphone.
This is Farzai 101, who the hell is that
Ghazi... This is Ghazi, you stupid swine, and if you ever want to
see your family or pension, you will move, NOW!
Ghazi, as Jagat Sing well knew, was the code name of Kabul
Police Chief. He usually avoid coming on the band due to the
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bureaucratic reasons, unless something happens very crucial in the


city. Normally junior police officers had just heard his name only,
but hope fully in the confusion no one would immediately call him
back to reconfirm orders.
Farzai radioed other cars in his convoy. They backed out from
the intersection and headed east for the German consulate.
Sardar sat back and lit another WILLS. His bald head was finally
glistering. Thanks God the Afghans had not lost their penchant for
obeying orders under the situation.
At City centre and Kabul Bazaar Street intersection, Faizi
stepped down from his stalled Van. The only official remaining on
the scene was an angry Ambulance driver. His vehicle stood behind
him, its beacons winking in frustration.
I'll just go and call the office, Faizi apologized. They will have
a service truck within five minutes.
My patient will probably die in five minutes. The attendant
snapped.
Faizi just shrugged and walked away. Hopefully your patient is
already dead, he said to himself.
He walked cross the intersection towards a small grocery shop
and lunch counter. Barat Khan has already checked it all out for
him. He asked to use the bathroom, made for the facilities in the
rear, and then kept walking to the back of the store and went straight
out to the delivery door.
He crossed the small street on the back of the houses and
emerged into a parking lot and got into a dull beige Lancer. He
would drive the car to his garage in Wazir Akbar Khan. There he
would eat and changed his clothes from a supply in the trunk. He
would also switch the plates from rental to civilian and then wait a
full twelve hours. No matter the crime, Kabul Police did not
maintain serious traffic disturbing roadblocks for longer than 12
hours.
In the morning he would begin to long drive to the Jalalabad.
Sher Ali and Feroz Khan knew they were being pursued, but they
did not know by whom.
They were already out of town and heading for the Airport,
passing huge Silos for storage of grains by the roadside. The white
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Gallant may be at hundred meters back, but it was gaining. Turning


in the seat Ali could see the two occupants. They might have been
plainclothesmen, but their white faces had that squared-off shabby
look of Russians' Intelligence muscle. The passenger was sitting in
the rear seat and seemed to be holding a mobile phone. That was not
a good sign. Shooters rode in the rear seats.
If they were Americans, Sher Ali and Feroz would have to lose
them or give it up. There would be no battle with Americans
Authorities.
Barat's silver Audi was behind the Gallant but still blocked by
one car between them. As the Gallant gained speed on Feroz, Barat
swung dangerously out into the right lane around his civilian
interloper, pulling back in behind the Gallant.
Who are they Feroz asked, flicking his eyes from the rear-view
mirror to the road. He was concentrating on making the next leg
without having an accident. Traffic to Airport was picking up.
To Ali's dismay, he peripherally noted a spectral oscillation from
the south. He turned again in his seat to see three police cars
approaching up the access road from the Silos. They were clearly in a
hurry.
I don't know, who the hell they are, but they are using a radio
phone and they are not calling my mother.
Then the Uzbeks floored in.
Here they come. Baba hissed. He had his own foot to the floor,
but it didn't help. Tell Barat from now on I want a goddamn
Mercedes.
The Gallant swung open in the right lane, growing larger. Sher
Ali could see now that its rear windows were open.
Do you have a plan? He asked hoarsely.
No, but I will do something.
The Gallant pulled alongside and Ali saw the pair of meaty
hands holding an ugly object.
Scorpion He yelled.
Baba slammed the brakes as the machine pistol began to chatter.
The Gallant dashed by and the shooter had to shift quickly and
awkwardly, but the burst of 9millimeter punched low through the
right side of the Corolla, the first three hammering into Ali's right
leg and knee as he screamed and a fourth bullet shattering Baba's
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window as he snapped his head back.


Baba Feroz immediately pushed the accelerator again turning
the wheel hard to left, nearly denuding the steel guardrail, and he
shot out around the nose of the Gallant before they could get off
another burst.
Barat Khan saw the whole thing and like a good back up man, he
did not hesitate. The Gallant driver has pumped his own brakes,
swerving tail to the right, giving Barat a perfect target. Barat punched
the gas, aimed for left front wheel, touched the brakes once before
impact so that his bumper would dip and smashed into the Uzbeks
at hundred kilometres per hour.
It was not a deflecting blow. He drove straight on, hurling the
white Gallant off the right shoulder, where it impacted with a metal
light pole.
Barat regained his course. He shook his head. Something was
dripping into his left eye and he swiped it away with his glove. He
had not remembered to attach his seat belt and he looked at the
steering wheel top. It was deformed. Some racing driver, he thought
and he actually smiled. The car was still functioning. That's why he
loved German cars.
He looked in the rear-view mirror. Three police cars. He looked
ahead. Baba was fading. Barat Khan would not get away, but he could
make sure that Feroz and Ali did.
There was a big road Sign up ahead on the left. The guardrail was
down and a few tractors and trucks collecting snow on their roofs.
Barat spun the wheel, dash madly across into the oncoming traffic
and headed south amid a cacophony of car horns, back towards
Kabul.
Obediently the police followed him.
Sardar and Bano Abagull both heard the radio chatter of the
massive police convoy that went after Barat Khan. They listened
helplessly as it closed on him, south to the Presidential Palace then
onto St.33 and East to the State Park. From the frantic exchanges of
the hunt, they could visualise his mad dash, not knowing why he was
performing it, but only that Barat Khan most certainly had a good
reason. The voices of the Afghan policemen took on the heated
excitement of the kill.
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This is two-nine. He just drove right into the trees.


Forty-seven take your men to the north.
This is HQ, don't lose him now.
Two-one, he is out of the car. He's hurling something away.
What is it, two-one.
Six-two, he is in the park.
Don't lose him, Six-two! Or we will be in there all goddamn
night.
Sardar JS had no time to despair, for something else crackled
over the police band. Something worse.
Sher Ali's blood was collecting in a pool on the floor of the car.
He could not move, and he didn't dare touch his leg not even to
apply an improvised posture.
Baba had reached back to his bag and dragged it into the front
seat. He extracted an electric razor and cracked the cover off it
against the dash board. He pulled the right knob of the Cassette
player and seated the razor cord plug in the open receptacle. It was a
last resort. He spoke into the microphone breaking directing into the
police band.
Enjaye 121 ust, Enjaye road accident shud.
Sardar Khan fairly bolted from his chair at Toy House. It was
Baba's voice and in this case road accident meant a badly wounded
soldier. Sardar immediately picked up his police line and slammed
the hold button.
One-o-one, you may investigate He hung up and called Bano.
Khan's Residence.
Baby, its father.
There has been a road accident or something. I'll be home late.
Why don't you get some rest?
There was silence on the other end.
Bachey
Yes, father, fine.
Sardar hung up and dialled another phone number. When it
rang through, he said, Hello, This is Toy House, I had liked a room
sweeper in here to clean up please. Yes, now.
He collected his things and left the office.
Ali was gripping the dashboard with white knuckled fingers. His
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eyes were squeezed shut, but he made no sound. Feroz was looking
for the prearranged exit, only a kilometre from the Airport. He
snatched a glance at the partner. For the first time since leaving
Islamabad many months before Baba suddenly burst into Urdu.
Oye... Ullo ke pathey...Sahel, kia howa hey.
Sher Ali despite his pain, admonished his partner in Persian.
My name is Sher Ali, Baba. He groaned. And I don't know
what the hell happened. But you will speak Persian until we are dead,
or at home. Understood.
Ok, Ali. Feroz spat the name, But don't worry, in the next ten
minutes we will be either dead or on our way home.
They pulled off the High way and drove straight down an
industrial road for half a kilometre. It was growing dark. The
ambulance was waiting, its rear door yawning. The beacon was unlit.
It took the doctor and his assistant less than twenty seconds to
lift Ali into the rear of ambulance. They were not gentle and he tried
not to yell.
In the meantime, Feroz stripped the Corolla. He took the bag,
pulled the cassette played from dash board, the microphone, Ali's
gloves, but there was nothing to do about the blood. He hoped that it
would snow hard for days and no one would bother about the
abandoned car.
Then they were all in the ambulance and it began to move slowly
towards the airport. The doctor was combat surgeon and ex
paratrooper and he worked quickly, snapping at his male assistant.
Morphine.
No morphine, Ali grunted.
Shut up, the surgeon barked. Then he turned to Baba. It's
bad, but he'll live. Strip him.
Sher Ali lay on the folded stretcher. The blood had stopped
flowing, mostly due to the cold. Feroz began to gently remove his
clothes.
Get them off him! We have got ten minutes.
They worked quickly, injecting Ali with a double dose of
morphine extract and changing his clothes to hospital attire from a
small wardrobe. The doctor dressed his wounds, covered the leg with
a plastic sleeve, and then quickly wrapped his both limbs in elastic
bandage as if the patient suffered from circulatory problems. He
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attached an infusion bag to one arm and hung it from a steel keg on
the ambulance inside wall.
Shave his head, the doctor ordered
The assistant hesitated.
Shave it, he has to look like as it's his last cancerous week, not
liked some fucked up commando.
A disposable razor came out and in two minutes Ali's hair was
wiped down from the scalp.
And clean it up every hair.
The assistant bent to his task. From a black satchel, the surgeon
removed a pair of ugly steel rimmed spectacles. He roughly placed
on Ali's face. Then he snapped a plastic bracelet on one wrist.
There is a uniform in the closet. The doctor said to Baba.
Feroz stripped out of his clothes and destroyed his airline tickets,
keeping the British Passport, one for himself and one for Ali. He
donned a white lab coat white trouser and a stethoscope.
Ali's pain was now becoming tolerable, but he hated the helpless
drowsiness that was engulfing him. He felt the rolling of ambulance,
but he didn't register the crucial dangerous juncture as they arrived
at Kabul International cargo gate.
He heard the driver say, Galaxy Air, we have got one has to go to
London.
When the security personnel, with their hard faces, grey uniform
and dangling Americans submachine guns, opened the rear doors,
Ali closed his eyes.
Ssssshhh, he is not long for this world.
A custom official checked their passport in silence.
Ali dosed off for a short time, and then he awoke inside a hazy
grey tube as the DC-9 taxied down the runway. He was strapped to a
mobile stretcher. There were regular airline seats to his right.
A door opened up forward. He managed to lift his head. Sardar
Khan appeared from the cabin, stone-faced, dressed as flight
engineer. He lumbered down the aisle.
Sardar fell into a seat next to Sher Ali. He drew off his hat and
tore open his tie, as if it might kill him.
How are you? He asked in Urdu.
Okay, Ali slurred. But I might be gone again in a moment.
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Who were they, Sardar asked. Razmak's people?


No, It was Baba's voice from somewhere else. Seem Uzbeks
maybe from South-eastern Russia.
Where is everyone Ali's own voice sounded strange to him, a
fragile echo.
Mostly away, said Sardar. Bano stays on, but off course, she'll
be fine. Sardar lit up a wills, but unhappy to have relay the rest.
Barat took the police off you and headed for State Park. Took them
on wild goose chase, but they have him now. He did it for all of us.
It's the only reason; we are in the air now.
Ali stared up at the ceiling. He was weak; still he tried not to let
the tears well up. The air craft banked heavily to the right. It was
flight- planned for London, but it would not see England tonight.
Dilshad, Sher Ali suddenly called Sardar by his real name.
He was not sure if he could go on. In this state, he knew that his
judgement was hazy, his logic distorted. It didn't feel right, he said.
The Target I mean.
I know said Major Dilshad Hussain. He patted Ali's hand.
You and I, we may be opening a fruit stand together.
Sher Ali suddenly very awake. He stared at Hussain, his eyes
asking the question that was stuck in his throat.
I just had a report from Col. A.K. Zawri. Dilshad smiled
painfully. A team of Watchers just made positive ID, in west Kabul.
Let me guess. Said Baba's tired voice.
That's right, said Hussain, and he blew out a wreath of smoke,
Razmak Bilal.
Sher Ali turned his head and stared back up the ceiling, and this
time the water filled in his eyes and he blinked it onto the sheets.
He was alive and he was going home but he was leaving too many
things behind, a captured colleague, an operational fiasco, political
bomb shell and a murder of innocent human.

_______

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Islamabad
Chapter 2
June, 2004
A city master-planned by Greek Architect and Designer in the
late fifties with its face towards Margalla Hills on the north-eastern
fringe of the Potohar Plateau with plenty of rains and lush green
landscape by rows of flame trees, jacaranda and hibiscus. Roses,
Jasmine & bougainvillea fill the parks and scenic viewpoints which
symbolises the aspirations of young and dynamic nation. It is an
ideal city to culminate a career in government.
In fact, as Captain Sahel Farhaj was realizing on a morning
scented with the beginning of autumn, this large parcel of
subsidised, nonprime hardly historical real estate might well have
been serving as an unkindly hint from the Idols of employments.
This looked a place for termination rather than auspicious
beginning.
For the rest of the Islamabad was nothing, if not majestic. Any
human who had ever been there, for a single day or for a quarter
century was forever captured by its beauty.
Connoisseurs of the architecture say that you could see the
character of a city by the shadows it threw. So you could see the line
of tanned legs and short skirts, suit coats with ties round the neck, as
well as Shalwar Qameez outfit with leather sole sandals by most of
the women and children in the shopping centres and super markets.
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There are very few places in the city of Late Field Martial Ayub
Khan former President of Islamic Republic of Pakistan who was the
mastermind behind erecting of this capital which breach the code of
aesthetic pleasure, but certainly meeting the demands of the new era
a few Industrial estates are among them, and that is why Sahel Farhaj
hated it so.
Islamabad had an abundance of Holy men, Ministers, Civil and
Military bureaucratic networks, Governmental and Corporate highrise buildings, with acute shortage of popular residential lodgings,
That's why it failed to attract Educationists, Scholars, Philosophers'
and Artists which by any mean compromised city's face among most
cultured and civilised cities around the globe.
However a few commercial areas do cater to all the basic
necessities of the surrounding inhabitants. Such as Blue area located
on the main street approaching to the Parliament House between the
Sector F-6 and G-6. Islamabad has been designed and segregated in
square parts called sectors and each sector does possess its own
commercial area. So while you lead someone needing to reach the
destination just tell him the requisite sector. Among these one of the
commercial areas is well known as Aabpara. This area has significant
designer brand shops, banks, and store outlets on its south-eastern
side including some good restaurants, traditional local food stalls
and foreign fast food outlets like McDonalds and KFC etc. A few
commercial plazas have also having commercials shops on the
ground floor like photo studios, small antiques shops and on the
upper floors are meant for hotels and residential studios including
some of the private offices.
Inexpensive was the descriptive element which had attracted the
Department's eye and certainly the Ministry of Defence could not be
blamed for doing his duty. Anonymity was an equal important
requisite; for when interviewing prospective Special Operations
agents, you allowed them see nothing insignificant until they have
been thoroughly vetted.
Intellectually Sahel Farhaj accepted all of this, yet emotionally he
felt somehow excommunicated. But then he had been feeling that
way for a very long time.
The leg was almost healed, a fair miracle considering that the
doctors had done their job fairly well. Nearly fifteen months have
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passed since that rainy March night, when he had arrived at the
Combined Military Hospital in Rawalpindi. Re-costumed in
standard Military fatigues, one trouser leg dramatically ripped away,
he had been admitted as a casualty of a cross-fire exercise somewhere
around Murree Hills. The nerve, bone, cartilage and muscle damage
was extensive oxygen starved tissues having resulted from clotting
despite the attention of an aggressive field surgeon.
For a while it was touch and go with the leg; surgeons from the
Orthopaedic and Micro Departments performed two five hours
operations in quick succession. To their discretionary credit, the
hard pressed doctors did not acknowledge or discuss the patient's
delirious ramblings in the pre-op or post-op medicated state. He has
been admitted as Capt. Sahel Farhaj 245th GG Regiment, a company
commander who has suffered his wounds near Murree Hills firing
range. Yet he muttered on about Kabul and someone named Razmak
who apparently frightened him.
One of the surgeons had a son serving in 245th GG Regiment, so
he knew that they were presently on manoeuvres' in the Northern
Heights, nowhere near Murree Hills. Perhaps the presence of burly
bald major, dark black eyes observing the progress from the one
corner of the operation theatre prevented the doctor from
mentioning this discrepancy.
Farhaj had spent over a half of a painful year at CMH. At first
and a long time, he was bedridden bored near to madness during the
days, haunting by thundering, sweat-provoking nightmares after
dark. He watched his plaster-encased for a near eternity as an
ingenious brace pumped it, slowly, to and fro bending the knee,
stretching the calf like some medieval torture device.
To the staff it was strange that no family appeared to visit the
handsome GG Captain, and perhaps that accounted for his lonely
brooding moods. For how could they know that his parents were still
receiving postcards from him once a month?
The other wounded soldiers were fairly exhausted by the influx
of visitors, dust riffle bearing friends in from the field, girl friends
under family cover, food laden mothers and fathers. Sahel's few
visitors, though apparently young companions were usually out of
uniform. Inside the wards their small talk was hallow. Some time
they whispered to the patient briefly.
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When Farhaj achieved his first breakthrough wheelchair status--Others began to appear. Older men with the postures of officers in
casual street clothing, briefcases in roughened hands normally
showed up occasionally. The patient would disappear with them
some time for hours having been wheeled outside into one of the
hospital's remote lush green lawns under the big trees.
For Sahel, the debriefings were much more painful than the
mending wounds left by the bullets and scalpels. However, out of
these sessions evolved clarity.
As a result of discussion with Sahel, the post mission
investigations had cleared most of the team of responsibility for the
City Centre Fiasco. Sahel himself could not be fully exonerated for
he was Team Leader and had accused in alleged shooting and killed
an innocent Afghan called Mohammad Zahir as someone had
posted a picture of Sahel aiming his pistol on corpse near grocery
shop, though it was side pose of Sahel and face unrecognizable even
by those who have seen him. However, at NSB much of the blame
was placed at the feet of the photo recognition specialist. In public
there was no record of real killers. Major Dilshad Hussain, as overall
commander had asked for and received most of the lashings.
Of course, the long stay at CMH had had its benefits. Sahel
Farhaj had imposed upon him a much needed rest. So long an
animal of field instincts, he slowly acquired some of his humanity, as
well as his identity. He began to respond naturally to the sound of
his own name and the tight springs of conditioned reflex began to
unwind. He knew that he would never be again a field agent in
Special Operations and at long lost he began to accept this.
Finally, and certainly best of all, he had met Amber. She had
never probed, never pushed, a young dedicated nurse, who had
clearly been borne to give. It took Sahel some time, but eventually he
became aware of her brown hair, her piercing brown eyes and wide
quick smile. Their romance developed slowly, traditionally and over
the course of half a year it was forged into a bonded love. They had
been married soon after Sahel's release.
And so he was back, though never again to be a real participant
in the Great Game. Perhaps only a fringe player, a tired contestant
forever an observer of the chess masters at work. He tried often to
count his blessings, suppress his memory; in fact today was the day
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when he had decided to put away his cane. The doctors said he would
always walk with a strange gait.
Unfortunately, as Sahel secretly knew, he would also forever limp
in his mind.
The office was located in the Multi-storey Commercial Complex
in the Aabpara. It was up on the second floor all the way at the end of
the North-eastern prong having its long tinted glass windows open
on the two-way roadsides along the corner of the complex. To get
there, you have to walk up the marble-stone stairs which ends up in
the lobby of the complex. Then you enter into a commercial office
dealing in scientific equipment. Once you enter this office you can
deal with them at ease as usually happens in the commercial offices
if you are a traditional customer. Personnel belonging to the SpecOp
enter from one side of the office, cross the first security which leads
them into another special security checks, and after verifying their
identity, they would enter another small lobby which takes them to
the relevant floor of the Department. Initial two security checks are
invisible unless you are stranger and trying to enter into first security
check, you would be halted there for the purpose to go inside. In you
are an ordinary customer then you would be ushered respectfully to
the other side of the office where too many commercial liaison
officers are sitting to deal with you. Scientific Equipment Corporation
(Pvt) Ltd was a deliberate cover for the Special Operations.
There were no further set dressings in SEC Ltd, as it was purport
to be a start-up business. The company, if asked, was looking for a
few enterprising young men and women to work in its overseas
office. The appearance of healthy youths would raise no eyebrows,
for it was common in Pakistan as soldiers neared the end of their
release began to job-hunt hoping for adventure and some travel
abroad. The ads were normally appeared in local papers classified
section throughout the weeks to attract young soldiers'
commissioned and non-commissioned officers for SEC Ltd.
Sahel set behind the large wooden desk looking every bit the
young prospective executive. His office was on the second floor at
SEC Ltd after crossing main hall, a steel door lead to Sahel's office.
He wore blue jeans and a white long sleeved shirt rolled back to arms.
His only visible extravagance might have been the black digital dive
watch he had once purchased in Switzerland, yet only the initiated
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would realize its value. The tools of Sahel's present trade were few, a
pile of yellow legal pads, a cup full of pencils and a sharpener.
Naturally there was an overflowing ashtray and ever-present pack of
Golf Leaf. He had had to give up the Rothmans. They were no longer
part of a cover and he would not be reimbursed for their expense.
Sahel was not really an interviewer. That task had already been
accomplished at Ministry Headquarters. Having passed that initial
stage, agent candidates have to go through an intensive vetting phase.
Their minds and bodies would be poked and probed for months on
by doctors and psychologists.
In the meantime, Sahel assignment was to record by hand every
detail of the candidate's life from birth to present day. Subsequently
with Sahel's report in hand, team of Vetters would roam the country,
often travelling abroad to confirm the veracity of the candidate's
claims.
Although it was certainly a crucial task, on the tall chain of
Special Intelligence assignment this job was at the bottom of the
pole. Though officially forgiven for his part in the Kabul City
Centre fiasco, Sahel would probably never come in front of the
heat meaning in Department's eyes an agent who remains in
professional limbo.
Sahel was ruminating over his career options when the steel door
clangs with the rap of knocks.
Come in, he called above the table.
The door swung back to reveal the tanned face of a young soldier.
He poked his head inside.
Is this Scientific Equipment Corporation?
Sahel starred at him expressionless, Isn't the sign showed up.
The soldier blushed and swung the door wide and entered the
office.
The soldier closed the door and turned to Farhaj. He squinted
trying to adjust from the harsh sunlight to the gloomy shadows of
the room.
Sit down Sahel pointed to the chair.
The young soldier sat. He was a Naik in mid-twenties, wearing
the Khaki dress uniform of some Infantry Regiment. His short black
hair was sun streaked at the edges. His clear eyes still painted with
certain innocence. A year with us and that look will be gone forever,
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Sahel wanted to warn him.


Name?
Ehh, the soldier cleared his throat. Rehmat Ali Khan,
Number-8314765220
The boy's nervousness was very obvious as his pleasing Punjabi
accent. Sahel smiled.
You are not a prisoner of war, Rehmat. You can relax.
The Naik smiled. He looked down at his hands and crossed one
leg. Sahel offered him a cigarette which he quickly accepted.
Now we are just going to talk, Sahel continued. It will take a
while, we will begin at the beginning, and you might even have to
come back again, Understood.
The soldier nodded, Yes sir.
Sahel picked up a legal pad and poised a pencil to write.
Let's start with your birth, and we do the first ten years. Don't
leave out a detail. I'll select the items I wish to record, Right.
The soldier began to speak.
I was born in a village near Jhelum, in September, 1979....
It always began the same way, as it had begun with Sahel himself
nearly 10 years ago. Normally the initial selection is purely based on
the performance and confidential record of the service where you
have been serving. You had to be good to get in and even better to
remain.
Even as Sahel began to record the details, he felt the familiar stab
of envy. He remembered his own first month of vetting, the
excitement of unknown. He recalled the thrill of the first tastes of
intelligence work; the mysterious interviews, strange exams,
clandestine meetings in obscure cafes with tough looking civilians
who would examine your every twitch.
He recalled his fondest memory. It was the army's test of soldier
teamwork ability. It was there in the field, that he had first met John
Victor, Capt. Tanveer and Capt. Rafi Ahmad, still not knowing that
in time he would think of them as Faizi Jaffar, Barat Khan and Baba
Feroz. For months they had studied together, trained together, and
carried each other in mock stretcher drills, all the while watched
carefully by their hawkeyed recruiters. And even then, when only the
calm, the brave and the talented remained, the adventure had only
just begun.
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The romance of the birth of an army intelligence agent was


incomparable. The secret training, the documentation and the
covers besides the shedding of uniforms for the guise of civilian
clothes, the tracking in the streets of Islamabad, the weapon
instructions, Intel history, sabotage and communication. And the
secret from friends and family that bound the compatriots together,
even more than had the years in the field with fellow paratroopers.
And finally the first mission.
How Sahel wished that he could go back there again, could once
more be admired officer, the hero. And now he wished to quit the
game early, while every operation was still a smashing success. Long
before, he had ever heard the name of Razmak Bilal.
Almost immediately after being spotted in Afghanistan, on the
very afternoon when Sahel was supposed to arrest Razmak Bilal in
Kabul--- he had disappeared from the face of the earth. At first, no
one purchased the ruse as the Brits like to say. For months
afterwards, the western intelligence agencies searched for him. CIA,
MI6, SDECE, they all sniffed around the alleyways of Europe, the
cities of the Middle East. Ciphers & cables and internet emails were
intercepted, informers and deep double scoured and nothing came
up. Rumours poured in that Razmak had retired to Yemen. He had
training in Yemen; He had gone underground in Central America.
Eventually the most recurring piece of information came to be
accepted by the managers of Western Intelligence. Where NSB has
failed, Razmak's own brother has succeeded. He had been killed by a
rival, even more radical if that was conceivable faction. Al-Qaeda or
Central Tehreek Taliban (CTT) had disagreed with, or been jealous of
Razmak's activities. Within the terrorist brotherhood internal
problems were most often settled with gunfire.
When Sahel first heard the news of Razmak's death mentioned
casually by Maj. Dilshad as the major pushed the wheelchair along a
sunny sidewalk at CMH, he experienced a flood of emotions.
Razmak's demise could not erase Sahel's failed attempt to arrest of
Hayat Gul but there was a sense of joyful retribution in hearing that
an enemy's career has also taken a downward turn. Then almost
immediately Farhaj also felt a strange pang commiseration. For what
was Razmak Bilal if not a mirror of himself? Yes the terrorist had
been ruthless, seemingly, indiscriminate, a killer. But had the man
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being a Muslim instead of an Afghan, restrained by the shackles of


government as opposed to freelance his own network, he might have
been something else. He could have been Sahel's partner.
The months of quiet recovery has certainly softened Farhaj's
professional acumen, but his ingrained training has made him
sceptic, and he did not succumbed to the sense of relief. Razmak
Bilal disappeared? Dead? How much was disinformation?
Sahel knew the answers to those questions. The head of
Department could swear on his precious words that Razmak Bilal
was dead, but Sahel would have to see the cold corpse before he'd
believed that. He knew that his feeling of his unsettled account
would probably stay with him until he died.
I'll believe it when the check clears, was all he said to Dilshad.
In the meantime Farhaj was experiencing his own slow death in
the Service. Sure the salary was good, plus disability payments; in less
than two years he could get out with a partial pension. Yes, the
humiliation was high, but thanks to enduring secretive nature of his
work no one save his peers was privy to his failures. He was almost
thirty two years old, and he has nearly half the credits towards a
university degree. He and Amber were trying to have a baby. He
could have some kind of future.
If he could just bite his lips and stick it out....
The mid-afternoon arrived quickly despite the mundane nature
of Sahel's task. He had to listen, concentrate and record questions
and that made the clock move. By 3.30 pm he had interviewed six
candidates, four men and two women, having taken a half hour to
eat Amber's chicken sandwich with garlic pickle salad.
He was sipping a cup of tea and waiting for the last candidate
when the telephone rang.
Scientific Equipment Corporation, Sahel spoke in the
mouthpiece.
That's it for the day. A voice said.
Where's the last man. Sahel asked.
Cancelled, you can come on in.
Right. Sahel said and hung up.
Sahel sat back against the steel office chair. He was glad to be
done for the day, yet he felt the familiar crawling in his stomach. At
one time butterflies had come only near the climax of a dangerous
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operation. Now they arrived whenever Sahel was about to head down
to the Headquarters.
He stood up and felt the rough click in the right knee, ignored it
and began to sweep. The legal pads were full of his scratching. He
placed all of them in his briefcase. Then he checked all of his desk
drawers and floor for every bit of paper. He pulled the plastic bag
from the waste basket and tied it shut.
It might have seemed paranoid, but Sahel suspected that
certainly one of these nights Col. A.K. Zawri would send over a pair
of Department's Burglars who can open anything from a child
piggy bank to Prime Minister's private safe. The would break-in
quietly, scour SEC Ltd, and if they found even the smallest scrap of
incriminating evidence there would be hell to pay. The Colonel did
not like Sahel. The brooding Captain's presence was a constant
reminder of Kabul, and Zawri did not appreciate this limping
personification of Failure stalking around the Department.
Colonel Abdul Karim Zawri was Sahel's butterfly-maker. And
the hostile feeling was mutual. Farhaj hoped that he could complete
his business at HQ without even seeing the commander.
The scuffed wooden cane was leaning against the wall, waiting
for its master. Sahel debated throwing it out with the garbage, but
that seemed a crude demise for a loyal friend. He picked it up and
gripped it horizontally along with the handle of his briefcase and
walked out with the trash onto the sunlit catwalk.
His first few unaided steps were painful. His right hip seemed to
be grinding at the ball and socket, but the strong afternoon sun
helped and soon his muscles warmed and he was satisfied with his
progress. The two flights of the stairs were most difficult. He used
the handrail, and when he reached the bottom he was sweating and
was quite pleased with himself. A photographer who used the office
next door passed him in a hurry.
Kaisey hain The man asked Sahel.
Fine, Thanks. Sahel smiled.
His shiny black Suzuki Margalla 1300 was baking in a lot on the
back side of building. He was always pleased by the sight of this car,
mostly because he had used this one in his college days as well. He
had affixed a small Sticker in the rear windshield boldly written as
Don't follow me, if you can't catch me. For so long he has been
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forbidden to display such signs. But he was never going back into the
field, so he had said to hell with it and slapped on the bright sticker.
What would Zawri do? Send him to the Ministry?
As he approached the Margalla, Sahel was barely aware of the fact
that he was a creature of strange habits, and would probably be
always so. When he was out on the street, he ears pricked up, bat-like,
scanning for the incongruous sound, the click of weapon bolt, patter
of a pursuing footstep. His eyes automatically swept the lot,
recording faces and matching them to his memory for noncoincidental repetitions. He glanced instinctively at the under
carriage of the Margalla, quickly running a checklist natural
automotive protrusions verses any freshly affixed shapes. When he
finally reached the door handle, his fingers briefly hesitated as his
eyes swept the lock for scratch marks, the space beneath the dash for
inconsistent wiring.
Had he realized he was doing it, he would have felt quite foolish.
He was no longer in foreign country or on enemy territory. This
was his hometown and the danger virtually non-existent. Yet it was
not a conscious indulgence, no more so than a pilot's instinctive preflight checks.
Still, on occasion, Sahel was made painfully aware of the
insidiousness of his training. Since leaving the hospital, he had on
three separate occasions, identified himself by a cover name while
trying to cash checks. Naturally his Computerised National Identity
Card had contradicted him, causing the suspicious bank tellers to
angrily refuse his business. Blushing Sahel had been forced to excuse
himself and quickly withdraw, whereupon he would find himself
outside in the hot sun, breathing hard and crawling with chills. He
had never, ever, made such a blunder while in the field. It was the
cruel price of recovery.
It was not yet summer, but the inside of the Margalla was as hot
as hell. Sahel folded up the cardboard windshield guard which didn't
do much except keep the steering wheel from melting. He rolled
down the passenger window as well as his own, strapped in, lit a
cigarette and put the car in gear.
It was almost four o'clock when he neared the Zero point. He
could have taken Constitution Avenue, the most direct route, but at
this hour Avenue would have been the busiest one, so instead of
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turning left, he swung through the cut and turned right. He made
straight for the intersection and turned right again to the Main
Faisal Avenue, sweeping breath of beautiful villas as they flowed past
the Margalla windows. He checked the rear view mirror, somewhat
more than was necessary. He didn't bother to deny to himself that
the detour also delayed his arrival, albeit for only a few minutes.
Too soon he found himself on the intersection of Khiaban-eIqbal passing Special Children School on his left side. He then
turned to the right to Khiaban-e-Iqbal and soon reached the F-6
Markaz. He crossed it and took sharp uphill left onto Jacob House,
feeling the tension, hoping that Col. Zawri would be out of the
office.
The Jacob Compound, with its myriad of religious archives and
some Government offices was like a small city in and of itself. It sat
on a large flat hill, just to the north of Islamabad, but seemingly on
another planet altogether. While on a few meters away Islamabad
engaged in social activities at outdoor cafes and spends their
overtaxed earnings on Afghan BBQ, ice creams and other shopping.
An unknown to all, but those who worked there, National
Security Bureau, commonly known as NSB's Special Operations had
also taken up temporary residence.
Up until two months previously, all of the major Intelligence
branches had operated somewhere else. Special Operations had had
its own building, too small really for the Department's rapid
expansion. Col. Abdul Karim Zawri kept pushing for a larger space,
but the Ministry kept protesting lack of funds. It was during a
routine check of the building, and coincidently in the midst of
heated budget debate, that the sweepers found a bug in the Cipher
room. Zawri threw a fit, grabbing his second-in-command and
rushed over to Ministry, where he storms into the office of DC-2
NSB and pounded on his desk for half an hour. In Pakistan, the man
who screams in loudest is often the one who gets what he wants and
Zawri did his melodramatic best, ragging about the two foreign
electronic intercepts trawlers just outside of Islamabad, how he
couldn't even take a shit without someone's counting the splashes
and it was no fucking wonder that his people couldn't carry out a
simple elimination when his own Cipher Room was as penetrable as
lusty whore.
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He needed a new, solid and secure facility. And he needed it now!


While the MoD real estate people sheepishly began to shop,
Zawri was allowed to clear out of Main Building and set up
temporarily in Jacob Compound. The people who knew the Colonel
well smiled, for he had played it perfectly. Abdul Karim Zawri was an
empire builder, and he had just laid his cornerstone. A couple of his
agents wondered too indiscreetly about who had really planted the
bug, and they quickly found themselves working an extended
surveillance job in Middle East.
Sahel entered the long parking lot, now half full of civilians and
government cars, yet he kept driving into the Compound itself. The
British Orthodox Church was the centrepiece, its majesty
incongruous amid the flat, bullet scarred governmental stone
corridors.
Farhaj drove past Education Department, where a group of male
and female young teachers were being gathered for their new
assignments in Election Commission. Just before the courtyard was
a small dirty parking. Most of the vehicles were having governmental
number plates, mostly belongs to the civil services officers, Sahel
joined them as one more civil service employee.
Special Operations had chosen an appropriate building for its
temporary residence. The courtyard was dirty, the entrance doors
peeling. The stained doors were singularly uninteresting, even
discouraging. One said it's a part of Education Department for
Universities Research Centres. Another said, it's a Research Centre of
Higher Education Commission Islamabad. The three floors ended
in a flat-topped roof and the weather beaten walls barely minimum
aesthetic standards set by Islamabad CDA.
There were no aerials on the roof, as all of the telex, scramblers,
burst and satellite cables had been run under the Compound
through communication tunnels and parasite off the massive
Education, Police and Postal towers. The windows on the north side
of the building faced the Central Courthouse. The western windows
faced a street, but there the massive facade of Post Office served as
ample screening from the purview. Even so, every window has
curtains and each pane of glass was affixed with a suction cup
containing an oscillating diaphragm operating at random
frequencies set by a central transmitter. The vibration would foil
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attempts to read the internal sound waves off the glass, either by
laser or parabolic devices. Granted the entire building hummed like
a muffled bees nest but one soon would feel it more disturb when the
air-conditioners which were run only to keep cool the computers
around inside.
Sahel got out of the car, a bit stiff in the knee, but he left the cane
inside and took his briefcase and the small bag of garbage. He
inhaled a breath of the cooler late afternoon breeze, straightened his
shoulders and walked.
Security at the main entrance seemed casual. Almost all public
building in Pakistan now use private security firms to guard their
entrances, old man in rumpled uniform check Sahel and his
briefcase with metal detector for weapons or explosives.
There was a beep when crossed the detector by his hip. Uniform
man smiled and asked for today's code.
Dhoop taiz hey
Guard again smiled and let him go.
The man at the SpecOp desk inside the cool halfway seemed no
different. He was in his mid-fifties and wore a blue uniform.
Actually he was an ex-agent named Sahib Dad, once chief of security
in three different embassies abroad. He was heavy with oncoming
years and too much foreign food, but still there was lot of power
hidden beneath the seemingly neglected uniform. He was an expert
shooter.
Sahib Dad glanced up as Sahel approached the desk.
Salam, Farhaj. Big man smiled. What's going on?
Every day, an adventure, Sahel produced an ID pass. It was the
NSB's top security clearance, allowing its bearer entry any Military
or Civilian facility in the country by the order of President of
Pakistan. No questions asked.
Sahib Dad continued to smile. He didn't even look at Sahel's ID
pass. He glanced up at a small television camera, pressed an intercom
button and said, It's Sahel, to an invisible employee. A buzzer
vibrated and the lock of the steel entrance door clicked and Sahel
had to grab it quickly before it's closed again.
Sahel was somewhat offended. Sahib Dad should have examined
his pass, no matter the familiarity. For a moment, he instinctively
became the field commander again.
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I know you know me, Sahib Dad, he said as he held the door.
But really should look at this thing. He still held the pass in his
fingers.
Sahib Dad looked up with the expression of impatient parent.
He extended his hand, grabbed the card, exaggerated his perusal of it,
matching the picture twice with Farhaj's face and handed it back.
After all, I could have been fired in the last night, Sahel
continued. Had my clearance taken away? Hell, I could be coming
in here just to kill Zawri.
Smartest career move, you would ever make. Said Sahib Dad
and moved to his desk.
Sahel flushed speechless. Ya Allah, He called silently to God.
Does everyone know my goddamn business?
He entered a submarine chamber, pulling the door closed
behind him. It was a steel closet with a large two-way mirror inside. A
hollow voice spoke to him.
Salam, Sahel, what have you got?
Today's interview and trash for the burn bag.
Armed?
Yes.
There was a snort from the speaker and the secondary door lock
buzzed.
The headquarters of NSB's Special Operations Department
looked surprisingly like any other suite of Pakistani Government
offices. All the walls of plaster-covered cement, painted a dull light
off-white. The floors were typically cheap marble-tiled. God helped
the extravagant officers who dared to order carpeting. The lights was
either industrial fluorescent or day tube-lights on the walls over the
desks, so even the most fresh faced employees looked sallow at their
workplace.
Because the occupation of the premises was fairly new, the
Department was undergoing a period of disarray if not chaos. The
halls were narrow leaving no room for reception desk or comfortable
waiting chairs. Rickety wooden tables covered with green surge fibre
piled with unclassified daily reports and periodicals, made passage
difficult. Cipher cables, telephone and computer lines snaked from
room to room, giving the halfway floor the look of a frigate deck
under repair. The inevitable glass, teacups and saucers found their
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resting placed wherever employees had decided that they were over
caffeinated. Nervous Sweepers went about their fussy business
virtually ignored, so in addition to the flurry of intelligence officers
bouncing from room to room, there was a strange presence of
spectacled man crawling on hands and knees, inspecting the cables,
wall joints and every electronic fitting as if the place also harboured
a nursery for retarded kinder.
Sahel took the marble stairway to the second floor, one at a time,
left foot first, and then resting on the right as he carried the briefcase
and trash bag in his left hand and pushed off from the steel rail with
his right. A young man was sitting at a steel desk on the second floor
landing; He was muscular armed with a pistol, a telephone and small
cup of steaming tea. He looked like a receptionist at a security prison.
Hello Bravo. He was extremely serious and called everyone by
their Departmental code names, even though that was only required
for the field operatives.
Hi, Sajid, said Sahel. He pointed out an object which looked
like a net less basketball hoop, a grey steel frame standing next to the
desk. Where is the burn bag?
New rules, Sajid raised a dark eyebrow. Zawri wants
everything cleared twice a day now. They are bringing fresh bags up.
He extended his hand towards Sahel's bag, I'll take it.
Sahel hugged his plastic bag to his chest, mocking Sajid's
solemnity. That's a break in regulations.
Break this. Sajid laughed.
Sahel laughed too and dropped his bag on the desk. Don't
worry, he said. You get out in the field you won't have to put up
with this shit.
It was Sajid's dream to work as National Commando, which was
the coded title for the Special Operations teams. But he was never
considered.
Sahel moved on down the hallway. He passed the News Room,
where telex machines generate unclassified reports from the world's
major news agencies and the encoded machines of Pakistani
Embassies in major capitals.
Next was the Cover Room, where a trio of bright attractive young
women chose titles for missions and operatives. They were hard press
to keep the humour out of their work, the only witness to their
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optimistic youths being a sign on the door in old English calligraphy


that read What's in a name, a Rose..... Shakespeare!
There was glass window in the door and it suddenly popped
open. A girl with untidy hair stuck her head out and beamed at
Sahel.
Bravo, my dear. Seema said smilingly.
Sahel stopped short. Seema's smile always forced him to respond
in kind. Hi.
Wouldn't you love a new name? She offered mischievously.
It's cycle time, you can have it.
Don't think it's necessary, said Sahel betraying his self-effacing
mood.
Oh, come on, Bravo's so, so..... Blue Moon.
Yes, well, I'll think about it, Thanks.
Okay, Seema replied without taking any offense. She closed
the door.
Even back when he was a paratrooper non-com, the seriousness
with which Sahel undertook his tasks had resulted in his acquiring
the nickname The Brooding Bravo. Somehow he took as a
compliment, and it had resulted in his choice of Bravo as
departmental code. Might as well keep it like a Souvenir.
He continued on. So far no one had noticed that he was without
his ever-present cane. Well, he decided, it was like smoking. Nobody
realized it, once you finally quit.
He suddenly started when a captain called Qadri came storming
out of the Cipher Room. Qadri was about Sahel's age and had a few
hair on his head, dead black eyes with his distinct look of a mad
youth whose parents must have hated him.
Well, get the goddamn thing down, now! Qadri had one hand
on his hip and was gesturing angrily at a large diagram which had
been posted on a bare wall. It was obviously a practical joke, a layout
of the floor in the black market on rough beige planner paper. All of
the offices were delineated and bore caustic comments in the square
blueprint spaces such as Cipher Roombest coffee, worst
conversation and Coversthree loveliestwo singleone married
and all easy and so forth.
What the hell, do you think this is, the goddamn Tourist
Bureau?! Qadri stood there fuming while the Cipher Room's pair of
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ever-present guards jumped to tear the poster down. A middle age


woman from the room stood by blushing, yet clearly insulted at
having been reprimanded by Qadri.
Too much coffee? Sahel smiled at Qadri as he passed the scene.
The temperamental Captain ignored him.
He carried on and passed the small canteen, from which
someone called to him. Sahel, you look great today! He waived but
kept on feeling a knee a bit more but ignoring it.
All three levels of the building were Security Floors, but perhaps
it was the presence of the canteen on Floor Two that gave the area a
more relaxed atmosphere. It was here in the small place with its tea,
coffee and sandwich bar, scuffed Formica tables and white plastic
chairs that personnel came to take a break and blow off steam, anger
about their assignments and their bosses. You could have a good
laugh in the canteen, which you could not certainly do on Floor
Three, where Colonel A.K.Zawri had intricate, gruelling planning
sessions until well into the midnight hours on most days. And below
on Floor One and basement, there wasn't a hell of a lot of levity
either. The Wizards, Watchers and scouts worked down there
sweating over tool benches, handling micro-electronic gear, weapons,
and explosives. They didn't joke much. An effective punch line
could cost the Department's fortune.
So Floor two was the People's Floor, as the employees called it.
And the canteen was a bustling hangout, its atmosphere spilling over
times. It could have been any small cafeteria in any public building
except for the fact that on an occasion when a stranger would enter,
the multilingual shop talk would come to a dead halt. A few seconds
delay and suddenly everybody switch subjectscricket match and
children's progress.
As Sahel turned into Personnel, he caught the echoes of an
argument as two men emerged from the canteen behind him.
You can't do that, you clever!
Why not?
You would overload the relay. It'll burn and jam open, and then
you would have an irrevocable fuse. No safety.
So, we will put a converter on the circuit.
It would supposed to be light, you stupid, by the time you are
done, we will need a goddamn truck to move it.
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The conversation faded down the hallway as the men receded to


the lower floor. Sahel smiled. The sounds of operation.
Personnel was one midsized room, the walls lined with tall grey
filing cabinets, shelves for computer disks and programme and
roaster lists for assembling training teams. There were three desks.
The one on the left was for personnel secretary, upon which sat a grey
& black coloured LCD monitor. Anita, a bright-eyed, curly headed
barely twenty five sat imputing Sahel's previous interviews. The right
desk was Saleem's, a happy go-lucky sergeant whose function as
Personnel runner, driver etc. which kept him out of the office all day
long. The largest desk was at the far end, against the windows. That
was for the Head of Personnel.
Sahel did not have a desk.
Anita looked up and smiled at Sahel. He smiled at her too and
blinked an eye and she blushed as she did every day when he greeted
her smilingly.
Hey... where is the cane. She asked.
You noticed I admire you, Sahel said solemnly and continued
on to the windows. He dropped down on a chair in front of his
boss's desk, relieved to be off the leg again.
Major Shahzad Ahmad looked up from his work, and gestured
for Sahel to wait a moment... Sahel sat patiently, looking at Shahzad,
examining the papers. He was nearly forty with slick black hair, and
wide forehead, always had an empty pipe clutched between his teeth.
He had given up actually smoking, but he saw no reason to abandon
the pacifier altogether. His nature was absurdly pleasant for a man
who had been working under the pressures of intelligence for nearly
15 years. No one knew Shahzad's real name, for he was occasionally
send to Middle East on short role in certain Missions. Actually his
cover was extremely vulnerable and he was rarely used in the field
anymore.
Shahzad threw down his pencil, sat back, folder his fingers
behind his head and smiled over his pipe stem.
How'd it go today?
A thrill, Sahel said. As usual.
Shahzad shook his head slowly, with some sympathy. I keep
telling you Farhaj, he had gently probably the same tone as when
explaining the cruelties of life to his own son. You are lucky to be
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walking at all, breathing even. Accept it.


I know, I know my dear friend, said Sahel.
Zindgi ko relax karo, Anita chirped from behind her LCD
monitor, having heard the banter a few times before.
Hey you! Shahzad wagged a finger in her direction. I told you
no eavesdropping and no flirting with my married man.
Anita giggled and continued to type.
So? Shahzad switched to business. How did they look?
Sahel opened his briefcase and passed the legal pads over the
desk. In my opinion, two OK and three never-make-it.
Why the three? Shahzad frowned as he took the pads.
One too cool, one too nervous and one too eager.
Ah, so you are a psychologist now.
Professional pessimist, said Sahel, but his tone displayed some
hurt. You don't want to hear it, so you don't ask.
My dear, said Shahzad smiling slightly yet dead sincere. If I
could, I'd have dispensed with the doctors, shrinks and polygraphs
and just let you take them through from first interview to accept or
reject. You know that.
Farhaj bowed his head with the apologetic compliment. He
stood up. Suddenly the knee was throbbing and he wished he'd
brought the cane, if only for moral support.
Well, I am off.
Hey, said Shahzad staring at the legal pads. You think, Anita
can decipher this handwriting?
She reads my mind, Sahel said without looking at the secretary.
Besides, she can always call me at home.
Oh, I am sure, Amber would love that, Anita spoke behind her
screen.
She trusts me, said Sahel as he made to leave.
Anita laughed again as Sahel opened the door.
No interviews till Wednesday, Shahzad called. But come in
and help out with the bios.
Sahel acknowledged with a thumb up, and then he went into the
hallway, clearly taking a left instead of heading for the exit.
Hey, Shahzad called. Where to?
To see Dilshad.
I wish you could stay out of trouble, Sahel.
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Yes, I wish too.


He should have gone straight home. Zawri had ordered Sahel to
stop ruminating over the Razmak case, and that mean staying clear
of Research. But Dilshad Hussain was a still a close friend, and you
could not order a man to terminate his friendship. It was not Sahel's
fault that now Dilshad Hussain was heading Research, was it?
In comparison to Personnel, the Research Department at the end
of the floor was a madhouse. Dilshad Hussain liked it that way, and
his people joked that even if forced to retire to being at Headmaster
of a kindergarten, he would run it similarly, snapping out orders
planning activities and jumping from recess to finger paints like the
field commander he would always be. Within the Pakistan
Intelligence community, NSB's Research Department was
uncontested, as the brain trust of gathering, computation and
analysis of the raw information. Dilshad Hussain's department in
SpecOp was just a smaller version of the same. He could call on
resources at will --from other intelligence agencies or even the
national Police. His private lair was bursting at the seams with files,
computer printouts, cipher booklets, video and Audio tapes. There
was room for possibly five desks and as many varied terminals,
supporting maximum of seven analysts. Yet Dilshad Hussain had
accounted for every centimetre of space. He had five different
computers, two multi-head VCR and two monitors with sound
recorder equipment and amplifier speakers and massive crossindexing files in four ceiling high steel cabinets. Dilshad had no desk
of his own, because he worked better on his feet. Besides, it allowed
him to put two more people into the room which usually harboured
no fewer than nine in addition to him. The atmosphere was always
choked with smoke despite the anticigarette wave gripping the
National scene. Dilshad encouraged the habit, contending that the
puffing enhance the mental reflexes.
Thanks to colonel AK Zawri's skewed concept of crime and
punishment, Dilshad Hussain had been suspended from Operations
after Kabul fiasco. But he had managed to twist things around. Now
Operations could not function without him.
There was no lettered signed on the door to Dilshad's
department, instead Dilshad had somehow acquired a large black
and yellow wooden sign from a road gang. It exhibited no words, but
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simply showed a muscular figure bending over a large black mound


of earth, applying leverage to a shovel. For that was how Dilshad
viewed his assignment, and also how he wanted to his staff to view it-- sweat provoking, roll-up-your-sleeves, laborious, digging rather
than a purely intellectual, chair bound endeavours that could make
your ass flabby and starve your inspiration.
Sahel pushed on the road sign; the door swung open and he was
immediately greeted by cloud of cigarette smoke, the smell of coffee,
a noise of computer's printers and Dilshad's thundering voice.
No, Sonia Dilshad was nearly shouting. I don't want that
now. Just give me what I asked you for.
But Sir, a woman's voice sounded obstinate, nearly
insubordinate, we have got a twenty percent increase in verbs and
nouns. We should start from the beginning of the file fill in some
blanks.
O... my God! There was a crack of Dilshad's palm against his
own forehead. How many times do I have to say it Sonia? We have
got over three thousand transmission, if you correct every page, you
would be living three, four children, by the time you are halfway
done!
Okay, okay, someone else said.
The voices of opposition died down and the clatter of computer
keys increased. Sahel closed the door and Dilshad turned from where
he has been posed like an orchestra conductor, waving his arms
demanding productions from his various sections.
Dilshad Hussain was five-foot-ten, somewhat shorter than Sahel,
but he had the wide body like a rugby player. He was forever battling
a stomach which was addicted to his wife Kashmiri cooking, yet he
believed that once he increased trouser size it would be akin to a
wartime surrender. He was constantly hitching up his belt. He
smoked incessantly, but he still played soccer every weekend with his
two teenage sons, and it was said that he could victoriously armwrestle any field agent in the Department.
As Sardar JS Khan, he had been overall commander of operation
Darkroom and ultimately responsible for botched arrest. Yet unlike
Sahel, Dilshad's spirit had not been dulled by the Kabul fiasco. He
viewed intelligence work as an open warfare, and in war you made
mistakes, accept them, paid for them and carried on.
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Dilshad was wearing a sky-blue half sleeved shirt with off-white


cotton pant. His big bald head and jug ears were shiny with
perspiration and the shirt was dark under the armpits. He extended a
beefy hand.
Sahel! He boomed as he hadn't seen him since months, though
they had had breakfast together only the day before. Why won't
these people listen to me?
Farhaj took the hand and squeezed hard to match Dilshad
power. Apparently because you don't give them fair allowance,
Sahel poked him.
We respect him. Someone said from the hazy atmosphere. We
just don't like his style.
Shut up and work, Dilshad barked without turning around.
How was it today? He looked at Sahel with some sympathy.
Be serious. Sahel smiled.
You be serious, Dilshad said, and take it seriously, the only way
you would get out of it.
Maybe I like this way.
And my father was queer.
That's what in your file, Sahel said and Dilshad patted his
shoulder and suddenly turned back to the troops. You Tariq, what's
taking so long?
You wanted hard-disk backup, so now you have to wait, said a
young man labouring over an hp compatible.
Mukamal jahalat! Dilshad roared.
Ah, the Pakistani Koom, Sahel sighed.
Our flexibility will also be our demise, said Dilshad.
Sahel searched the room, something big was breaking; he could
smell it in the atmosphere, he could by the frenetic concentration
that gripped intelligence personnel whenever fresh information was
coursing down the pipeline.
All five computer terminals were occupied, the young men and
women, who each had advanced degrees in the science, bulked over
their keyboards like crows pecking at corn. Two additional men were
fanning through the paper files in the ceiling high cabinets, and
more brooding figure sat in the far corner by the windows, flipping
through a small notebook.
Everyone in the room knew Sahel and they were always friendly.
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Though fallen from grace, he was still viewed as a field agent, a figure
from that other world of daring and danger which they would never
experience. He was usually regarded with a degree of awe, yet today
the computer troops were fairly ignoring him.
What's going on? asked Sahel.
Dilshad raised a playful eyebrow at Sahel. Farhaj was out of his
department and was expected to respect the rules of
compartmentalization which restricted access of information to a
need-to-know basis. With a few selected individuals such a Sahel,
Dilshad occasionally broke the rules.
Is he cleared for this, Dilshad? The small figure asked him
from the far corner without looking up from his notebook.
I'm cleared for the rumours, Khaki, Sahel said above the
chatters of the computers.
Someone laughed. Dilshad lit a cigarette, kept if between his
teeth, and put his hands to his hips.
Rumour is, Dilshad said, ISI has broken a big chunk of
Hyperion Codes.
ISI? Sahel's eyed bugged.
That's the rumour.
There was a historical, healthy competitive spirit between ISI and
NSB, but cooperation on most matter was high. Many officers made
career moves from one organisation to the other, so the level of
jealousies rarely got out of hand.
Do you have it? Sahel asked excitedly.
By messenger an hour ago, in black and white. Dilshad
grinned. He was clearly pleased, triumphant. He did not care what
outfit made the gains, as long as the war was going well.
Isn't this a cipher jurisdiction? Farhaj asked.
Jurisdiction is just an excuse to do less work. Dilshad growled.
Take a chair, Dilshad had noticed the missing cane. Shouldn't
go too far the first day.
That's okay, I will stand.
What I told you, Khaki? Dilshad growled again.
Sonia, the anticipation is killing me, he continued.
Everyone in the room waited Khaki would not be rushed. He
rubbed his chinless jaw and stared into space, finally he turned
towards the terminal where Sonia sat.
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Dilshad is right, Sonia, Khaki whispered. You are not some


poet and we are not trying to write or interpret some poetry. Just pull
the Spells and End spells along with the five words preceding and
following. He went back to reading his booklet.
You see, Dilshad clapped his big hands together. That's why
he gets the big bonuses. It was joke of course, as the NSB salaries
were hardly generous and there were no bonuses.
Okay, I am getting a listing off a first three hundred pieces.
Tariq said from his terminal.
Print it, said Dilshad.
The machine chatter increased.
What about Darkroom? Sahel suddenly asked.
Dilshad turned. He looked at Sahel sadly, with a touch of
sympathy. Now, Sahel...
Why not Dilshad, It can't hurt me, let the machines do it.
You just give up the ghost, can you?
No, and neither can you, so don't pretend otherwise.
Dilshad bowed his bald head and ran a hand over it. He blew out
of a cloud of smoke. He straightened up.
Okay Sonia. He jabbed a finger to the right. Pull Kabul file
and do an extraction for Darkroom.
Halal?
No, you idiot! That's our code name for him. Try JAZAB,
LASHKAR, and RIZWA BUKSHI, but just first pull all the five and
six characters proper and create a separate file.
Cancel that order.
A voice boomed from the open doorway, and except for the
printer chatter, the room went dead and the research staffers froze.
The cloud of cigarette suddenly shifted towards the entrance and
amid the haze stood the tall figure of Colonel AK Zawri.
The commander of NSB's Special Operations stepped into the
room. He was too tall for the door frame and had to bow his head,
but his cold stare remained fixed on Dilshad and Sahel. Zawri had
that unfair advantage of unusually large man, especially in the land
of midsized Pakistanis; even without uttering a word he commanded
power. In addition, his forty eight year old head still had every one of
the coal-black hair with which he was born, greyed slightly at the
curled fringes, but looking like raw steel wire. His eyes were nearly
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black, with curved eyebrows and beneath equally darkened cheeks


and his sharp nose jutted over tight lips.
He slammed the door with one huge hand.
Sahel, what are you doing here?
Somehow, Sahel was not surprised at Zawri's untimely arrival.
Visiting.
The Colonel ignored the disrespect. I have told you before
and I will not tell you again. You are not to wander from your own
operational parameters, and you are certainly forbidden from
interfering with the important work undertaken in this room.
Sahel flushed. His knee was suddenly throbbing and he wanted
very badly to sit down, but he just returned Zawri's stare.
I asked him here. Dilshad lied. Dilshad never gave quarter, not
even to his boss, and he put his hands to his belt and hiked up his
pants as if preparing for a fist fight. As you may or may not
remember, I have authority to call upon any agent, at any time for
whatever needs required by my staff.
Zawri ignored the Major. He was not about to take on with
Dilshad in a public forum. He continued deriding Sahel.
Might I also remind you Mr Sahel that matters regarding
Darkroom are no longer your concern? I will not have these
people's valuable time wasted by your pursuit of a cold dead body.
Zawri eyes were nearly glowing now; making Sahel feel as his hair
might suddenly burst into flames. We have pending operations
requiring immediate updates. The salving of your ego is not on my
priority list.
Sahel had had enough. He was not going to stand there and be
Zawri's whipping boy, nor was he going to wait to be thrown out
physically. He picked up his briefcase and made for the door.
I am sure, you have plenty of paperwork. Zawri called after
him.
Sahel's blood was pounding in his ears. He heard footsteps
following him as he limped quickly, white lipped down the hall.
Sahel, Dilshad voice called. Tomorrow night at seven you and
Amber. Bubbly is making haleem.
Sahel kept walking, his vision half blurred with fury and
humiliation. He barely registered the curious heads poked from
office doors, wandering who might be the target of Zawri's rage, as
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the thundering voice still echoed down the hall from Research.
From the doorway to cover, Seema's concerned face suddenly
emerged. Bravo?
Good day, as he hurried on, nearly staggering as he marched
painfully down the cold dark stairwell.
-------When by seven o' clock Sahel had still not arrived at home, Amber
began to worry.
She of course had now known her husband during his tenure as a
field agent, when he would be often be gone from his apartment for
day or would disappear from the country altogether without a word
to friends or family. His present job one he fairly dragged himself to
each morning had very regular hours. He rarely came home after
five, still during her regular military service Amber knew
intelligence people often lost track of the time. She hoped that Sahel
was simply engaged in some important assignment. That would be
good for him, for both of them. Naturally, all of the other darker
reasons for his delay also coursed through her brain and she was
tempted to call the office. But she would not do that. In Pakistan
military wives did not call the office, unless they were in the
advanced stage of labour or the house was ablaze. Everyone in the
country knew that the real heroes of the Pakistan defence forces were
the wives who waited silently and Amber was not about to shatter
that image.
Amber had had a difficult day herself. She now worked in the
children wing at CMH, and her face muscles had ached from her
constant attempts to smile, her feet burned from the endless walk up
and down the hallways on hard tile floor of the wards.
Yet she always looked forward to coming home, even climbing
the two flights to their apartment if lift was out of order in G-11.
Although it was only a rental, the flat was far beyond anything either
Amber or Sahel had ever hoped for. By Islamabad standard it was
huge with three bed rooms with attached bath rooms fully tiled with
fancy sanitary fittings. A teak wood-worked lounge with a small
portion for dinning and moderate kitchen and in addition, there
was a fireplace which Amber liked very much.
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Although it was a bit expensive within the budget ceiling allowed


by NSB, but Sahel and Amber both decided to share the cost with
NSB, as upon seeing the place, they immediately loved it.
Amber had put off her sweaty hospital's nurse uniform. She had
showered, washed her jet black hair and pulled on a soft jean and
light cotton shirt. Barefoot now she stood on the terrace, her one
hand on the guardrail and other holding a glass of iced orange juice,
she watched out over the tall buildings and houses cross the street
turning purple with the coming of night. She tried not to look at her
watch, one ear waited for the ring of the telephone.
Farhaj arrived at 7.20. He was using the cane again and he was
exhausted. He had stopped at the Gull's Inn on the Margalla, where
the UN had its headquartered. It was the most beautiful view of
Islamabad from any vantage, and when troubled, Sahel often went
there to sit on the hillside watching houses, trees changing colours
with the trek of the sun. They were building a long public walkway
on the hill, and soon every tourist in the country would be sharing
over Sahel's private purview, slurring ice creams and clicking camera
chatters. But now there was only a tasteful restaurant dug into the
hillside, barely visible from the road. Sahel had sat out on the grass,
fairly gulped a series of Espresso trying to remind himself that he
still had something for which to be thankful.
But by the time he managed three flights to the apartment, a
hardship which had stubbornly ignored when he signed the lease
and he was sweating and the knee was on fire. Much of the anger had
returned before he entered in the apartment.
Amber hurried in from the terrace, greeting him like a faithful
wife.
I was worried. She smiled.
Sahel threw his briefcase and cane on the brown Victorian couch.
He fell into a black sofa and banged his head back on the cushioned
rest. He closed his eyes.
No need, I am covered for death and disability.
Amber ignored the stupid remarks and kissed him on his cheek.
I am sorry, I said that.
He reached under his shirttail and removed his holstered pistol,
laying it at the glass coffee table.
No apology necessary. Amber was still smiling, but her wide
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brown eyed showed concern. Taking too much coffee, is bad for
health. Amber smelled fragrance of espresso.
Who bothers health, thanks to my bloody career?
Amber sat down on the couch, holding her glass over her knees.
Even in his cold dark mood, Sahel could not block the incursion of
his wife's warmth, her beauty, lines of her breasts beneath her shirt
and the elegance of her long slim fingers.
What happened today, Sahel?
God, I need a cigarette, Ambi. He liked calling her that and she
loved hearing it. It somehow looked her sexy and very close to a
generic name of a young mango still on the tree.
Amber took the cigarette from the pocket of Sahel's shirt, lit one
for her husband and put it in his lips. Her thought went briefly to
the cancer ward and she dispelled them.
I am still listening. She said.
Colonel A.K. Zawri. That's what happened. That's what always
happens.
Oh, Amber sat back on the couch. She looked out through the
windows to the dark night and the brightening buildings across the
street. This was a recurring problem, and it would not go away. Sahel
had been a combat officer and now he was 'flying a desk', as they
said. She had seen the syndrome before. In addition, this idiot
colonel would not let Sahel forget something that had wounded her
husband physically and crippled him mentally, something that had
turned him into a vulnerable man she loved. But at this rate, he was
not going to make it, would not last at least until his partial pension.
They were trying to get pregnant, they needed the housing subsidy,
their parents were not wealthy, and they would have to buy many
new baby items at their own. If Sahel could not preserve, their fairytail nest would fall down.
I am going to quit. Sahel said suddenly. He listed slightly for a
moment and then he went out to the terrace and leaned on the steel
guardrail.
Amber followed her husband, yet she stood back a bit and just
listening.
There is no reason to take it. Sahel said. Be this punching bag.
I am young. I'll get something else. We'll manage. He suddenly
dropped the cigarette and crushed it under his heel.
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They both knew what manage would mean, Amber let the idea
hang for a while. Then she spoke.
My husband always tells me, don't shop grocery, when you are
hungry and don't make decisions, when you are mad.
He is an idiot. Sahel snorted.
May be he's just hungry. Amber offered. I was going to BBQ
tonight, may be Shashlik.
It sounds just nothing, said Sahel. But I am not hungry. He
turned around and Amber saw the depth of the hurt in his eyes. I
am just exhausted Ambi, just tired.
She took his arms and put it over her shoulders and led him back
inside as she squeezed his waist. A nap then. She said as she led him
down the bedroom, and then we'll see.
In the bedroom, Amber lowered the windows curtains, putting
most of the space into dark shadow. She lowered Sahel's backward on
to the bed, took off his sneakers, socks and jeans while he stared up at
the ceiling.
She stood up and began to unbutton her blouse. Sahel was about
to protest, but then he remembered the baby. Amber had warned
him about four days in her cycle were always crucial with no matters
the moods and problems around them. Sahel was also anxious to
begin adding to the family. Yet he also knew, as he watched her, that
he was captured, so he did not resist her. He suddenly sat up
surprising Amber and kissed on her neck and switched off the lights.
He dreamed of many things fitfully. He dreamed of the army, of
parachuting into darkened forests, climbing the mountain peaks,
careening in brakeless cars through rain-slickened streets of
anonymous cities, but most of all he dream of Razmak Bilal.

_______

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Chapter 3
A small town near Bukhara
Hayat Gul awoke as he did always, with the sun in his eyes. It was
calculated reception of the disturbing morning light with Hayat's
lifelong practice of selecting bedrooms which would foil his poor
night-time habits. All his life Hayat battled his urge to sleep late, to
linger in bed a bit long past an acceptable hour. Forced to outwit his
own metabolism, he would remove the curtains from the windows
and arrange angle of his bed just so. Neither the banging of alarm
clocks nor the persistent music of radio could penetrate his sleep.
The only effective weapon was blinding message from God.
Hayat's wife Shirin was not terribly disturbed of her husband's
morning tattoo, but she had managed to adjust. After a year of
marriage, the dawn's emerging light and bird whistles careening off
the bedroom walls no longer affected her. While her husband
struggled with his eyelids, she went right on sleeping, unless of
course baby's cry called her off to wake up.
However on this particular morning, Hayat hardly required
nature's assistance. He had barely slept, yet he got up in bed as if he
had had a full eight hours sleep. At long last he would be breaking
the pleasant monotony of his existence, leaving for an extended
business trip. He felt some pains of guilt leaving Shirin and the baby
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behind, but he had not set foot outside of Kogon since their wedding
day. It was welcome change and he was suffered with anticipation.
The air in the room was cold, unusually so far late spring in
Uzbekistan. Shirin had kicked the brown woollen blanket drown
around her waist and Hayat gently pulled it back up over her
shoulders, where it covered her long brown hair. She did not stir but
her eyes were shut fiercely tight, as if she were already wake yet
unprepared to face the day.
The bedroom door was halfway opened with a rubber stopper so
that they could hear the baby. Hayat slipped through half naked
hugging himself as he walked across the cold tile floor of the saloon
towards the kitchen. The far end of the long living room had floor to
ceiling window. The sun streamed in through the collapsible fibre
blinds and threw wavy shadows on the floor as he passed the large
plant vase inside lounge.
Hayat opened the kitchen tap, poured some water in the kettle
and ignited the stove with a matchstick. His hand shook a bit, but he
set the water to boil and went back to the bathroom.
He turned on the small transistor next to the sink keeping the
volume low. The Uzbek music channel was running its early
morning wakeup programme. It was pleasant old classical song. He
rinsed leaving swatches of leather on his face and he begun to mutter
along the song as he stepped into the shower.
He dressed unusually for him in a charcoal-grey suit. The new
white shirt came fresh from its package and it was stiff against his
damp skin. He had some trouble with the dark blue stripped tie; for
it has been so long time to wear one. He briefly combed his hair and
stood to look in the mirror. Satisfied, if not completely comfortable,
he reached into the breast pocket for his glasses and set on his face.
He squinted and then he smiled. He looked like a business
professional or a stockbroker.
At the end of the hallway, the door to the baby's room was closed.
Hayat was about to enter, then he hesitated, turned and made
straight for the kitchen fairly tiptoeing on the floor. From the
refrigerator he extracted a bottle of orange juice. He took out a stick
of margarine and a jar of apple jam and picked up a fresh cucumber
sized roll of bread from a basket on the kitchen table.
He made himself a dark cup of instant coffee, added some milk
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and sugar and sat down to his breakfast.


He was really too excited to eat, but he forced himself to dress the
roll. He did not know when he would find the next opportunity for
a meal. It was strange for the first time in so many work days not to
going to the office. The people of the Bank de finance were pleasant
and the conditions more than accommodating, yet he would not
miss any of it. And although he took his studying seriously,
spending his evenings in pursuit of master's degree in Business
Administration, the work and learning took their toll on his family
life. It was difficult to be a young father, so much responsibility. In
fact it would be good to get away, and he could justify his pleasure
with the knowledge that the baby and Shirin would want for
nothing.
She came of the hallway with her hair in disarray, wild around
her face and over her shoulders. She was wearing her light pinkish
robe and she was pushing a small stroller, Sophie was wrapped in a
white cotton shawl against a morning chill. She looked as she has
been crying and she reached her tiny hands towards the face of
Shirin. She looked too, as she has been crying. Her cheeks were
flushed and she had lost her ever present smile.
On this morning Shirin was not certainly sharing her husband's
optimism, and if he was actually indulging a certain joy, betrayed by
his unusual morning, she was having none of it. The business trip
was not a surprise, and Shirin had been experiencing a growing
edginess with the recent passage of time. Now the panic of imminent
abandonment was welling within her. She would taste no excitement,
no thrill of adventure. She and Sophie would be left at home alone.
However, Shirin was mustering all her strength to suppress her
emotions, check her tears. She still firmly believed that her role was
that of Hayat Gul's loving wife, mother to his child, a supportive
partner. She was his only family, his roots, his moral support and she
would continue that role with a straight martyrdom that seemed
almost politically zealous.
Hayat looked up from his coffee, his eyes like those of a man
caught by his guilt.
Subohen Bakhairish. Shirin whispered.
No mornings are good mornings, unless you make it good,
Hayat repeated their private joke, but it fell flat.
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You look so strange, said Shirin. Her mouth twisting as she


pulled Sophie from the stroller to her arms.
Hayat looked down at his suit. He swept some crumbs from his
tie. I feel strange.
Suddenly baby began to cry. She stood up and reached to the air
and her face went red, until she finally let out her first long wail.
O, no, Sophie, Hayat stood up and walked quickly to his
family. He reached for the baby, but Shirin said, Don't, you'll mess
the suit. Then she bounced the baby a few times, though it did not
seem to help.
She knows us, Shirin said, She can feel it, that's all.
Give her to me, said Hayat, To hell with the suit.
Shirin handed the baby over, and Hayat cooed her, but he did
hold away at some length, keeping her tears from the wool.
I'll get your things.
She came back with the suitcase and the business brief. They
switched, Shirin recovering the baby and Hayat reluctantly hefting
his bags.
He looked at Shirin for a long time, wordless, completely at a
loss.
Love, she finally said freeing him.
Take care, Hayat managed.
I'll miss you, Shirin tears were coming now, joining Sophie's,
soaking into her terrycloth.
Hayat kissed her wife on her trembling lips, and then he kissed
the baby on her pink skull, feeling the light fuzz of her new hair.
He walked quickly to the door and was gone.
________

By the time Hayat reached onto the ground floor, he had managed
his emotional gears, recovering optimism of the morning. The shock
of the cold air, fresh and damped with the night rain, felt like a
breath of pure oxygen after an evening in smoky cafe. He pulled his
raincoat closed and buttoned it, briefly wishing that he had
something heavier that his light suit. He turned and looked at his
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shabby white Renault, park in the open, hoping that Shirin would
finally learn to master the strange dashboard gear lever. He smiled at
the little car and began to walk.
With a few long steps, he reached to the street. Baite Ameer was
not much more than alleyway, a one way road barely wide enough for
the passage of a single car. It was quiet place lined with small
apartment's buildings and Hayat had always felt affection for its
name dedicated to the bravery of Ameer Tamour.
Although it was very early, even by Uzbek's standards, this part
of Baite Ameer was already coming awake. Hayat could hear the dewchoked carburettors of small cars out on the roads, the voices of
children on their way schools. Hayat turned left and began to walk
west on Baite Ameer.
He was tempted to look back at Number-24, thinking that Shirin
would be watching him from the small terrace window, but he
ignored the idea and kept on pace. An old man driving a vegetable
cart has passed him coming from the other way, the shaggy driver
and his donkey returned Hayat's nod with their own.
Halfway down the block on the left was a low single storey
cement building. The house had wide front window, its green slatblinds just rolling up into the casing as Mrs. Abranov appeared on
the window like a ghostly sailor. Mrs. Abranov owned this cafe and
was running a small children nursery too. Seemingly it was a strange
combination, though her endeavours brought convenience and
relief to neighbourhood mothers.
Mrs. Abranov bugged her eyes and smoothed her thinning white
hair as she saw Hayat approaching in his suit.
Subohen Bakhairish, Hayat Gul Her cheered voice filled with
year's estimation. You look great.
Hayat bowed accepting the compliments.
Thank you and good morning to you, Mrs Abranov.
As she did every morning, the old woman handed over him first
edition of morning Daily Bukhara and two packs of Rothman.
Hayat opened his briefcase and dropped the cigarette inside. Then he
took up the paper and scanned the headlines. As Always the edition
was one day behind, but he was used to that by now. Events always
reached Kogon after the rest of the world has consumed it, as if the
small town opinion was unimportant vis--vis its impact of the
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international scene.
Anything else, Mrs. Abranov asked, although Hayat's response
was always negative.
Just a smile, please.
And of course the old woman complied, adding a slight blush as
she smoothed her hair again.
Salam as Hayat moved.
Salam, he called over his shoulders.
Going away, She could not help asking the receding figure, and
then she quickly put up her fingertips to her naughty lips.
He just waved in the air.
Hayat reached Shah Street near to Kogon Palace Children Park,
and turned left again, walking more briskly, hoping to warm him
with the exercise. He passed some people on the road and arrived at
the intersection, where on chilly days such as this, he would
normally have boarded Number 11 bus for the short ride down to
Mokhal to his branch of Bank de Finance.
Hayat crossed the road and waited at a far corner. He lit up a
cigarette and looked at his watch. It was not a designated stop, but
soon a Black Mercedes van showed up. Hayat Boarded, the driver
greeting him with a nod. He took a seat in the front. There was only
one other passenger, who appeared to be sleeping on the rear seat.
The van quickly moved north from the centre of town making
no stops. It took hardly ten minutes, as the clusters of the apartments
grew sparser and the traffic on the roads receded to the occasional
car or jeep. The van stopped at a junction, north-eastern intersection
of the town line.
Good luck. The driver wished him success as he opened the
door and stepped out.
You too, said Hayat as he carried his cases in his hands.
He began to walk again towards east along the narrow highway
towards the countryside. Hence the grassy fields quickly fell off to
unformed plots of flat mud. The trees were bare excepting the
occasional clusters of pines and the spotty distant scabs of melting
snow made the warmer memories of Kogon.
After half a kilometre, Hayat reached a large mesh fence that
blocked the highway. It has covered lengths and drifted away from
both sides of the road, disappearing over the distant hills. At its
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centre was a gate in the roadway. A man with fatigue capped in a


green woollen uniform stood there shifting from his boot to boot to
keep him warm. The man watched Hayat's approach and then
wordlessly slid the gate back without raising his eyes as the Hayat
passed him.
He walked another half kilometre, warm now with the exertion.
Then, finally at the crest of the hill where the highway ran between
pairs of withered trees, he saw the car.
It was a long black, boxy van painted on both sides with a
company's insignia, parked across the highway on a service road, not
yet metalled with black top. Hayat's excitement rose, his heart faster
now. He could not see inside the car for its smoked windows, but it
grew larger, as rear trunk door suddenly opened like a genie cave
hissing up on hydraulic hinges.
The engine was running, smoothly barely audible and Hayat
stepped through the cloud of exhaust and put his cases into the deep
trunk. He closed it, rubbed his chilled hands together and walked
towards the rear door and got inside. Immediately the big van began
to move.
It took a minute for Hayat eyes to adjust as the sun had been so
bright, and the car was gloomy with its black tinted windows. He was
alone on the huge rear seat; a thick tempered glass divider separated
him from the driver's compartment. In the front right seat was a
large figure, a husky man in a dark suit appeared reading some
papers. His head was wide and short brown hair going grey with age.
To the left, driver's peaked cap stayed dead straight on the wheel
wearing a pair of black leather gloves.
The van was moving very fast now, fairly flying over the narrow
highway. Suddenly Hayat was smacked with the reality that, despite
his assurance to Shirin, he was leaving. If all went well, he would not
return. He turned in his seat to make him more comfortable and
gazed out the rear window.
On the flat horizon, he could still see his small town Kogon, its
low plaster buildings receding quickly in the distance.
He relaxed and sat back against the high leather seat, releasing a
sigh of wonder. He looked ahead to the future, to pinpoint the ends
of the road that wavered at the next barren crest, and despite on edgy,
he felt more growing excitement. Though he would not be there for
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another ten hours, including four and half flying hours from the
city of Balkan, he could almost smell Moscow.
The glass partition suddenly slid down into its leather case, and
the large man seemed to awaken to the presence of his charge. He
turned quickly throwing his beefy arm over the glass partition
smiling through a gap-toothed mouth.
Good morning, Hashim, said the man.
Hayat was momentarily shocked. It was the sound of Russian,
which he had not heard in over a year. It would take more than
moment to make the adjustment, and his eyes must have registered
surprise, making Major Boris Yaakov think that he was admonishing
the open use of his code name.
Oh, don't worry about him, said the officer, pointing a gloved
finger at the motionless driver. He's deaf. The External Services
man laughed loudly, a sound strangely accompanied by the gravelly
singing of Boris Yaakov as it boomed from a tape player. Many
Russians had been imprisoned for listening to the dissident poet, but
the RES enjoyed whatever music it pleased. It does not make for the
safest driving, said the officer, still referring to his driver's
handicap. But it's perfect for security.
He was still laughing, but then it faded quickly, receding to a
warm and sympathetic smile. He did not realize that his passenger's
expression resulted from insecurity, a fear that his first utterance
would gush forth in Persian.
The Russian External Services man jutted his jaw towards rear
window.
I hope you will not be too homesick, he said empathetically.
Real Uzbekistan waits you, he smiled once more. She is longing
for you.
Razmak Bilal smiled in return.
________

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After couple of weeks
On Wednesday morning Colonel A.K.Zawri was in a fine mood.
Unfortunate for the Special Operations personnel, the colonel's
frame of mind was always directly connected to the degree of his
successes or failures. When operations proceeded with only a small
amount of results, the commander was fuming, sombre somewhat
like a burbling volcanic pit. However on days such as this when his
success was no less than smashing. Zawri's arrogance rushed to the
surface like summer seas and he was profoundly happy. And when
Abdul Karim Zawri is happy, he was also supremely foul.
Sahel knew that it was coming, like a hunter smells rain on the
wind, like a race driver know that on this day there will be smack of
steel against steel, yet his insight was not exactly telepathic.
He had taken Tuesday off calling sick leave and spent much of
his morning time resting and relaxing in bed. He had accepted
Amber's advice most of the day to cool off. He sat most of the time
out in terrace at their white round umbrella table, sipping iced coffee
and catching up the papers and magazines. In the afternoon he met
Amber at G-7 Markaz, where hand in hand they shopped meat,
vegetables and fruits at the huge bins tended by the friendly stall
keepers.
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In the evening after Sahel cancelled the dinner at the Dilshad,


they finally had their delayed barbeque and with the aid of old songs
Farhaj achieved an uneven approaching relaxed euphoria that he had
not known for many months. Amber went back to the hospital,
having switched a shift with a co-worker. Sahel popped the pretty
woman into the DVD player and laugh aloud watching Julia Robert's
innocent acting and Richard Gere as sober rich businessman.
At midnight, with the final TV news wrap-up, Sahel's state
abruptly turned cold-stone sober. There was a brief early report about
killing of an Al-Qaeda operative in Peshawar in a cross shootout
early this evening. The terrorists were hiding in a house tipped by
agency sources, the details and perpetrators of the operation as yet
unknown.
But Sahel has no doubt as to the identity of the executioners. He
sat before the television for a good long hour, motionless staring at
the screen. He filled that screen with the thousand images from his
own history hoping at once that there were no errors that a mission
was a total success, then guiltily wishing that it had somehow failed.
It seemed that a day could not pass without bringing some
persistent reminder of Kabul. His team members though now
scattered around the globe, made their regular appearances. Roshna
Saleem, whose image he fought hardest to suppress infiltrated in his
mind.
Tehran. He was glad that he had not been there, then felt
instantly depressed, somewhat like an injured goalkeeper who has
watched his team in the World Hockey Champions Trophy.
In the morning after a night of broken sleep, he was sorely
tempted to take an additional sick leave. Yet his pride finally
propelled him from the bed. He was certain that his absence
following Zawri's sour reprimand had already fed the Department's
rumour mill, and he wanted to crush any impression that he might
have finally succumbed to the Colonel's abuses.
Sahel was in Personnel by eight o clock sharp. Saleem, the drivercum-runner, was already out on his trip, and Sahel sat at the boy's
desk correcting Anita's typescript of his recent interviews. Anita was
not in yet and Sahel borrowed the Walkman from her drawer and
listened to the hourly news as he sipped a cup of coffee and smoked a
cigarette.
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The morning reports were already quite full of details. An AlQaeda operative later identified as Abdullah a Libyan in his midthirties. The hideout was located somewhere close to Hayatabad
locality in Peshawar. He was one of the surviving architects of several
terrorist activities in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Security agencies and
police had launched hunt for another operative named Abu Saleh
accomplice of Abdullah who slipped away in smoke towards the
tribal areas. A senior police officer was saying that Abu Saleh, an
Egyptian national, was wanted by the CIA and was carrying reward
money of $ 500,000.
The operation was almost lauded for its surgical professionalism.
Abdullah was killed with his bodyguards, but his wife remained
unharmed. The professional team had arrived at the scene to assist
the security agencies and police and departed within ten minutes
leaving no causalities of forces and security agencies.
Almost without exception, foreign sources pointed to a NSB's
operation. As Sahel removed the earphone, he needed no further
proof of this assessment. He looked up at the ceiling, where the
vibration of moving feet caused the light bulbs to shiver on their
hanging wires. The top floor had been up all night long, and it was
certainly not because they were playing cards game. There was going
to be a lot of unsubtle merrymaking on the floors today, and he
really did not want to hear it.
Good morning.
He was snapped from his brooding by Anita's greeting as she
entered the room and closed the door. She was cheerful this
morning, fairly bouncing on the balls of her feet and Sahel could not
help smiling at her.
Morning, he said and extended his hand to return his
Walkman. I borrowed it, hope you won't mind.
Anita tossed her black purse onto her desk and retrieved the
radio. And if I did?
Then you wouldn't be Anita, said Sahel.
The girl almost blushed, but she managed to suppress it. She
worked hard not to reveal the crush on her elder co-worker, but she
was not fooling anyone. She examined the cassette-radio without
really seeing it.
So you have heard, then.
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What's that? He posed ignorance.


She knitted her brows. Everyone knew by this hour, everyone
who had a radio or television, from the top cabinet ministers to the
small shopkeeper in village. You know, Peshawar.
O, yes. Sahel sat back in the chair and blew out some smoke.
Used to be a lovely city, I know, I have been there many times.
Come on Sahel.
Yes, I heard. Sahel gave up the game. Anita was still very young,
not bruised with the experience. He straightened the papers before
him, as if bored by the whole affair. Quite an operation, he said.
Must have been security people.
Of course. Anita was smiling at him again, and suddenly Sahel
realized that her look also harboured sympathetic indulgence. He
always thought of this girl as a teenager, so much young than
himself, yet here she was already here well-armed with the
sophisticated psychological tongs with which women handled
fragile male egos. It struck Sahel that Anita was certainly no child,
probably long past virginity. She was a very pretty girl, and with her
long black curls and brown eyes resembled with Amber.
Anita, you are wearing uniform, for God's sake. You would be
sacked right now!
It was Zawri's strictest regulation; no one, no matter their
military status was ever to appear at Headquarters in anything but
civilian clothes. And here she was in sergeant's uniform with strips
on the shoulders.
I know, don't worry so, she said, pleased with his concern.
Have not you heard?
No, I haven't.
New rules, all support staff once a day in a month, now can
have uniform. I heard it was Major Dilshad Hussain's idea.
Naturally.
Dilshad said it was not normal, every building in Islamabad has
routine uniform people wandering even on their personal business.
Yea, it sounds Dilshad's reasoning. He has a chess master
mentality. He could always determine what the opposition would be
thinking and then provide an appropriate bit of strategic
doublethink.
Anita stood up to make some coffee, Want some more?
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Sure, Sahel watched her. The uniform was thick green cloth
trousers with a same light coloured blouse of Lenin fabric with grey
lining inside veiling almost all smart curves of a woman. The supply
corps has recently replaced the uniforms, which had been light grey
cotton previously smartly fitted on curves.
I liked the old uniform. Sahel smiled.
Yes, that's what all the men say. She smiled too.
Morning, Major Shahzad came bouncing in, his empty pipe
clutched between his teeth. Ah, coffee is what I need.
Coming up, said Anita.
Morning, said Sahel.
Shahzad dropped his briefcase on the rack by window. Feeling
better, Sahel.
Walking wounded.
I don't see the cane.
And you won't again.
Good man.
Did you hear Shazi? Anita asked Shahzad as she handed him
small glass of steaming black coffee. He took it by the top edges with
thumb and forefingers, but it burned him anyway and he hurried to
set it down.
Yea, damn it. He cursed the Slavic tradition of agencies, where
placing hot liquids in small glasses instead of cups or mugs.
Suddenly the door was pushed open and Captain Qadri
appeared. The captain's hair was wild, unwashed and hardly fingercombed giving him more than usual crazed look. Qadri was often
referred to as Zawri's stiletto, for he carried out the Colonel's most
morale-depleting directives, such as transfers, reprimands and rank
busting, with cruel delight. He had been up all night and was
functioning on caffeine.
Department heads upstairs in exactly fifteen minutes, Qadri
snapped, and he looked at his watch like a platoon commander who
wishes to frighten his green troops into punctuality. Then he glanced
over at Sahel and returned his gaze to Shahzad. Just you, Major, he
said pointedly. And bring a clean glass. He closed the door and left.
There was a moment of discomfit silence in the room, and then
Sahel took a pencil cup from the desk and threw it at the door where
it made a resounding crack and bounced onto the floor. To hell,
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you asshole, Sahel shouted. He looked over to Anita, who sat stiffly
in her chair like a frightened cat. Sorry, he said. He hated Qadri
primarily because the man had no mind of his own. He was an
empty vessel, a pure reflection of his boss's moods and desires.
If Zawri has liked Sahel, then Qadri would have spent plenty of
time kissing Sahel's shoes. And bring a clean glass, Sahel muttered
imitating Qadri's self-important tone. He picked up a pencil and
tried to resume his work. Things have been changed too much in the
department, and he prayed that it was a merely passing influence of
an ambitious commander rather than an indication growing
national coldness. He remembered with melancholy clarity how,
long ago after a successful mission in north Waziristan during which
a pair of terrorists had been blown up in their car, his team split up
and reassembled a week later in Islamabad. There after a lengthy
debriefing they had immediately gone down together to the Bari
Imam to pray together. Now in contrast, when Zawri's people got
some victory, the cold commander gathered his department heads
together and poured coffee and drinks like a winning corporate
business head.
Frustrated, Sahel dropped his pencil and sat back rubbing his
forehead. Anita retreated behind her computer. Sahel pushed his
chair back and stood up. I am going to canteen, anybody wants
something to eat?
Anita shook her head.
Sahel, Shahzad look up from beneath his bushy eyebrows. Be
relaxed, okay.
You know something, Shahzad? He began to raise his voice, and
then realized that Shahzad was no target for his anger. He smoothed
his tone low. I don't mind being out of action. I really don't, but I
am sick to death of having my nose rubbed in it.
He went out into the hallway and turned towards the cafeteria.
Zawri was coming briskly along the hallway, followed by a young
man carrying a large wooden crate. Zawri nearly tripped over a telex
cable that snake across the floor like a black asp waiting in ambush.
He immediately stopped short and slapped his palm on the first
nearby door. It happened to be Cover, whose personnel certainly had
nothing to do with the communication. But that did not matter to
the Colonel. Victims were plentiful where his anger would find them
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hidden in the corners of his kingdom.


He ducked his large head into the doorway.
I want those fucking cables off the floor today. This is not a
goddamn movie studio! He let the door slam.
Could have fooled me, Sahel muttered to himself, what with
all the melodrama?
Zawri continued his march, walking right past Sahel as if his
once unsurpassable team leader was merely a duck.
Sahel stopped, lit a cigarette and plugged it between his teeth. He
put his hands into his pant and concentrated on keeping his pace.
Down the hall a small crowd was gathered around the long table
that held unclassified reports and copies of the morning papers.
They were passing sections of news to each other, reading headlines
aloud from daily Jang, Nation and Dawn. Sahel started forward
feeling click in his knee vibrate up to his brain.
He braced himself mentally as he passed the table, where no less
than seven people chattering excitedly about the Peshawar operation.
Morning Bravo!
Seema from Cover looked up at Sahel and smiled broadly.
She held up a front page of Dawn Have you seen this? She
asked excitedly.
Sahel waved a hand. Read them all, page to page, Sahel lied. As
a young paratrooper in 90's he has once enjoyed reading the afteraction news paper coverage of his own unit operations in exercises in
open seas of Arabian Gulf. But he quickly came to realize how
distant journalism from reality was? Especially that journalism
which has by now become unregulated by the department for some
time's assumed actions. He smiled to himself.
He arrived at the cafeteria and settled into a seat. The room was
filled with the morning coffee crowd, many of them had newspaper
spread out and were happily discussing the evening event. There was
not a field agent among them, they were all support staff and were
proud of any successful Department's endeavour. Since long, Sahel
felt completely out of place, precisely because he knew that this was
his peer group.
Coffee peeni ey?
Dilshad appeared from out of the crowd, his solid breadth
imposing like a rising planet.
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Morning Sir. Sahel smiled at him, No more coffee, already


enough, thanks. Sit.
Dilshad took a place at the table. He sipped from a glass and
took a drag from cigarette. How are you feeling?
Sorry about last night, Dilshad. Truth is I just did not want to
socialize.
No apologies, just answer the question.
Sahel looked at his former field commander. There was no lying
to Dilshad. When you did, he immediately called you on it anyway
and then sucked out the truth.
I feel like shit. Especially since Zawri is upstairs right now
rejoicing like an idiot.
That's honest. Dilshad wiped some sweat from his bald head
with his palm, Selfish, but honest.
I am glad the operation came off, Sahel hastened to say. But I
don't know how long I can take it, being half in and half out like this.
Days like today are hard for me. That's all.
Who wanted the chicken rolls? A girl behind the coffee bar
called out to the room. It's getting cold.
Dilshad waited for her to stop shouting, and then he leaned
closed to Sahel.
Look, I told you, we'd try to get your situation improved. You
have to be patient.
So Amber tells me too. I know we want to be parents and I have
to last until partial pension, at least. But I would be rather some idiot
driver at this point. Limping around here like a ghost. Sahel lit his
cigarette while Dilshad shook his head. I have decided, Dilshad, I am
going to demand my rights. Today.
Dilshad's eyes widened. Today?
Are you crazy?
No, I am not. It's right time. Zawri will be horrible right now,
but it would be the only window of generosity of spirit I will find.
Department Heads. Someone in the room yelled. Duty calls.
A number of men began to leave the room.
Dilshad looked at his watch. Sahel, he said. You are a
stubborn young bastard and I like you. He pulled himself up and
out of the chair. But it is my duty to say, as your friend and superior
officer that I strongly recommend against your action.
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I am doing it, Dilshad, today and right now.


I'll back you up. Dilshad said instantly.
I thought you might. Sahel smiled up at the major.
But wait for at least half an hour.
Sahel looked his watch and said, Ok, half an hour your
allowance. As he walked towards door, Dilshad put his beefy hand
on his shoulder. If my sons turned out like you, that will be all
right.
Dilshad, Sahel called after him, you forgot to take a clean
glass.
I don't drink at graveside, said Dilshad and left for the meeting
with Colonel AK Zawri.

______

The conference room on the top floor of the Headquarters was not
comparable to that of a major banking institution, but it was
luxurious by Pakistani governmental standards. The windows were
curtained with long grey silk with a fancy net hanging inside and
dark blue border over it. There were two small crystal chandeliers, as
opposed to weary tube lights, hanging over the either side of long
table. The floor was carpeted wall to wall and the long teak table at
which twenty officers could be seated comfortably was shiny and
freshly oiled. There were expensive office meeting chairs with
adequately cushioned. There was a TV monitor at one end and pulldown white screen for slide show or film projection. There was huge
an art-easel-board stood with some coloured markers in its attached
small basket. There were numbers of mini-speakers fixed over the
chairs on the walls and one microphone each was stood at the front
of the each chair.
The room was filled with smoke--- pipes, cigarettes and cigars and
most of the table top was covered by copies of the morning papers,
empty coffee glasses and reams of telex, decodes and computer
printouts. Someone's pistol had apparently been laid next to the
half-empty glass of coffee. This single shiny black object was altering
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the character of the room from that of policy-makers to actionoriented saga.


There were two women and eleven men in the room, all of them
were departmental heads or second-in-command. None of the field
agents or team leaders was present, since anyone who had actually
been on the ground in Peshawar was now being debriefed at some
distant safe house. The meeting, rather the celebration as Zawri
would have it was drawing to a close. The department heads mostly
raised from their chairs, were gathering their notes and printouts,
many of them slightly excited from a night of intense work topped
off from a glass of coffee at meeting room. It was prestigious to been
in meeting.
Except for Zawri's secretary, no one in the room was younger
than thirty and there was no rank below captain. Under normal
circumstances, the exhausted officers would have been anxious to get
back to their offices, where they might be able to steal an hour's nap.
However, blatantly successful days such as these were rare, so they
lingered. Three men in a far corner were loudly expressing their
sympathies for the commanders of some other agencies. The
Agencies had been asked for a favour in Peshawar operation, and a
special satellite arrangement had jammed every communication
around operational area for long six hours, but much to be pitied
agencies services were constantly taking a beating in the press, so
when they did participate successfully in an-anti terror operation,
they were not allowed to admit it.
In another part of the room, Dilshad was chatting with a
homely woman named Shaista who headed encrypted and telex
traffic. He was sitting on the conference table and waving his arm
and woman laughed and suggested that he get down before the cost
of the new table was to be deducted from his monthly salary.
At the front of the room next to the white projection screen,
Zawri stood talking to a uniform major general. The officer was as
tall as Zawri, grey haired and handsome in a rather regal manner.
The man was Qasim Ali, chief of National Security Bureau. If Sahel
Farhaj had been forewarned of General Qasim's presence, he might
not have chosen that moment to enter the conference room.
The wooden door swung open and an exchange could be heard
from outside. The guard from the second floor desk had been posted
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to keep unauthorised personnel out of the meeting.


Its department heads only, Bravo, said a pleading voice.
So shoot me, Sajid. Sahel stepped into the room and closed the
door. All heads turned to look at him, and he assumed an optimistic
expression, if not actually a smile. He raised his hand as if clutching
invisible toast-glass.
Cheers to everyone.
Thanks, Sahel. A couple of voices came in chorus.
Sahel headed for Zawri, who looked over him briefly and
resumed his conversation with General Qasim. Qadri was standing
by Zawri like a ball boy at a tennis match, glared at Sahel with
undisguised disdain.
Sahel stopped close to Zawri. Dilshad eased himself off the table
and edged closer to Sahel.
Excuse me, Sir, Sahel said.
Zawri sighed and turned slowly to the captain.
We are in conference, Sahel.
Just wanted to say best wishes, Sahel smiled. It was quite an
operation.
Zawri's ego was his soft underbelly. A twist of lips indicated his
minor pleasure at the compliment.
Thank you, Sahel.
Sahel extended a congratulatory hand, which the colonel was
forced to take. The captain gripped hard and held on.
This seems a good time to bring up a small problem, said
Sahel.
AK Zawri immediately darkened. It's hardly the place or the
time.
The Colonel's meaning was clear, but Sahel purposely did not
look up at General Qasim. The informality of ranks in NSB could
work to anyone's advantage, if played carefully.
I'll make it quick, Sir, he said. I need a change. I have to begin
moving forward again.
We'll discuss it later; Zawri snapped pulling his hand away.
For once in your life, be generous, Colonel. Dilshad pleaded at
Zawri from over the Sahel's shoulder.
The Colonel gripped his upper lip under teeth. He could not be
made to look petty before his senior officer. What is it? he fairly
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snarled.
Good Sahel thought. He is now trapped.
I need some activity. The desk is choking me. I have to get my
mind and body moving again.
The rest of the room had fallen dead silent. Sahel past reputation
was well known to everyone in the department and despite Kabul
fiasco all who knew him still harboured a good deal of respect for the
wonderful field agent.
The head of the Training Department spoke courageously from
the other end of the table. We could use him in the indoctrination
course.
The recruits don't need advice from a failure, Sheri, Zawri
snapped.
Now wait for one minute, sir, Dilshad's colour was rising
rapidly.
Excuse me, General Qasim interrupted speaking decently to
Sahel. Are not you Sahel Farhaj?
Yes sir, I am.
The Afghanistan problem, correct?
Yes sir.
Qasim turned to Zawri. This man was talented commander,
Zawri. Dilshad here has a point for generosity, and it is certainly the
day for it.
Colonel AK Zawri was concerned and furious, but he had no
choice other than to take a softer line.
Okay, Sahel, there was no assignment presently available, and I
need you in Personnel. But you can begin some physical training.
He snapped his finger at Qadri, who still stood glaring at Sahel and
Dilshad. Qadri, Call Shimla House. Send Sahel over there. He can
start this afternoon.
It was not precisely what Sahel had in mind, but it was a small
victory.
Thank you, sir, he said and then he pointedly looked at up
General Qasim. And thank you General. That's now sealed.
Witnesses, the C.O's backing. Zawri now could not easily retreat the
order. Sahel turned to leave and Dilshad patted him on his shoulder.
The door opened and a communications officer entered. He was
one of General Qasim's personal staff and he spoke to the general.
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Sir, the phones are ringing off the wall. Journalists, Radio, TV,
what the hell do I say?
Well, Kiyani. The general lifted his head and looked at the
ceiling. We want everyone to know, that it was us, correct?
So what's the official NSB response?
No comments.
________

You played it perfectly, it worked and that's fine. Dilshad was


happy. Now you have to back off.
Sahel and Dilshad was going back down the staircase to second
floor. It worked thanks to you, Dilshad, said Sahel.
Nonsense, I just growled on the right time. Did you hear what I
just said? Dilshad imitated fury.
Yes, sir! and looked smilingly at Dilshad.
I am serious, Sahel. You got your feet in the door and now you
have to be a good boy. Just stay out of his way and maybe we'll keep
you from being bored to death for the next one year. Dilshad was
using his hands for emphasis, pumping his palms as if performing
push-ups in the air.
Yes, Dilshad, It's fine, Sahel assured him. I don't have to get
out in the field again.
And while Zawri here, you never will.
Good, I don't want to.
They reached the landing. Sajid was back at his desk. When he
saw Sahel, he shook his head in disgust.
Thanks a lot, Bravo.
Sahel smiled at the young security officer. You shouldn't have
let me through, Sajid?
As if I could have stopped you, you were like a bull in the fight.
Sorry. Sahel passed through him.
I probably won't get leave for a month now, Sajid called after
him.
Don't worry, I will tell your girlfriend, you are on a secret
mission, Sahel said over his shoulder.
Your moods are dangerous, just like Boss.
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Don't insult me; I am entitled to one good mood per full moon.
The hallway had emptied. The morning excitement had
dissolved into a normal day's work, and personnel were back in their
seats. A couple of electrical men were down on the floor rerouting
cables to avoid further Zawri's displeasure over the obstructions.
As Sahel and Dilshad approached Personnel, they saw Major
Shahzad waiting in open doorway. His usual optimistic expression
has been replaced by a serious look.
Sahel, Dilshad. Come in for a moment.
He went into the office and held door open for them. Dilshad
and Sahel exchanged a puzzled look and followed him. Anita was on
her feet, gathering her purse. She glanced up at Sahel and touched
him on his shoulder and she went out.
Take your time, Anita, Shahzad called after her. At least half
an hour.
What's going on? Sahel asked curiously.
Shahzad went to his desk. He turned and sat back on the edge of
it. He studied his pipe for a moment. When he looked up, he saw
Dilshad and Sahel were looking on him expectantly. Their victorious
smiles from the morning briefing were quickly fading.
Abb bollo bi Dilshad barked. I have got work to do, Shahzad.
Shahzad sighed.
Traffic just received a coded cable from the consulate in Dubai.
No one knows but me. Shaista told me so I could tell both of you
first.
Sahel and Dilshad both were staring Shahzad blankly. Shahzad
went on with the hard part.
John Victor is dead.
Sahel expelled a sharp sound, as if he had been punched at his
kidneys. He turned away and started to move towards a chair. Then
he stopped. A rod of fire was coursing up in his leg and he could not
bend it. He twisted it back like a roast on a grill and faced Shahzad
once more. What did you say?
John Victor. He was killed in Dubai.
Dilshad still stood shocked, expressing nothing. He slowly
reached into his pocket and got two cigarettes, lit them both and
handed one to Sahel without looking at him. Then he folded his
hands together, as if in a prayer and placed them over his belly.
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More, asked Dilshad.


Shahzad started to chew his pipe stem.
There is not much, apparently it was a traffic accident, until the
security people are positive they wanted us to have it in code.
Sahel head was beating. He leaned back stiffly against a desk and
braced himself with his hands.
Does Katherine know, Shahzad, he whispered.
She was in Dubai with him serving in a polyclinic. The kids
were there too. He was completely retired, you know.
Yes, said Dilshad. We know it.
Sahel dragged a puff from the cigarette and then blew the smoke
with the rasping cough. He pulled the butt from his lips and
dropped it on the floor.
Faizi Jaffar. He had know the man by that name for so many
years that Major John Victor seemed like someone else altogether. Yet
they were the same man. Faizi Jaffar. John Victor.
Sahel had lost comrades before, but mostly in uniform, where
they were all paratroopers who stood up in fire fight and charged
with the fury of impetuous youth. Yet in NSB death was infrequent
and impacting event. In particular, Major John Victor had seemed to
be blessed with a special kind of light, a joyful, optimistic flexibility.
He recalled John Victor; a Karachi born in a middle class family,
he frequently amused the younger members of NSB with his
tortured dialect in twisted Punjabi. He was close to forty, tall, bony,
stooped and mostly bald. His sharp eyes were creased with smile
lines, his side burn going grey. His hawkish clever nose with quick
smile completed the character of some sort of comic master,
constantly on the verge of tossing off one-liner which served to force
someone to smile even in the gravest situation.
Faizi Jaffar. They had been together for long time. Sahel had first
met him in the initial stages of training. John was recruited rather
late in life. As a green soldier in the regular infantry, he had survived
a horrible fire, having been surrounded in a bunker on the Cholestan
exercises in 1990s. Perhaps the fact that John still smiled easily after
that trauma was the quality that had initially attracted his recruiters.
And it was this Faizi Jaffar with whom Sahel and Dilshad shared
many complex missions. It was this John who had always functioned
with a smile, ready with a joke under most pressing situations,
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performing his tasks without fail, improvising and pulling a last


trick from his hat with delight and every team member had loved
him without reservation.
John truck gambit at Kabul had been his final professional act.
He had slipped away from Kabul with assurance and in the afteraction dissections he had escaped blame. But the Kabul debacle had
acted as a reason for John and he gracefully retired. His retirement
benefits kept survived his living a year abroad from country to
country and finally he took his wife Katherine and two young girls
and headed out for settlement in Dubai, where his wife started her
medical practice in a polyclinic and he devoted his time at home
after a long spell as field agent in NSB nearly seven years.
Sahel wanted to ask Shahzad more details, but when he thought
of Katherine and kids he could not find his voice.
Dilshad spoke for both of them.
An accident? he said. They are sure?
Almost one hundred percent, said Shahzad. He was loading
the trunk of his car for a pleasure trip. A taxi smashed into him.
Dubai police say the driver's in the hospital in shock. He is from
some Central Asian country and barely speaks English.
Sahel pushed himself upright. He felt himself very unsteady and
kept one hand on the table. He turned to Dilshad with a sad gaze.
Both men needed to say something, perhaps a profound word, or a
prayer. But it was far behind that.
Dilshad, Sahel whispered. I need... I have to get some fresh
air.
I'm not your boss, Sahel, said Dilshad. Go.
Sahel and Dilshad continued looking at each other with blank
eyes.
I can reach Baba Feroz, said Dilshad. And Barat Khan, and
Shabana Mir.
I'll tell Bano, said Sahel.
You still have to go to Shimla House today, Sahel. Dilshad
warned him. Remember, check the time with Training.
I'll be there in time.
Good.
They looked at each other for another moment.
John Victor, Dilshad finally said. God bless him.
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Faizi Jaffar, said Sahel. Allah Bless him and he limped out of
the room.

_______

Bano Abagull lived in the heart of Lahore, That is to say whenever


she was in the country that was where she resided. Her apartment was
a second floor walk-up, located on a shady side street in the western
Gulberg only four blocks from the Centre Point intersection. 42
Street was probably one of the most expensive and socially bright
avenues in Lahore, where lined up cafes, Malls and flower shops were
an added attraction besides Liberty Market's own shopping allure
was just half a kilometre walk. But it was neither the swinging
nightlife not the lure of the Lahore that had attracted Bano. Quite
simply it was the only city in Pakistan other than Karachi where she
felt comfortably anonymous, safe harbour within the emerging
communities around and she was at the same time remained
reachable to Headquarters within a couple of hours. Secondly her
only married sister resided here. Bano unfortunately had lost her
parents in an accident while she was studying in Lahore Convent and
after that both the sisters had only an uncle who looked after them
until both settled.
Bano's apartment did not appear to be inhabited on only a parttime basis. It had a large well-furnished lounge that extended into a
lace-curtained bedroom, which could be closed off by a pair of
delicately paned white sliding doors. The close end of the lounge
leads to an eat-in kitchen. The Refrigerator and gas oven was slightly
old but functioned perfectly. The single bath was well built with
imported tiles and provided the necessities and the European style
bathtub fixed securely for a stand-up shower.
To a careful eye, perhaps one unusually familiar with the local
industry, it would be quickly clear that most of Bano's paraphernalia
were not of Pakistan origin. Pillows, bed sheets, blanket, tablecloths
and even much of the dishware came from European countries. The

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books and magazines were mostly in English yet local Urdu


magazines and dailies were still attracted the interest of the
inhabitant.
The only real clue to the nature of the Bano's profession was her
collection of artwork. There were no photographs or posters on the
walls only original framed pieces in oil, watercolour or charcoal. The
subjects were Asian and European cities and landscapes, some really
photorealistic. Here a shiny Lakeview of Shontar in Northern Area.
There a snowy park in London. A busy road in Lahore walled city
and an unfinished Kabul Bazaar Street view. They were all unsigned
and they were all original Bano's.
The final evidence of Bano's profession was a small beautifully
crafted wooden table on slim legs with a mirror top. It displayed lot
of her exhibition awards winning statues and certificates.
Bano sat in a large cushioned armchair, a small glass of iced
coffee in one hand, her bare feet curled up beneath her. She had back
in Pakistan for over a month now. The days were warm and even after
a few long walks her legs beneath short blue cut-offs were smoothly
sweatened. She wore large pink T-shirt with the sleeves rolled over to
her elbow. Her black hair lay curled in a long tail around her neck
and she stared blankly at the far wall through wide shiny brown eyes
that looked as though they might have seen too much.
Sahel's call had shocked her. She had quit smoking, but his voice
and the sad news had nearly driven her into the street to buy a pack,
but it was not having much of an effect.
Faizi Jaffar.
Bano had wanted to forget Kabul and up until now she had done
an admirable job of it.
Her assignment in Operation Darkroom had included remaining
in place after the hit. She was to maintain her cover, observe the
repercussions, and even gather intelligence, if possible, regarding the
local investigation. With the catastrophic death of innocent
Muhammad Zahir, she maintained her cool and carried out her
assignment. When she was finally called to Islamabad, it was
probably the exhibition of pure professionalism which had
protected her from the otherwise indiscriminate fury of Colonel AK
Zawri.
Unlike most of the other team members, Bano did not find her
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career snatched or spoiled by Kabul fiasco. Even more so than


successful men in the field within the Pakistan's intelligence
community talented female agents were treated like princess,
accorded more loyalty and respect than they might find in any other
walk of life. As women, they could gain access to places which no
man might approach, put most suspicious individuals off their
guards, could utilize instincts and institutions which remained out
of reach to their male colleagues. Even at the top level of NSB their
identities were jealously guarded. For the past two years, Bano had
not had set her foot in Headquarters. She was briefed and debriefed
in private.
She had managed to place Kabul City Centre somewhere far in
her mind. She had been on three long deep cover operations since
then, and the distance helped. Yet it did not take much to forget sad
winter in Kabul. 'Faizi Jaffar' was dead. She wanted to forget Kabul
but she could never forget John Victor nor any of her other
comrades in arm. Most of all she could never forget Sahel Farhaj.
Sahel would be arriving soon. Bano Abagull's real name was
Roshna Saleem and she had been trying to reacquaint herself with
that sound, the way people said it, the occasional surprise as an old
schoolmate addressed her in the street. Now the Sahel would come
and he would call her Bano and the whole cycle of suppressed
emotions would begin all over again.
In other line of work, had they been co-workers in almost any
other government or private institution, Roshna and Sahel would
most certainly have ended up as husband and wife. While it is
certainly true that opposites often attracts, there are millions of
couples whose union support the reverse case, and Sahel and Roshna
were much alike. Their colouring was same, their temperament, and
their central Punjab's background. They had cynical sense of
humour and the ability to remain functional under immense
pressure. The magnetism had been immediately apparent to both of
them, but in the Pakistan intelligence community there exist a superstrict regulation whose premise could not be breached. Field agents
no matter the circumstances were forbidden to have relations with
each other. Agents were encouraged to socialize with support staff,
even marry into the family as it was supposed to relieve much of the
pressures of secrecy at homes. But field agent together, never. It
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invited operational strain, even dangerous vulnerability to hostagetaking and the like.
Sahel and Roshna knew the rules and worked very hard to keep
their distance. They only had one option to get retire from NSB and
free to marry but at the time neither of them was prepared for that
leap. Not long ago, during one of Roshna's routine polygraph
exams, her needle had jumped at the questioner's mention of Sahel
Farhaj. However Roshna told Dilshad, if they pressed it, they might
have to fire her. So the question was reworked and the test
administered again without mention of her team leader.
While Sahel lay in hospital, more than once Roshna tempted to
quit her current mission, return to Pakistan and join him forever, no
matter the professionalism repercussions. But she stalled and by the
time she made preliminary inquiries Amber was firmly wellestablished and it was too late.
The sharp doorbell awoke her from her thoughts, she listened it
again. It must be Sahel. She corrected her shirt and remained in her
chair and said, Come in, it is open.
Sahel opened the door slightly and entered the apartment. He
looked much unlike. Sher Ali without his long leather jacket and
baggy trouser in Afghan style and pale winter skin, he was dressed in
casual local style, light mustered T-shirt with dark blue jeans, his face
tanned and his hair already going silkier with the springtime sun.
More than that his eyes had lost some of the hardened look which
field agents usually would have acquire after so many months of
constant strategic calculations.
He closed the door with his back and looked at her.
Hello Bano.
There it was, his voice, her cover name, just as she had expected.
Hello Ali. The name seemed strange to her as it left her lips
here in Lahore. But those were the two people who had worked
together, shared secrets, had a private world that even their superiors
were unaware of. Ali and Bano.
Sahel had decided that he would never touch her again, no kisses
on the cheeks and perhaps no handshakes. But John's death made
the degree of that extreme seem disrespectful for the man's memory.
If nothing else the death of the comrade should be observed by the
coming together of his survivors.
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Sahel started forward. Bano immediately saw the limp; she could
not help but notice. She drove her to her feet and she walked to him
and they embraced for a long time, rocking slowly together without
speaking like a pair of climbing stems together in the wind.
Finally they sat down at the opposite ends of the sofa. Bano
wiped an eye with a tissue paper and pointed at the Juice-tray. Sahel
said, Yes anything, but not too much chilled, and she rose to get
him a glass.
So was it an accident? Bano asked the correct question as she
rejoined Sahel in the lounge.
Yes, he took the glass and gulped. The Taxi-ride from
Islamabad had seemed endless; the stretch through the valley of
Kalar Kahar was quite hot.
What does Zawri say? asked Bano.
I don't know I left immediately after Shahzad told me and
Dilshad.
Which Shahzad?
Major Shahzad Ahmad. But you know Zawri. If he likes you
and you die of cancer within ten years after retirement, he will still
swear the Indians did it. But if he doesn't like you, he would say you
smoke too much and you deserve to die.
Bano showed a small smile, but she could not laugh. Sahel's tone
revealed deeper bitterness and pain that she had ever seen him
express.
How are you?
I am as you see me. He smiled. Rushing to retirement, yet
somehow unretirable. He pointed to his head, indicating an
adjustment problem. But forget about me. How are you? You look
wonderful.
Thank you.
There was a moment of uncomfortable silence. Bano got up and
turned on the TV not bothering to select a desired channel. It was
just a field agents habit, which somehow pleased Sahel to witness and
he smiled at her.
Faizi was one of my most favourite people on this earth. Bano
sighed as she poured a bit more orange juice.
Lots of us will say in the next couple of days.
And mean it.
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Can we go to mourn? Bano asked.


I can go, but I don't know about you, Bano
She thought for a moment and said. I guess I'll visit later.
Being successful in the Game had many small but cruel prices. At
times, you could not even mourn properly.
Oh, Faizi. Sahel sighed and let his head fall back on the couch.
John.
At 12.15 Sahel rose stiffly to his feet.
I actually have something to do today, Zawri sending me for
some retraining, and that would start at 4 sharp, said Sahel.
That's good, said Bano. How you had come here, I mean by
road or plane.
I took an official lift, but now I would go by plane. Sahel said
smilingly.
What time your flight is?
At 13.45, I'll catch it. Sahel smiled.
Bano stopped him before he reached the door. She held his sleeve
and reached up, kissing him lightly on the cheek. Sahel looked at her.
Will you come to visit us? he asked.
I'd like to meet Amber.
She knows about us, though, Sahel warned.
Bano looked at the floor and kept quiet for a long moment.
They both realized in that long moment, that it did not matter if
they touched or did not, if they came together or kept their distance,
Bano Abagull and Sher Ali, Roshna Saleem or Sahel Farhaj were as
tangled as memory and regret. Sahel reached out and touched her
cheek.
See you again. He smiled and left.
Roshna closed the door and for a very long time she stood alone
in her lounge touching the cool door wood.

_______

Page 104

Shimla House
Chapter 5
Same day
The Islamabad Centre for Physical Training (ICPT) was a civilian
physical training centre run under the Education Ministry, but one
part of it was segregated within that premises and was allocated to
Ministry of Defence for their own cover activities which later
become famous as Shimla House. It was located on the eastern lake
view side of the Rawal Dam not far from Bani Gala. It was an easy
drive along the Rawal Dam lake view road from Islamabad and Sahel
made it with time to spare. Quite unconsciously, he had exceeded the
speed limit during the entire half hour drive. His eyes, hands and
feet motor-visually piloted the hills, but his mind raced along a
hundred paths to other places.
He thought too much about Bano Abagull, each bit of her, the
physical and spiritual, the professional soldier and woman. Alone in
the car he felt safe to explore his feelings could admit that he loved
her, even muttered the confession aloud. For so long he had
managed to deny her a place in his emotional memory, and the
sudden view of the depths of his feelings shocked him, brought a
surge of confusion and a great deal of guilt, which caused image of
Amber to rise as well. Exploring his love for his wife, he realized an
equal passion, although different. He adored Amber, But Bano was
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his closest comrade in arms, and even without the sex it was an unbreachable bond that carried a rope of betrayal with regard to his
marriage.
The day had already been too long, filled with tension and
slashing crises. Faizi's death and the visit to Bano filled Sahel brain
with images and fantasies and packed the empty car with ghost
passengers. Sahel pushed the accelerator to the floor, racing to a
destination where he could escape the car and its unwelcomed
ghosts.
He reached the main gate of the Centre with a sigh of relief. He
drove into the civilian compound, structure of high cedars, three
storey building lecture halls and expensive sport courts. The civilian
section was a large facility, used for training, athletes, team coaches,
and high school/college gym teachers. It was easy to get lost in path
ways and curving small roads. Sahel passed that all driving down a
long circular road that eventually lead him to the barbed-wire fences
of the military section of the institute.
Sahel parked his car outside the main gate of the base. He got out
and immediately slapped with a blast of humid-warmed wind. He
pulled out his stiff leg, shrugged his shoulders and did not bother to
lock the car and walked towards the base.
The guard post was manned by a tough looking soldier from
some infantry unit without his batches. He was wearing khaki
uniform without any mark of the unit and carried a loaded
automatic hung from his neck. He looked carefully Sahel's ID card,
grunted and swung the gate aside.
Sahel knew the facility well. He had trained here as a paratrooper
and later again as NSB recruit. He smiled as limped along the
walkways. His youth returned with the distant pops of gunfire from
the pistol ranges, small groups of elite troops who jogged after their
instructors wearing T-shirts and soldier caps bearing that dumb
happy muscle look on their faces as yet spotless idealism.
He reached a long cement building and entered one of several
wooden doors. The first thing he noticed was a large white sign
posted on the rare wall bearing No Smoking Anywhere on this
Facility by order of Colonel Abrar. The next thing he noticed was
young second lieutenant who sat at his desk directly beneath the
sign. He was reading something from a file and smoking.
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Sahel could not help himself and laughed.


The lieutenant looked up. What's funny? he asked.
Sahel pointed at the cigarette.
The young officer shrugged with his own style. He's off base
today. What do you need?
I am Sahel Farhaj. He showed the young man his identity card.
Had he still been active in the field he would have used a cover name
and appropriate papers but it was hardly necessary anymore.
So? The lieutenant was in mood for guessing games.
So, I am supposed to start some sort of retraining today.
Where you from?
Lions Commando.
The lieutenant eyes widened and he cocked his head in gesture of
respect. That always seemed to happen wherever you mentioned
Lions mainly because everyone knew it was some secret section of
NSB but no one really had any idea what it was actually.
The lieutenant searched into the stack of papers on his desk.
Yea, here it is Sahel.
He picked a telephone and called someone. The ICPT system was
as bad as its civilian counterpart. The recipient of the call was
probably a few meters away but the officer has still to shout. The
lieutenant hung up. He'll be here in a minute. He said and
returned to his work.
Sahel waited. After a minute a shadow filled the door and he
turned.
Sahel Farhaj? A low thin voice came from the throat of a very
large young man.
That's me.
The man extended his hand which Sahel took. The grip was
powerful and engulfing.
I am Jamshaid, but you can call me Jami. Let's go.
Sahel followed the man out of the room. In the bright afternoon
sun, his appearance was ominous. He had the triangular chest of
weightlifter with muscular arms. He wore plain fatigue pant that
seemed ready to burst from the press of his thigh muscles, yet he
moved quickly and lightly in pair of black and white joggers.
He did not look much like a physical therapist.
Where to? Sahel inquired.
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Jamshaid stopped, when he turned Sahel saw features to match


the form. The young man was around thirty five; his strong neck
supported a square-jawed face topped by short and thick black hair.
The lips and nose were wide; the flat brown eyes clear and with
enough shine of the life. Jamshaid looked like a moving statue except
that he quickly smiled.
To get you a uniform, He said. Didn't they tell you? I am
Krav-Maga.
Of course, said Sahel and they continued to walk.
That shrewd AK Zawri. He and Qadri had probably had a good
long laugh after cabling his orders to Shimla House. Krav-Maga a
contact combat. Sahel had just begun to walk again and they were
sending him for some hand-to-hand. Okay, he thought, no matter the
outcome, I'll smile at them and say it was wonderful.
Jamshaid led him into his office, a large cool room decorated
with diplomas, karate belts, trophies and the various tools of the
trade, dummy pistol, knives and boxing gloves. Given Jamshaid size,
it did not surprise Sahel to see piles of half empty, cookies boxes,
milk cartons and juice bottles.
Drop your pant, said Jami. Let me see your leg.
You know about it? Sahel asked as he unzipped his trouser.
I was told. Jami bent to the floor and looked at Sahel's knee
and thigh. He fingered the scars ignoring the pain that came from
above as he squeezed the thigh muscle. He looked up.
Bullets?
Three.
Calibre.
Nine-millimetre, scorpion 68
Not serious, he said in a typical Pakistani fashion.
What's serious, Sahel asked. Tank shells?
Jami laughed. Come on, he said. I'd got a guy with one arm.
After a year here he can already take me. He leaned across his desk
and looked for something.
I can take you too, said Sahel. That's why they invented .44
Magnums.
Jami smiled and came up with a pair of soiled fatigues and
handed them to Sahel. Then he lifted up his gym shirt and pointed
to an ugly pink scar to the left of his huge navel. Forty-five, he said
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and let the shirt fall.


Sahel's eyes glowed briefly, but he did not react verbally.
When Sahel was dressed, they walked out to the training area. It
was a sprawling lot of sand, strange devices of an obstacle course.
There was tall cement wall, ditches, barbed wires, climbing ropes,
horizontal ladders and the like. In the centre of the course was a large
area for exercises.
As they approached, Jamshaid took measure of his private
student.
Had Krav-Maga before?
The standard course.
Sahel was trailing behind the giant, looking at his huge back. The
sand made it hard going, but the warmth was comfortable.
When?
Few years back.
Remember anything?
I think I remember a lot... Sahel sentence was cut short as
Jamshaid suddenly stopped, turned, grabbed the front of Sahel's
shirt and twisted violently throwing him over a cocked hip as his legs
snapped up into the air and he slammed down into the sand.
The impact sent the air rushing from his lungs. He lay there for a
while, his head jerking skyward until he finally caught his breath. He
remained on the sand and tried to recall the simple act of inhalation.
Jamshaid stood over him, hands on hips.
You don't remember how to fall, he said.
He reached down and grabbed Sahel's shirt again, pulling him
erect one-handed in a single swift jerk.
I thought I fell rather gracefully. Sahel managed. Considering
the circumstances
Jamshaid did not smile.
We are going to start all over. His humour had quickly faded.
There would be no more games. Now we'll do the whole theory
later, but to revive quickly; Krav-Maga is a physical science, not a
martial art. We'll begin with all the basics elementary moves.
However, the most importantly, I want you to reacquire your
reflexes, Sahel. Understood?
Farhaj nodded. He realized that it was going to be a painful.
Jamshaid anyway not going to understand his handicap and perhaps
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that was exactly the kind of therapy he needed.


You will be slow in the beginning, Jamshaid continued. But
soon for your own good, you will begin to defeat my attempts.
The youth was true to his words. For two hours without a break,
he reviewed the basic stances of Krav-Maga.
The stances were unbearable for Sahel and he sweated a litre of
water and salt and ground his teeth. And as promised, Jami
constantly surprised him without warning. At least ten times during
the lesson, the Contact-Combat expert violently smashed him on
the sand until in the end Sahel begun to sense the attacks and once
even managed to escaped his fate. For the most part, it was an
afternoon with intense desire and repeated suffering.
Sahel welcomed his suffering and punishment with a certain
delight

______

Page 110

Tehran
Chapter 6
Three Weeks Later
Razmak Bilal's sleep had not been disturbed by the blare of the
wind or the pounding of the rain. While certainly at other time and
place the insistent drumming would have roused him from the
deepest sleep. Nor was it the vibration of the trains as they pulled
into Fatemi Station, the honk of taxi horns or the click of walkingcane tips on cement outside his room at the Bagh-e-Feyz. It was only
7.00 AM Tuesday morning. Razmak has already been awake for two
hours.
It was alike when he was mission-oriented. He had been like this
for two days. Suddenly his worst professional obstacle--- the desire to
lay in the bed until late morning would disappear.
It was as if Razmak, when not actually in any real physical
danger. And then motivated by duty, he released his fuel to feed his
body and mind for the duration of the action. All at once he need no
more than five hours of sleep and even could function on three. He
was totally alert and even while sleeping his body prepared to wake
and act at any opportunity.
In Russia, Lina had often teased him about his laziness,
wondering aloud how such a sleepy dog could possibly be of use to
the state. He wished that she could see him now. And then he was
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glad that she would never see him like this.


He sat in a large armchair; it was soft and thick on the seat and
back. He wore a black silk robe which he had bought in Moscow with
an embroidered green and red weaved striking across his shoulders.
In his lap, lay the parts of recently stripped and clean Makarov 9mm
pistol. He no longer liked the weapon for its origin, but it was all the
Russians had at the time in the diplomatic pouch. He would change
for the American tool as would be convenient.
He looked at the window past the laced curtains, thin drops of
water sliding down on the glass. With all of his travels, Razmak has
come to identify major cities by a single feature. Moscow had bonebreak cold. London had rain, New York was nose-choking dirt and
Tehran was dry even in rains. Yet rains in Tehran had cleaned it so
much that you would not gather a handful of Dust.
Dust?
Sheberghan was total dust.
He moved the pieces of Makarov into one hand, opened his robe
and stood up, leaving the black silk robe over the chair. Wearing only
his black underpants, he stepped onto the floor and knelt down,
laying the parts of pistol in a row on the spotless oiled wood table.
Then he stepped back and began his exercises.
Sambo, the Russian hand-to-hand combat method used by the
External Services, was a technique picked from Oriental martial arts.
It most closely resembles jujitsu of Eastern arts, yet a few claim it
more close to Judo, a Japanese method. The Russians were very
practical about such things. If you are looking for a strict life, the
External Services instructors always said, then become a priest. This
is combat.
Razmak lowered himself into the standard Sambo stance, one
foot forward, knees bent, hands held raised and open like axe blade.
With his right foot, he began his forward kicks. Yet after each one, he
returned the bare foot to the floor without a sound.
He counted in his head from one to ten in Uzbek, eleven to
twenty in Persian, twenty-one to thirty in Russian and forty-one to
fifty in Urdu. Having finished his right foot, he repeated the exercise
with his left. He was not even breathing hard when he rewarded
himself by approaching the stripped Makarov and assembling one
part of it, the bolt spring into the barrel. Then he stepped back again
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and he began his sidekicks...


The burning winds of the Sheberghan west of Mazar Sharif were
sweeping wildly, when Razmak strode toward the house of Fateh, the
woodworker. The soles of his worn sandals slapped the dusty stones
and he reached up and he pulled the wrap of his filthy scarf over his
eyes as bits of dust flew toward him like desert hailstones.
Razmak welcomed the weather for it gave him an excuse to cover
his face, to spend a day unrecognized, free from the abuse of his
classmates. His shame was so deep that he wished he had courage to
slice off his own nose, to slash his lips, to grind his flesh to paste and
forever be free of the features that were so much like his father's.
His father. The war had only ended only a couple of months ago,
and already the Afghans were offering the elder Bilal a seat in the
newly government in Afghanistan. Nightmare of nightmare, his
father had decided to accept.
Basher Abu-Razmak Bilal, as Razmak heard the name of his father
ringing in his brain, he pulled his scarf away for a moment, turned
his head and spat into the wind.
Basher Abu-Razmak Bilal was a religious teacher and intellectual
and a Pesh Imam, all the things to make a man's family proud, except
for the fact that he was also a pacifist. The elder Bilal held forth that
war against Russians is over and there is nothing now left to battle
against own people and the peaceful coexistence was the only
solution. Basher Bilal was righteous man and derisive 'Afghan lover'
that came his way did not faze him. But Basher had children and his
children had to go to school. They paid for their father's political
philosophies with bloody noses and torn school books. Being the
eldest Razmak suffered the most.
It was September, 1987 when Sheberghan had announced its own
small authority surrendered to the Kabul government and for now
the real peace could come.
Basher Abu-Razmak Bilal.
A Traitor.
Bilal turned down a side street banged open the door of Fatah's
shop. The woodworker looked up from his lathe, beginning to smile
until he saw the look in his godson's eyes.
I can't stand it anymore! Razmak exploded as he pulled his
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scarf away from his head. His nose was still bleeding slightly from
the fistfight he had just endured in the school courtyard. He wiped it
with his finger.
Shh, Bilal. Elderly man rose from his bench, he moved slowly
to pour some tea for his favourite apprentice. What happened?
What always happens, Baba?
Bilal shouted but he slowed his breathing.
Razmak called Fatah father, for he had long felt closer to the old
man then he did to his own flesh and blood. Fatah and Razmak's
father had once been the greatest of friends, but now they would no
longer exchange a simple greeting. Fatah had been a militant Afghan
since British Raj.
They won't accept me into the Lions of Allah, said Razmak.
You tried again? Fatah offered Razmak a glass of black tea, but
the boy shook his head fiercely.
I try it every day.
Perhaps you should wait. The war is just over but fresh, the
young patriots will angry.
How long can I wait, Baba? How long must I wait while they call
my father a traitor and me a son of a traitor?
You are only thirteen, Razmak.
Razmak began to pace in the small shop. The fresh smell of
lathed olive wood usually calmed him, but he was marching to the
rhythm of a decision.
Baba, I must have rest of my pay, I am leaving this place.
Bilal, my son, let's talk.
I am going Baba, no one can stop me. I cannot live here. You
know it too.
Fatah sighed and put down his cup. Razmak was right. As long as
his father lived, and perhaps long afterward, the boy would be an
outsider among his own people. With a feeling of sorrow he got up
and removed a small iron strongbox from the base of a Lion statue
and gave Razmak the pay that he had kept for him as a saving
account.
What will you do? Fatah asked, afraid to hear the answer.
Whatever it takes to change my life, I've to prove that I am not
my father's son.
Fatah knew that only an extreme act could provide Razmak with
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such relief, yet he did further questioned him.


Go with Allah, he said as he embraced the boy.
I will not forget you, said Razmak as he clutched the money
and quickly left.
For days, Razmak had planned his next moves. If his final bid to
join the Lions of Allah failed, there were two actions which would
break this grip of dishonour and punish his father until the old man
went into his grave.
Razmak had one younger brother and three sisters. Their father
loves his daughters, for they remained him for his long departed
wife. But to an Afghan, only the sons really mattered. Basher was
constantly at war with his eldest, Razmak, but his ten years old boy
Gulo, was supple, charming loving child who understood nothing of
politics. Basher adored Gulo and heaped attention upon him, his
pride and joy.
Razmak took his money and bought the pistol from an old Sikh
Afghan. It was a Russian Makarov, a souvenir from the man's service
with the Russian Army during afghan war. Razmak had often
admired the weapon and the Sikh who owned the lumberyard where
Razmak bought wood for Fatah's shop, had even let him test-shoot it
once.
Afterward, Razmak's humiliation propelled him onward like a
sailing vessel in a hurricane. He walked back into town and Makarov
tucked under his shirt. He had already chosen the spot. Night was
coming on the city cooling as the stones surrendered the September
heat. The warm winds were beginning to die with the evening.
The Cafe Jowzjan was on the corner of the town centre. Already
the Afghan new government had begun to ignore their curfew orders
and liberated the local shops and restaurants. Razmak was sure that
he would find a target around.
Sure enough, an Afghan army officer in his newly government
uniform was seated outside at one of the wooden tables. He was
sipping black tea and reading a Persian newspaper. He had an old
type Rifle on his lap. No other army men were in evidence--- only the
local Afghans who starred at the conqueror as they passed and the
cafe waiter who served him with a submissive grin.
Razmak walked straight up to the officer and stood across the
table. As the soldier looked up, Razmak drew the pistol and shot him
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twice in the chest. The officer flew backward onto the stones.
Someone began to scream, a man yelled to Razmak to stop in the
name of Allah.
I am Razmak Bilal, the son of the Traitor Basher Abu-Razmak
Bilal, he shouted as he still held the pistol extended. Tell the Lions of
Allah that they are the children of whores.
He walked away, shouts echoing from behind and then he turned
a corner and began to run. He was at his house within ten minutes,
where he found his little brother Gulo playing on the stone floor
with a small toy truck. His sisters were nowhere to be seen and he
knew his father would be in the city, meeting with the new afghan
government officials.
Razmak breath was getting smooth. He could barely speak. He
looked down at his younger brother. Despite their father's overt
favouritism, Razmak loved Zahir Bilal as much as Basher did. He
was so cute that Razmak often called him as Gulo. He extended his
hand.
Come Gulo.
Where are we going? The little boy looked up with his pale
eyes. Both Bilal brothers had the unusual green eyes of remote
Caucasian race. In fact had they not been three years apart they
would have looked like twins.
For a long walk, said Razmak.
Zahir Bilal sprang to his feet, excited by the adventure. Will I
need anything?
Nothing, said Razmak. Quickly now.
They took no food, only a camel bag of water. Hand in hand
they walked north from the city, then into the mountain area to
reach on the adjoining Highway for Termiz a border city of
Uzbekistan. When Gulo could walk no further, Razmak carried him
on his back--- down towards the Highway. They reached on the
Highway before dawn. Then they took some food from the highway
small hotel and waited for the transport for the Termiz border city of
Uzbekistan.
Razmak's wandering had begun.
Uzbekistan. The stinking refugee camps, the hatred of Northern
Alliance group. There were bitter humiliations. Razmak Bilal, like so
many of the intelligent Afghan youths, followed one idol of
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liberation after another, only to watch his hero's words unfold into
lies, to see the Warlords of the liberation of Afghanistan retreat from
every field of battle proclaiming ridiculous victories.
He had hoped that Afghanistan would prove to be different, and
it was in a sense. There the Ahmad Shah Massoud had numbers,
power yet once again he wasted it in unnecessary quarrels. They
fought brutally against their brother Afghans while in the south, a
new faction went on holding power, building their confidence over
people and giving battle when necessary. Most of the southern
warlords were politicians besides holding their power through
militancy in the name of Allah. And as the years dragged on,
Razmak Bilal came to realize that if he subscribed to the tactics and
language of his brothers, he would be doomed to wander on the
fringe of his homeland forever, like Moses, allowed to look and long,
but never to enter.
The November War had been Razmak's revelation Day. He has
served as a captain in the Ahmad Shah Massoud's Northern Alliance
alongside the Afghans and Uzbeks. But even with the element of
total surprise on their side after a few days glory they had been
routed along with everyone else. It was then and there, in the cold
and bitter winter in Sheberghan province, that Razmak Bilal became
his own man.
No more words, no more promises.
Action and silence, it became Bilal's watchwords, his codes. For
nearly ten years his small group of dedicated soldiers became the
most feared group of guerrillas in the Afghanistan, Pakistan and the
western world.
To his credit Razmak Bilal never fell into the stereotyped
category of the Master Terrorists. He was a brave man, clever,
intelligent, yet he did not dilute his cause or his professionalism with
the self-appointed, overly romantic image so often assumed by many
of his compatriots.
He had no particular affinity for fast cars or beautiful women,
and he had not acquired luxurious taste as a result of having Afghans
opened at his bidding.
To Razmak, abusing the wealth that was available to him would
have been strength of the mandate. Many of the other terror chiefs of
South Western Asia had come to be addicted to their high life styles.
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Razmak on the other hand, was student of world's most effective


intelligence apparatuses. He had noted and tried to teach same to his
ranks, that good operatives only assumed the trappings of the
wealthy when they became necessary in order to convincingly play a
given role. Otherwise as far as Razmak Bilal was concerned, a soldier
could just as well drive a Corolla and live in an apartment. For these
beliefs he had become somewhat unpopular outside of his own
network.
For in fact, as Razmak Bilal was painfully aware, many of his
fellow Afghans fighters had long ago given up hope of achieving
their own targets. Then by the passage of time, they had become
addicted to the life of Warlords and Terror Masters under the
umbrella of their own pretended Islam.
And still despite his thoughts, Kabul fiasco had nearly been end
of him. That very close call was pure evidence that his network was
blown, his security non-existent. The Russians had pulled him out of
it and he was grateful for that. Yet he harboured no illusion as to
their motives.
Kabul debacle had been the third major turning point in
Razmak's life. He had gone to sleep in Moscow, entrenched himself
within the External Services system, absorbed every titbit of their
most useful indoctrination and the training in Petach Tikva.
Moscow had plans for their 'Hayat Gul' and Razmak indulged
them with apparent enthusiasm. But his heart and soul, he remained
a man of silence, of action and when he awoke he knew that he
would pursue his own agenda. The Russians could not control him.
And he could not forget Kabul disaster...

Something stirred from across the room. Razmak had finished his
exercises and assembled the pistol. Only his head moved, slowly
scanning. With the help of grey morning light, his eyes selected
details of the room's decor.
The room was tasteful and intimate. The wallpaper was cream
with a thin blue stripe, the small desk, side table and chairs were not
new, but they were dustless and oiled. The large brass bed had greatest
features. The small lamps on the side table had soft rose shades. The
black telephone looked as though it had been since 1950.
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Razmak turned back to the window. He examined his own


reflection where it looked like a fading memory against a fresh
current of stream. Even after so much time, his second face was still
strange to him. In place of the wavy black hair, he tried to recall the
brownish curls of the former self. He mentally reacquired thick
sharp hook of his nose like Iranians, drew long dark brows. He
fabricated up his once-proud sharp moustache. He could almost feel
the coarse ends again where they had once tickled the corners of his
mouth. But even with that repainted image, the old Razmak Bilal
was not quite there.
Almost imperceptibly, he shook his head in wonder, for he
thought as strange as his new face still was to him, it would have been
an utter shock to Shirin who had not seen him for almost four years.
__________
Captain Rafi Ahmad hurriedly slammed the door of his office.
He did not want to miss 105 at 1800 hrs bus on route seventeen.
Sherazi looked up from his desk in the lobby with surprising note.
Hope, everything okay, Rafi? he asked.
Yea, I've to catch the bus, Kiran is waiting for me. He replied
and got out of the building.
It was big Victorian styled building encircled with a small flower
garden and cedars. A white strip green flag with rising moon and star
was hoisted on the top of it. He reached grabbing his briefcase onto
the main gate. A guard hurriedly came out of the small cabin inside
the Embassy. He saluted Rafi and slid the small gate back to make his
way outside the Embassy.
For a moment Rafi looked around and glanced at a signboard
exhibiting Pakistan Embassy with golden words on it, fixed on the
wall of the building. He felt pride.
At this hour traffic on the road were keeping its pace and Rafi
dropped the idea to cross the road straight, instead he preferred to
take his path through pedestrian bridge over the Modaress Highway
to reach the bus stop at the other side of the highway.
All the day, Rafi had been experiencing a dull ache which had
not disturbed him in years, home sickness?
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He did not quite understand it. He had been born in Middle


East, precisely in Riyadh and even as a teenager had travelled
extremely whenever studies and finances permitted. First in
Pakistan, then in Abu Dhabi and then Europe along his father as
Engineer, who had been working in a multinational company in
Middle East?
Rafi spoke several regional and international languages with
near native fluency and he had the ability to assume the natural
gestures and inflections of the surrounding natives. He could
quickly feel at ease in the most cosmopolitan and chauvinistic
capitals --- Karachi, Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Kabul and Tehran. So it
would make no sense that he should suddenly long for the way and
means of Islamabad.
But there it was a powerful urge for a spicy Biryani with Raita and
Karahi Ghost with Kachomer Salad and Lassi to be consumed
satisfactorily only at the food street in Melody Market.
After his BS in Computer Science, he had preferred to go for the
master degree, but one day he suddenly wake up with the idea to join
Army and then he realized he was as Semitic as one could ever hope
to be. His travels were interrupted only in the first three years of his
military service, for he soon found himself volunteering his duties
in NSB. He had always known, it was really too small a place for his
Odysseus appetite. Rafi needed to move, to drive the endless autostrides, to cross over borders and converse with the strangers, to
board an aircraft and arrived in a strange land with the surge of
adventure in his veins.
So what the hell was this sentimental ache?
Maybe it was simply a fatigue?
After all in the last couple of days, he had been working late in
the night at Embassy. He had not slept much in the last 48 hours. Or
maybe it was Kiran. She was well into her seventh month, and the
serious consideration brought on his fatherhood had begun to weigh
on him. It was still very early, but he was sure that he did not want his
own child to be raised as an unidentifiable expatriate. And thought
of having a son or daughter who would speak like an English
boarding school was certainly unacceptable to him.
It was his age. He was getting on only in his early thirties, yet
prematurely edging towards the emotionalism of old men who
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naturally becoming more near to the true land of his own country.
He did not know how he reached at the bus stop and when
boarded.
A quick sudden brake by the bus abruptly snapped him from his
daydream. He looked up and saw the passing trees and flowers of
Vali-Asr-Abbas Cross-Garden. The bus was still on Shahrah Dr.
Fatemi moving west and either Rafi had not been daydreaming for
very long or the traffic was already heavy. The atmosphere was little
humid, but still the pedestrians outside were bundled up on the
footpaths.
Maybe it was the weather. Late autumn and the Tehran skies
spewed water like July in Lahore.
Work was getting to him. That was part of it. The embassy staff
inevitably commiserated, comparing notes, briefings and everything
Islamabad needed without any delay, and chattering about their
hometowns, friends and families.
Yet Rafi was grateful for the job. After Kabul Fiasco, he had
wondered if he would ever work again, except as an IT instructor
somewhere in a private school. Zawri had nearly had his ass, but he
was smart enough to resign the army quickly. The National Security
Services had been pleased to have him and posted him as security
detail in-charge at Tehran Embassy. They were tough, somewhat
more primitive outfit than the other security agencies. The fact that
he and Sahel had failed to arrest Razmak Bilal and death of an
innocent Afghan did not seem to disturb his new bosses to a great
degree.
Sahel, he wondered, what kind of shit Sahel was enduring? He
missed him. He missed all of them--- Sahel, Tanveer, Roshna, and
Dilshad.
John Victor.
Maybe that was part of it too.
When an army buddy died, your life suddenly is brought into
close focus. Rafi was satisfied with the NSS conclusion that John
death was an accident, but that did not obviate the fact that he had
met his end far from home, in a city full of strangers, squashed
between a taxi bumper and his own car. The will of Allah thoughts
had sobered him for the last two weeks and resulted in some serious
re-examination.
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Where was he going with his own wife? He was past thirty, time
for some considered assessment. He was about to start a settled life.
He had been moving so hard and so fast for so long and what did he
have to show for it? An unwritten book of adventures, a few
languages, and a permanent scar on his waist from a bullet were his
total achievements so far.
He rubbed his itching eyes.
He had had a nightful and a bellyful of the Iranians. The Foreign
Office had summoned the Pakistani Ambassador for the extraordinary consultation over new developments in the region. Rafi's
security detail was out all night, checking the routes of travel,
arranging decoys and escorts for the ambassador and finally
appearing at Foreign Office only to have their members forced to
wait outside in the rain while the Pasdaran and VEVAK took over the
detail with thinly disguised disdain for the Pakistani Gorillas.
The work with ---The NSS --- was important, but it did not
compare to those exciting years with Special Operations at NSB. Rafi
knew that he would never again experience comparable adventures,
tensions, and danger of fellowship. He liked his present co-workers,
but no one would ever be a partner or a friend the way Sahel Farhaj
was. Baba Feroz and Sher Ali had been a perfect match, a dangerous
pair of field operatives. Maybe their failure at Kabul had been a
signal that the relationship should dissolve. They cared too much for
each other, and that would probably have proved fatal in the long
run.
Yet Rafi truly missed the friendship, and had found no
substitute. Perhaps, if he did decide to chuck it all, he would talk
Sahel into joining him in the private sector. The idea of working
again with his old partner brought a smile on his lips and another
pang to his heart.
He reached into the pocket of his leather jacket for a pack of
Rothmans. He felt the butt of his holstered pistol as he searched for
his lighter. The Iranians did not like the idea of foreign security
personnel walking around Tehran with firearms, but no sane NSS
would leave the embassy unarmed. It was the same with the other
countries as well.
Ay, now, you can't smoke in public places.
Just about to light up, Rafi turned his seat. An old woman with
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rotten teeth with a woollen cap was shaking a finger at him. He


smiled and replaced the cigarette in the pack.
No, of course not, madam, he apologised.
That's good man.
Rafi blew out a sigh. Well, he would take the edge off his longing
some other way. Because he had worked all night, he was out even
earlier than usual for a Friday. Coming straight from the embassy
after the Foreign Office, he could have called his own car from his
residence where he had left it yesterday, instead he had decided on
the bus lines. 105 would take him to Jamshidiyeh on Dr. Fateh Road
before the interchange Vali-Asr Abad. From there rain or no, he
planned a leisurely walk through the market on Fatemi Square and
then home at Ekbatan Complex.
Of late, he had been spending more and more time in the
market. Many of the stalls were owned by the Middle Easterners and
South Asians and if you just squinted a little and indulged your nose,
you could imagine yourself safely in Islamabad Sunday Bazaar in G6. He would buy some Turkish coffee, Shami Kababs and roasted full
chicken on grill and then he would walk home bringing Kiran some
fresh flowers. At eight o clock Sherazi and Seema would come over
and he and Sherazi would smoke and play chess.
If Baba Feroz can't go to Islamabad, Rafi decided, then we'll bring
Islamabad to Baba Feroz.
The bus stopped again on Shahid Akbari crossing between the
huge round domes of the Akbari Mosque. Rafi looked out at the
peaked monolith while the driver on the lower deck sold someone a
day pass and said Bufermine Agha, and the vehicle moved on. Rafi
heard the sound of footsteps on the narrow stairs behind him, then
the scuff of a misplaced foot, a loud thunk and the ringing of the
small change as it spilled all over the floor and went rolling down the
aisle like poker chips.
Oh, Terri Maa ka taka! A furious voice spat the Urdu curse
which alludes to the private part of one's mother.
Rafi turned his head nearly smiling because the expression of
frustration reflect forth the Pakistani Urdu accent and the originator
was down on his hands and knees hunting for his lost funds.
Rafi stuck his head out into the aisle. There was a young man on
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the floor. His face was hidden as he bent to his task. He was wearing
dark blue jeans and maroon shirt rolled at the cuff and sleeveless
Chinese commando jacket, a usual trade mark for Pakistanis while
on travelling in winter and it made them readily identifiable to their
own countrymen, if to no one else.
Rafi felt a flash of pleasure as he grinned from ear to ear.
Main khuch madad karoon, he offered his help in Urdu almost
as a reflex.
The man raised his head, somewhat shocked to hear his own
tongue. He was probably unaware that he had uttered his words
aloud. He was handsome with bright eyes and curly black hair. He
smiled in return.
Shukria, he thanked him.
Rafi gladly bent to his task and in a minute both men were
sitting together somewhat breathless in their exertion.
Thanks for the help, the other Pakistani continued in Urdu as
he stuffed his change back into his pocket of his jacket. Did I yell?
Loud enough, Rafi laughed. But I am sure only I
understood.
Don't be so certain, the man said as he looked around at the
other passengers. Half the city seems to be Pakistani or Indians over
here.
You know, said the man as he wiped some rain from his face
with a sleeve of the shirt. I think it's a racial defect. I get sick to death
of our messed and untidy country until I think I'll go crazy. Then I
explode and got to travel. I get outside and after one week I'm
homesick.
Homesick, hum, Rafi revealed nothing of his own feeling on
the subject.
Like a kid.
Rafi nodded.
Hayat Gul. Razmak Bilal extended a damp hand.
Rafi Ahmad. Rafi responded in kind. He looked him for a
long moment. Something about him was familiar, the face, the
curved scar beneath the left eye, but he could not place him.
You just a tourist? Razmak asked. Or can you help me get
where I want to go?
I might be able to help, said Rafi. He stopped himself from
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staring.
Razmak removed a slip of paper from his pocket. He showed it
Rafi. In Urdu the script were the words Aunt Shehzadi, 29 Arman
Tower, Bagh-e-Feyz.
You're in right direction. Rafi said. I'll guide you.
Thanks, Razmak took back the paper.
Relatives? Rafi asked.
Like all of us. They are everywhere. What do you do here?
Razmak asked.
I'm a Clerk in one company here. Rafi had to lie to a stranger.
It was his basic training in the intelligence to keep under cover until
it's essential otherwise to disclose his identity.
It would be hard to live on a small payroll here. Razmak
empathetically said.
Yes, indeed, but you know this is how life goes on outside
country. Rafi shrugged his shoulders.
The conversation went on for a quarter of an hour. Razmak was
so well prepared that he never faltered. After all he had taken a whole
year in preparations for every detail to perfection. His Urdu was
flawless, save for trace of an accent which was common for an Uzbek
to imitate Pakhtoon of Northern Area. He was aggressive in asking
Rafi Ahmad for details of his life in Pakistan, and at one point even
he invented a certain cafe at Blue Area in Islamabad and exhibited
some suspicion when Rafi embarrassingly admitted that he had
never heard of it. But at the same time he was registering all lies on
Rafi's profile as he had known he was working in Pakistan Embassy
at Tehran as security detail In-charge and belonged to operation
Kabul for his arrest as it get wind of later in the terrorist community.
Well I am away quite a long, said Rafi.
Yes I think so, said Razmak.
They rode in silence for a while, finally reaching at the end of
Fatemi Square.
Well, it was good to talk someone from home. Razmak Bilal
said after a bit.
For me too, said Rafi.
What do I do now?
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Feyz.
Good, Razmak paused for a while allowing next thoughts to
seem spontaneous. You live near here.
West a bit, but first I am going to Shinglla Market.
What is that?
Kind of like Melody in Islamabad. I'll pick up some cooked
Pakistani Food from there.
Aha! Razmak pointed a finger at Rafi as if he'd caught him in
deception, Maybe a little homesick yourself?
Rafi laughed. He had enjoyed the encounter fully, a taste of
home to dull his ache, if God has sent a temporary relief messenger.
Maybe little, he admitted.
Hey, Razmak turned to him, how about a coffee? Can we get
some around here, if you are not in hurry?
Hayat Gul's expression was so childishly hopeful that Rafi could
hardly resist. He looked at his watch.
Okay, yes I know a place.
Razmak clapped his hands together and rubbed them happily.
Ab Maza aye ga, he said excitedly.
They left bus together. The rain was fairly heavy again and Razmak put
up hood of his jacket pulling the upper edge forward with his finger to
keep the water off his head. Rafi pulled a much-bettered pea cap from
his rear pocket. It had the bright golden star embroidered on the front.
Rafi was never fan of cricket but it had the style of being Pakistan
Cricket Control Board official. Razmak also liked the cap. It had made
the tracking of target as easy task.
Razmak followed Rafi as both moved quickly along the Fatemi
Square.
Yar barish tu teez ho gai hey, Razmak commented on the rain as
they walked more quickly towards a building.
Yes, it's really coming down, Rafi called over his shoulder. He
had to raise his voice considerably due to the pounding of water on
the sidewalks and the sound of skidding of the wheels of the taxis
and cars. Maybe a walk was not the best idea.
Oh, come on, one hot cup of coffee and you will feel different.
Yeah, Rafi pointed ahead.
They were almost running parallel to the market and the
surrounding area was congested with tall bricks apartment
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buildings, delivery vans in the road and the battered used cars of
Iranians, yet the surge of weather was already holding pedestrians
indoor to wait it out. Rafi suddenly turned left on a street. The bustle
died almost instantly. There were lower buildings, a quiet street with
some shops and cafes.
Razmak had to act now; he did not know how soon they might
arrive at a crowded eatery. He spotted a tiny store a few steps ahead.
The glass door had a large cigarette ad on display and window was
stacked high with the grocery cartoons. He stopped.
Hey, Razmak called out.
Rafi halted his jog and turned.
Cigarette! Razmak jerked a thumb at the store and moved up
on cement steps of the store.
A bell jingled on the door as he entered the gloomy space. The
shop was very small, the piles of goods making it more a warehouse
rather than a grocery shop. The boxes of diapers, laundry soap and
toilet paper formed a single narrow aisle straight to cashier. There
was a slab of scuffed wood on a peeling Formica bar served as the
cash counter. On the top was an ancient register next to a wire basket
of candies. The proprietor was a South Indian. Behind him the wall
was lined with shelves with cigarettes, tobacco, cheap pipes and
condoms.
The proprietor looked up at Razmak, watching his customer
shake the droplets off his jacket on the cement floor. Bufermine
Agha, isn't it very bad?
Razmak only managed half smile. Bad enough, he said as he
opened up his zipper of his jacket halfway and shook his hood back
over his shoulders. His heart was pounding against his shirt, his
breath coming very fast now. His hands were slick and he wiped
them on his jeans at the back of his thighs where the water has not
reached the denim.
Rafi popped in through the entrance. He closed the door and
said, Gul, shaking himself off and pulling the pea cap from his
head. He snapped it against his leg a few times smooth back his hair
with the hand and replaced the cap.
Razmak looked up at him and smiled. Rafi smiled too and
walked towards the counter, passing Razmak as he perused the
cigarette pack.
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What's your brand? Rafi asked without turning around.


Rothmans, said Razmak and he reached inside his pocket for
the Makarov. The bulk of the silencer stuck for a moment in his belt
but he freed it with force. The device was unusual type, and held
against the nose of the pistol with a spring loaded extension to the
trigger guard. It would not quiet the weapon fully but the report
would be sufficiently muffled and the pounding rain was on
Razmak's side.
Rafi's head began to turn, his mouth opening to say something.
Razmak placed his free hand on Rafi's back and pushed all his
strength as he clicked off the safety of the Makarov with his thumb.
Rafi's body responded with its years of training and instinct. He
caught himself with a forearm against the countertop not even
stopping to assess the situation, knowing that he could never be fast
enough in this position but snapping his right hand under his jacket
as he grabbed for his gun and turned.
He was right. He was not fast enough.
Razmak reached out with the Makarov shot him once above the
left eye.
Rafi's head snapped over his right shoulder as if he'd struck with
a cricket bat. His hat disappeared from his head along with a spray of
liquid and bone, his back slammed against the countertop and he
fell down onto the floor.
Razmak looked down. There was no need to check for sign of
life. He stood there for a moment and his nostrils extended like a
bull's.
He fired one more shot. That's for the Gulo. He whispered.
He raised his head. The Makarov was still there at the end of his
extended hand and to the right of the barrel the Indian proprietor
was standing behind the counter with his eyes closed. His brown
hands were clutched together; his lips trembled as he prayed. The left
side of his shirt was spotted with blood.
The money please, said Razmak.
The Indian did not seem to hear.
The money. Razmak said a bit louder.
The Indian suddenly jerked like awakened man. His trembling
fingers snatched the register and the drawer bounced with
resounding clang. The fingers gathered all of the Toman notes
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quickly and for some reasons the proprietor begun so sort them in
order of value which he probably did out for the courtesy of bank
cashiers.
Razmak extended his hand and snatched the currency notes and
packed them in his pocket. He did not want to shoot the store owner,
but his mission has only just begun and he knew well if he did not
act, a perfect description of him would be faxing its way across the
world in a matter of hours. Then all his training, his work and his
new face would be wrecked for nothing. He had once trained with
an Egyptian terrorist whose favourite expression was now ringing in
his ear: 'leave one witness... and make sure it's you.'
The Indian still remained statue behind the countertop.
Everything was so quick that he could not fathom it. Pardon me
please, he managed.
I respect a man of God.
The Indian immediately closed his eyes, folded his fingers and
began to beg his divinity.
Razmak extended his Makarov, shot the man in his chest and
was out of the store before the body hit the floor.

_______

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Shore-Eye
Chapter 7
Ten days later
Sahel's black Margalla climbed a long stretch of highway towards
Islamabad through Rawal Dam Lake road bypassing Bani Gala,
its carburettor taking deep breaths of the chilled morning air, its
engine seeming to buzz with pleasure for the proper atmosphere of
Lake. As it inclined steepened, Sahel clutched and jammed the
gearshift from forth to third, pushing the accelerator pedal hard to
the floor as if a lapse of speed might threaten his joyful mood.
He reached over and rolled down the passenger window to fill
the car with the fresh flower's fragrance spread over both sides of the
highway. Then he lit a cigarette, turned up the radio and tuned some
FM channel for the morning music. A pop song of Hadiqa Kiyani
fairly deafened him and he pounded on the steering wheel with his
open palms. A blazing jolt shot through his hands and he quickly
jerked them away from the wheel. He laughed and quickly recovered
this time using only his fingertips to keep away his palms wounds
from the wheel. His hands were bloody, his back ached and his leg
throbbed but it did not matter. For after four exhausting and
humiliating Krav-Maga lessons, this morning at Shimla House,
Sahel had finally beaten Jami.
It was a perfect day to begin his twenty-ninth birthday.

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For over two weeks now Jami had been teaching Sahel a single
technique---unarmed defence against an armed opponent. Successful
execution of exercise required blinding speed and total psychological
commitment. In most other martial art disciplines it would not even
have been introduced to a student before his basic defensive moves
were perfected. However, as with all Pakistani military techniques
practicality overruled patience, formality and aesthetics. More
important Jami was sure that if Sahel could successfully disarm him
it would be a terrific confidence building.
The basic concept of Krav-Maga was simple---no two brains could
act and react simultaneously. There was always a lapse in
milliseconds between the offensive move and defensive
countermove. Therefore if you were being threatened with a loaded
weapon, you could disarm your aggressor before his brain
commanded an accurate pull of the trigger.
However, success demanded days of painful drill.
Sahel assignment was simply to strike Jami's hands with one of
his own before the instructor jerked the target out of range. At first
Jami allowed his student to make contact a few times with the
momentum of his failed attempts. Then Sahel started to learn the
technique but still needed lot of perfection which Jami taught him
with the painful exercises and repeated drills to smash him onto the
sand floor. It took almost a week for Sahel to make him defeated by
grabbing Jami's dummy pistol and overcome by smashing him back
on the floor. Today he bested him twice and then the exercise was
over.
Then they both went for swim and had a huge breakfast in the
Shimla House mess.
An angry car horn woke Sahel from his victorious thoughts
realising that he was smiling like an idiot and had driven the last ten
kilometres without really seeing the road. He swung quickly to the
left lane and allowed white corolla to overtake. Then he shifted again
in the right lane downshifted and floored the gas pedal. He had his
reflexes back.
Things were going to be different now. Sahel could feel it, knew it
in his heart. Nothing had really changed for him in NSB---he was still
only an interviewer and might well be until the end of his tenure. But
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he was changing now. For two weeks he had been working with
Jamshaid and returning to HQ bettered, bruised and demoralised,
yet saying only that it was going fine. He would rather die than
admit defeat to Zawri and he had summoned reserves of stubborn
determination that he had not needed since he was a paratrooper.
Today when he reached HQ he would not declare his victory. But he
knew Jami would file a bright report.
Things would be better now with Amber as well. Sahel's black
moods had begun to wear on even his wife's patient and resilient
personality. He would not wonder if their failure to conceive had
been directly connected to his frayed nerves and depressive state.
Now all that would change. He felt energy and shade of power that
would extend into every corner of his world and whatsoever he
imagined for himself would be within his reach. He burst forth into
the zero point intersection. The sun made the buildings glow bone
white behinds the roadside flowers plant in front of the buildings
and houses. The birds in the trees were ecstatic with morning breeze
and even the most impatient horn stabbing drivers could not break
Sahel's mood.
He was tempted to speed to Islamabad Hospital, find his wife,
spin her around and crush a bouquet of roses between them. It was
lovely fantasy, yet he was already running late and had to pick up his
files and get over to the SEC, Aabpara. His celebration with Amber
would have to wait till evening. It would be doubly joyous. He would
have his birthday dinner and she would have a new husband. She
had told him that she was panning something extra special and that
he should not be late.
He drove straight down Khiaban-e-Iqbal, for once not giving
damn about the traffic, singing along with the radio as proud as king
returning from conquests abroad.
He nearly bounded into the entrance hall of SpecOp. Sahib Dad
looked up from the paper work on his desk and fixed Sahel a serious
stare.
ID please, this time Sahib Dad was showing real security guts.
Sahel happily produced his card. Apparently his recent lecture
about access regulations had had an effect.
Thank you, said Sahib Dad. Password
What, Sahel leaned forward thinking he had misheard.
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Password, Sahib Dad repeated without changing expression.


Sahel laughed. What are you kidding? No need to exaggerate.
There is a perimeter alert on today.
Sahel laughed again sure that Sahib Dad is pulling his leg, Aye,
be serious, we are in Islamabad.
Password please, said Sahib Dad.
Sahel shrugged, refusing to allow his mood off. He had to think
for a moment.
Rising Sun, He snapped his fingers as he came up with the
answer.
Sahib Dad looked up at the camera and said, It's Sahel and the
door clicked.
Sahel entered and before anyone could speak to him he said,
Sahel Farhaj, I have got a briefcase, a sandwich for lunch and I am
armed and dangerous.
He expected the usual snappy retort from the intercom, yet the
secondary just opened and he went in.
Sahel still could not exactly fly up the stairs, especially with Jami
having abused his body as of late. Sajid was sitting at his desk,
though he was not reading. His hands were folded on his desk top.
Morning Bravo, said the young man.
To you too, said Sahel and he made to walk by.
ID please, said Sajid putting up a hand.
Sahel sighed and showed him his card. Want the password too?
Sajid shook his head and waved Sahel through.
Zawri must have announced salary cuts, Sahel said to himself as he
walked along the corridor. There seemed something strange around
the building. Sahel tried to pinpoint the same, then hearing his own
footsteps sound on the tiles, he knew. It was very quiet.
He stopped at the canteen and looked in. The counter girl was
wiping a table, picking up empty table glasses. Only one table was
occupied and the four young people conversing in low whispers were
all of Dilshad's Research Staff. They turned their heads and fell silent
as Sahel appeared in the doorway.
Morning, Sahel maintained his bright tone. What's the
occasion? Dilshad rarely allowed his staff to take a break
simultaneously.
Khaki the computer guy almost whispered with his spectacles.
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Morning, Sahel. Dilshad left a message for you. Go right up to


Zawri office.
Okay. Sahel continued on down the hallway. It can only be good,
he said to himself fighting to maintain his mood. Haven't made a
single mistake or opened my mouth in last two weeks. Haven't even
mentioned a closed file, not even to Dilshad? It can only be something good.
Yet all of the signals indicated the negative. He tried whistling as
he walked, covering his limb very well now; still he felt like a man
who has been summoned to explain his guilt.
No one was in Personnel. He dropped off his briefcase and began
to walk faster. The climb to third floor was painful; the guard waved
him through quickly and Sahel stopped outside Zawri's door and
took a moment to collect himself. Deep muffled voices came from
inside.
Sahel opened the door and went in. The conversation quickly
cooled to a silence. He looked around.
It was his first time in Zawri's office since they move to
Islamabad and the space was imposing. It was very large more than
half the size of the conference room. Abdul Karim's giant desk sat
cater-corner at the northwest end near the windows. It was covered
with green surge cloth delicately cut at corners under full table size
12mm glass and surface was filled with files and operation orders.
Against the close wall was a long couch, a coffee table and some
beautifully cushioned chairs with Victorian style legs. In one corner
a glass table overflowed with the medals, shields and honours
awarded from time to time personally to NSB and his
Commandants. On the one side of the wall there was a polished
wood board hanging with the names of the Commandants engraved
on it with metallic filling. Zawri's name was the last one. There were
also some framed photographs of AK Zawri with every major
politician since Benazir's first regime. The rest of the wall was
covered with huge maps, all mounted on cork and showered with
coloured coded pins. There was also a small book shelf in the office
with a few hard-bond books, though Colonel never interested in
history. He made it.
Colonel himself was sitting on the edge of his desk, his long legs
touching the floor. He sipped coffee and stared at Sahel. Dilshad was
also in the room, along with Shahzad Ahmad, Major Jahanzaib from
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Cipher and Intercepts, Seema from Covers and a man named


Farhatullah whose Sahel recognised as an officer from NSS. Qadri
was also there and Sahel immediately expected him to jump from his
seat and tried to shoulder him out from the room. But the Captain
just sat quietly in his chair. Islamabad was silent in the room.
The way they were looking at him made Sahel's heart pounding
inside. Alarms began to sound in his head; he felt his soar palms
going slick and tremble. Dilshad walked to him quickly and put his
arm over his shoulders leading him to the couch.
Sit Sahel, said Dilshad.
Is it Amber? Sahel whispered quickly bracing himself to absorb
the horrible reply. He could not bear to have such news broken this
way, but he had to know now and he squeezed his eyes shut and
listened as Dilshad gripped his arm and said, No, no, it's not your
wife.
Sahel sat down, instantly relieved, yet still massively fearful.
Dilshad sat down next to him.
Tell him for God's sake, said Qadri, snapping up from his
chair.
Shut up, Shahzad spat at the intolerable officer.
Farhat, Zawri's serious voice rose as he addressed the NSS man.
Brief us again, please.
The dark skinned, muscular NSS officer focused on Sahel, who
starred on him like a prisoner waiting for his sentence.
On Friday night, Farhat began; Tehran police discovered the
body of Captain Rafi Ahmad in a small grocery shop at Fatemi
Square shopping market. He had been shot once in the head at
point-blank range, along with the proprietor of the shop, who was
shot in the heart. The cash register was empty. No witness and the lab
report just expected.
Sahel continued to stare at the NSS man. He did not even blink.
He couldn't move.
I am sorry, said Farhat as he dropped his official tone and
looked down at his feet. I understand he was your friend.
Sahel's mouth moved, barely releasing a sound.
What did he say, Qadri demanded.
He said, Dilshad repeated for Qadri Practically my brother,
and if you say one more word in this meeting, I am going to throw
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you right through this fucking window.


Cool down Dilshad, Zawri's first ever polite voice came. The
he pointed a finger at his mad-eyed aide, Qadri, he warned him as
master warns his guard dog.
Something as cold and as large and as indigestible as an iced
bowling ball was sitting in Sahel's throat. He struggled to control his
breathing to quell the rising rage, but it all came rushing back to him
as if he were expiring and viewing his entire life in those last
moments before the fire dies; Rafi Ahmad racing across and open
expanse of training ground, firing his pistol, diving behind cover,
reloading, rolling coming up and running again, his hair swept back
by the wind over his sunburned face, smiling always smiling, almost
laughing with the exertion of the game. Rafi Ahmad plopping
himself down on the sand at Hawks-bay beach at Karachi amid a trio
of surprised girls, then quickly capturing one for a flirt which if
succeeded become true romance otherwise forget smilingly and look
for another one like mostly young Pakistani boys do.
He had almost forgotten Faizi Jaffar, not the man himself, no
never--- but the whys and wherefores of his death in Dubai. After all
there was nature and fate and not every bad thing that happened to a
soldier could be blamed on his profession. But now Baba Feroz, it all
shattered again, the reasoning and the acceptance, it was exploding
into his mind like a huge hit being hammered by a steel mallet that
only a blind man cannot see and deaf man cannot hear.
Razmak Bilal. Sahel said.
No one reacted.
It was as if they were all iced figures. Sahel looked over and
realized that Shaista was sitting in the far corner on a hard chair
coughing intermittently in a grinding rasp. She was brilliant woman
exceptionally a kind of face that would even make smile a person in
any grave situation. Sahel wondered what she was doing in the
meeting, and then he realized that Zawri might have invited her in
case someone needed motherly shoulder. That was Zawri's idea of
comfort.
Razmak Bilal, Sahel repeated the name again, a bit louder
pronouncing it slowly and carefully. Are you all deaf?
We heard you Sahel, said Major Shahzad, who stood leaning
against the windowsill, moving his pipe stem to alternate corners of
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his mouth.
Qadri groaned in disgust and Dilshad shot him a look. The
young captain turned away folding his arms and muttering to
himself.
Ok, Sahel, said Dilshad squeezing Sahel's arm.We are not
ready for conclusions yet.
Sahel, Zawri tone warmed him. I called you in here because of
your relationship with Captain Rafi Ahmad. The investigation will
be conducted by Farhat and his NSS people, with our records for
support and that's all now.
It's a mule, Sahel yelled it so loudly that everyone in the room
shocked. He rose to his feet with a jerk of his body and clapped his
hands together and shook them towards ceiling, raising his eyes and
praying to God in a trembling voice. Allah Help them all. It's a
mule! Can't they see that it's a mule? Everyone starred at him as if
he had gone mad. Farhat took a step forward in case he might have
to restrain Sahel. It's big and it's brown, it has four legs and long
tail. Sahel said wildly. God help them see it's a mule. He smacked
his forehead and laughed in an ugly voice. He, then, looked around
more calmly, put his hands on his hips and dropped his voice to a
controlled, yet still fiery tone.
Friends, I am not crazy, but you are, if you can't see this. Two of
my men have been killed within one month of each other....
They are not your men, said Zawri.
Two of my former men, Sahel contained without pause, have
died violently within short span, with the same histories, same
enemies. God a poor policeman could figure it out.
You are not here to draw conclusions, Sahel, said Zawri.
Someone has to, Sahel snapped and Zawri rose from his desk
like a gathering hurricane.
Let the man talk, Farhat said holding out a hand like a traffic
constable.
Are you working with me or against me on this issue, Farhat,
Colonel Zawri demanded.
I am working for my government, the NSS man said, implying
that Colonel's self-serving reputation was well known even outside
the NSB. Let him talk.
Zawri said nothing. Sahel got a cigarette from his pocket. His
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hands were shaking. Dilshad lit it for him.


Two men, Sahel blew out the smoke and began to pace slowly
aside the wall. Faizi gets it, and okay, it's a traffic accident. Fine we
all bought that, me too, I swear I did. These things do happen in
normal life. But now Rafi, his voice really cracked when he took
his friend's name. But now Rafi becomes a robbery victim?
Unbelievable, are we completely out of our minds? He is so good that
rest of us were always jealous, so fast he can knock you down while
you are still thinking about it. His gun has its own eyes, I swear it.
Sahel caught himself speaking of his old partner in a present tense
and he stopped.
It's very suspicious, Seema croaked through a cloud of smoke.
Thank you, Seema. Sahel bowed to her gratefully, a brave and
intelligent woman.
And what the hell does this have to do with operation
Darkroom? Zawri demanded. One of the telephones of his desk
began to ring. Instead of answering it, the Colonel simply yelled at
the top of his lungs. Rabia, I said no call. It stopped ringing.
Razmak Bilal is a prime suspect. Sahel said simply.
Nonsense, Razmak is dead issue.
Show me any evidence, Sahel challenged.
This is simply an obsession with you, Sahel, Zawri flared.
And I will not tolerate emotionalism.
Ok, fine, I am emotional, but have you forgotten the case of
Major Fahd, nobody listened to him and finally he became the
victim of an unfortunate incident which later proved otherwise. And
his whole family left Pakistan in disgust.
They were insane, said Qadri feeling safer now to join the
challenge against Sahel.
Oh... my God, am I in India? said Sahel looking up once again
at the ceiling. God help me.
I thought the Razmak file was closed, said Farhat quizzically
For all the branches.
Then, lets, open it, said Sahel in calm voice. And face the
reality.
This meeting is over, Zawri suddenly moved behind his desk,
sat on his chair and began to shuffle some papers. Everyone starred
at him but no one moved. He looked up. I am sorry Captain, its
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hard thing to take. I know but this is too silly.


Why ridiculous, said Major Shahzad angering Zawri further,
who pounded on his desk making his papers bounce and an empty
tea glass topple.
Because of the idea, a dead terrorist coming to life just to take
revenge from our team members is considered ridiculous. He
suddenly got up again, which indicated to all that he was failing to
convince himself. And how the hell does this ghost have all of team
member's identities? Zawri waited was the question and no one
responded.
Answer me, he shot each one of them a stare. Are you telling
me that we have been penetrated?
That's not impossible, said Seema.
It's probably him, said Sahel dryly as he jerked a thumb on
Qadri. He tries to veto every good idea, we ever have.
Qadri flushed bright red under his quite fair complexion. He
clinched his fists and stepped forward with a snarl, but Shahzad
grabbed him by the sleeve.
Wait, stop. Dilshad stepped into the centre of the room
holding up his hands like a referee in a match. Let's think for a
minute, calmly. Dilshad's tone quickly vanish dangerous ego fires
that were sparking in the office. He was a master, knowing when to
shut up and when to speak his piece. He and Sahel had discussed the
Razmak problem before quietly like puzzle masters over an old
crossword. He turned to Sahel.
Okay, Sahel, it's an excellent question. How would a supposedly
resurfaced Razmak know who the individuals were?
They all waited, while Sahel took a deep sigh.
Ok, listen, he said as if addressing troops under his command.
Acquiring my team identities is not really that difficult. He looked
over at the NSS agent. Farhat, you are probably not cleared for this.
He is not, said Zawri without even knowing what Sahel was
about to say.
But you will be, I am sure, said Sahel. So just follow along.
He started to pace again. Baba Feroz, I mean Rafi and I was trying
to get Razmak in Kabul, but we failed and a wrong man was shot
dead before our eyes and presence. You know what that means? In
prime facie case we shot him and that story was sold out in the
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market around globe. He had to stop for a moment and breathe. He


had never ever said that so loud. So in Kabul Police record we shot
one named Zahir. Then Kabul Police conducted a six month
investigations along Americans. Maybe someone had made a few
snaps from the distance holding our guns on Mr. Zahir like they
were watching waiting for our action. Six months of files, photos,
reports and all everything I mean paper war that we all did. Since
they actually had my man Barat Khan I mean Captain Tanveer ----
In prison, Farhat asked innocently.
Yes in prison, don't you remember the scandal?
Oh, yeah, Farhat put his hands in his pockets, feeling silly that
he had probed a wound. Sorry.
Since they had Captain Tanveer, Sahel continued. They also
had got a pile of photos of him, left, right, full face. Now Bano
Abagull stayed on, but let's say because of her closeness in City
Centre, her neighbours would have been investigated, so full witness
description of her.
He continued to pace. He could tell by the silence in the room
that he was doing well. Now Faizi Jaffar, I mean John victor had a
brief but very significant encounter with the Kabul Police and an
ambulance driver. Full description of him. Lieutenant Rati Asma
Farooqui, I mean Shabana Mir was stopped at roadblock outside the
city at a NATO check post. They let her go, but they were
photographing everybody on exit that day.
Dilshad. Sahel turned to Dilshad. You rented an office at the
Marhaba Complex for two weeks. Do you deny that you are a figure
that can be forgotten?
No denial, Dilshad smiled like a teacher watching his best
student give lecture.
And finally, Rafi and I also rented a flat for those weeks. And
Kabul airport guards got a long hard look at both of us and our Brit
passports at Galaxy Air. He stopped talking and looked up. He was
standing in front of Colonel Farhat from NSS.
So, NSS man asked.
So, routine police work. A good artist, they have our faces.
Standard rundown on our abandoned vehicles and flats, and they
have got our phony names and a paper trail. They must have got a
file as thick as my arm is long. Routine plodding surveillance and
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they pick us up again.


Who? Qadri demanded. The Kabul Police?
No, Qadri. Not the Kabul Police, said Sahel.
Run it out for us, said Shahzad.
Fine, Sahel turned to the head of Ciphers. Major Jahanzaib?
Would you say that Afghans are penetrated by the Indians?
Like anything, the Middle aged with grey fringes Jahanzaib
spoke first time in the meeting.
And if the Indians are puppets, then who is the puppet master?
Sahel said in leaning voice.
Great Russia, God Bless her, Jahanzaib added.
And despite the persistent rumours of decency claimed by the
Russians, they are still in the business.
But I thought External Services was pulling back on terror
support, said Farhat.
Directly, yes, Sahel explained. But they are still training, still
aiding by proxy.
No one knows which way the hammer and sickle will fall,
Shahzad said thoughtfully.
So again, Moscow writes the cheques, said Seema.
Sahel lifted his hands. He was finished. He moved to the couch
and sat, waiting.
So, Sir, Sahel addressed directly to Zawri. If and I will grant
you the if, Razmak is still alive, he could have been sitting on a beach
somewhere for a year studying the goddamn file.
No one was speaking. Farhat was rubbing his chin which has
become blacker. He was a handsome man and somehow had some
with Arabic features. It is possible, he said. It's certainly
somewhere to begin.
It's absolutely ridiculous, said Zawri resuming his annoyed
vocal posture. Some phoenix rising from the ashes to even the score,
I can't buy this
Sahel colour began to rise again. Tell me, sir, do we own the
copyright on retaliation.
Its blatant suspicion, Colonel Zawri stormed. Why Razmak?
Because you want it to be so? What about our other missions, Sahel?
He pointed at a large grey iron safe that sat in the corner behind his
desk. What about a hundred other operations that could just easily
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have enraged a hundred other men? Why couldn't be it be one of


their survivors out for Pakistani blood?
Because, Captain Rafi and Major John Victor only worked
together on one project, one, operation named Darkroom.
Nothing infuriated Zawri more than being successfully
challenged in front of his subordinates. He looked at his watch.
All right, he snapped. Enough, this is over, dismissed to all
tasks.
Shahzad and Seema glanced at each other, took their cues and
left the room quietly. But Qadri stood by and waited. Being the
Commandant's aide, he loved the fact that no matter who got
thrown out of the office, he always remained.
Sahel, Zawri ordered. You will write up a full history on Rafi
for Farhat and NSS. Rafi was theirs, and it's now their jurisdiction. I
want it quickly and I want it in minute to minute details, and then I
want it run through the departmental censor and reworked. So you'd
better get moving.
The Colonel sat down and picked up a phone, but he stopped
dialling when he saw that Sahel and Dilshad had not yet moved. He
fixed them with an annoyed glare. They left the office.

______
Sahel stop, Dilshad was amazed to find himself, chasing Sahel
down the stairwell from three to two. The crippled Captain was
gripping the steel handrail, down with his bad leg and hurling
himself along three steps at a time.
We can't get anywhere this way. Dilshad almost begged.
We, Sahel spat without turning.
I think you are reacting. You have to stop this. Think and plan.
He stopped short from Cover and looked at Seema. She was
waiting for him and she block his way, gripped both of his shoulders
looked into his twisted angry face with her brown eyes.
I am so sorry, she said. I am sorry about Baba Feroz. Seema
always used agents cover names.
Sahel calmed a bit. He could be furious at Zawri, Dilshad and
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everyone and everything but not Seema. She meant what she said.
Thank you, He put a hand to her scarfed head.
Okay, Sahel, that's enough, Dilshad grabbed Sahel's bicep.
We are going to talk. He dragged him toward his office and
pounded the door open. Dilshad's staff members sat at their
terminals. They looked up as the door banged against the wall.
Everybody out, Dilshad voice boomed. Break time.
The young researchers pushed to their feet and moved toward the
door. I am swimming in Coffee already. One of the girls muttered.
We just had a break, Tariq protested.
Have another, Dilshad ordered.
As Khaki passed Sahel, he looked over the top of his spectacles
and shook his head with sympathetic sadness.
Look, Sahel, I agree something happening here very strange,
said Dilshad when were alone.
Congratulations, Sahel tone was still taunting.
I don't care how mad you are.
Sahel stopped himself from retorting further. Sorry.
I am not saying I agree with you, Dilshad continued. Yes, this
may be Razmak, or one of his old aides. Also it may not be. Do you
agree?
Sahel said nothing.
Sahel, do you agree it may not be?
Yes, all right, Sahel sighed and looked outside the window.
It may not be. I probably wouldn't be so inflexible about it, if
that ... upstairs would give just a millimetre on this.
Zawri has his reasons.
Sahel turned, hearing something in Dilshad's voice. What
reasons?
Trust me. Zawri has a history in these kinds of things, layers
upon layers that you are not even aware of. You have to lead him into
this, not push him. He has to be manipulated. Every time you say
Darkroom, it will be like a red flag to a bull.
Sahel took a deep breath and lit another cigarette. He was almost
out.
It's Razmak, Dilshad, Sahel said quietly. I know it.
How, what makes you so sure?
Dilshad, you know me, I am so sceptic, not one for astrology.
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But I know this like a twin knows when his brother's in trouble. Like
a mother knows when his son's been killed in a war, I know this.
I want to see Falkshair Khan, said Sahel.
Ya Khudaya. Dilshad smacked his forehead. Falkshair khan was
the only member of Razmak Bilal's cell ever to have been captured
alive by the forces in Pakistan. He had been tried and convicted of
terrorism and murder and had been sitting in a maximum security
prison waiting for his black warrant since over a year. Falkshair was
convicted a death penalty. He had been questioned by every
intelligence expert in the country, offered plea bargains, threatened,
subjected to psychological tricks and third degree methods. Yet he
had never uttered a single helpful bit of information.
You are crazy, said Dilshad. Everyone's had their hands on
him. He will never talk. You think he will like your face so he'll passon any information to you? You are going to bring him flowers?
Sahel would not be discouraged. He knows the truth. He knows
what really happened to Razmak after Kabul. He's the only one who
can support my theory.
It's ridiculous.
You sound like your boss.
Dilshad actually blushed. He would not have Sahel think that he
was afraid for his job. On the other hand plotting against C.O.'s
order was not a healthy way to run an intelligence branch.
Dilshad, I will make a deal with you, said Sahel, a calm and
rational agreement.
Dilshad examined his former team leader. Show me your
cards.
We are going to call Bano Abagull. We are going to tell her what
happened. Do you respect her opinion?
Dilshad suspiciously nodded.
If Bano agrees with my 'gut feeling' as you put it, you are going
to contact Shore-Eye jail and arrange for me to see the prisoner. If she
says I am way off the mark. I'll drop the whole thing and sit down
and write this stupid obituary.
What about your interviews today? Dilshad asked.
You will tell Shahzad, I went home sick. He'll understand.
Dilshad waited thinking. Then he said, Ok, let's call her. And
he moved toward one of his telephones.
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Not here, Sahel said. The voice logger.


Dilshad stopped. Where then?
Let's take a walk. Sahel opened the door, motioning for
Dilshad to leave first. Dilshad sighed and shook his great bald head.
I must be nuts, too.
They walked down the corridor. Sahel seemed calmer now,
though he was barely covering his boiling emotions. As they passed
the cafeteria, Dilshad stuck his head inside and yelled at his staff
members. Back to work, you've had enough coffee for a whole
week.
They found a Public Call Office across the compound near the
Education Department. The booth was typical. Sahel hands were still
shaking as he dropped a token into the slot and dialled Bano's
number in Lahore. Dilshad leaned against the booth and smoked,
looking up at the SpecOp building wondering if Zawri was standing
there starring at his insubordinate subordinates.
Bano, it's Sher Ali from Islamabad, Sahel said. Hope you are
not busy. The line was not secure one so it took Sahel a moment to
relay the horrified news in coded hints that only Bano would
comprehend. She groaned and even stopped speaking when she
understood that Rafi Ahmad was dead. Sahel waited while she
collected herself, then apologised for having to do it this way. The he
tried to explain next part without unfairly tipping the scales in his
own favour.
Listen, Bano. We have a little dispute going on here, a slight
disagreement. Sardar J S Khan is here with me. I contend that this
event is the result of an old bank cheque that we thought had cleared,
but apparently has bounced. I say this bad cheque is back now.
Sardar disagree with me, as done everyone else. Be objective. Just tell
him what you think.
Sahel handed over the phone to Dilshad, who took it the same
way he took the phone from his wife whenever she made him chat
with his mother-in-law. He listened for a while. Then he said good
bye and hung up.
What did she say, asked Sahel.
She said, Dilshad frowned, and I quote, 'It sounds like dim
red light in the room.'
Sahel nodded, yet no hint of a triumphant expression crossed
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his lips. It's a Darkroom, he said.

______

For a maximum security reasons the facility at Shore-Eye was not very
impressive. It could not be compared at least physically to an
institution like other common jails around the country, with its
stone-block tall walls, four guard towers on the corners and machine
gun posts. Shore-eye was not a civilian prison so its name never
appeared in the media. It was rather small and its around two
hundred prisoners never rioted or demanded better conditions as it
had become a practice in other civilian's prisons. They did not bang
their cups on the door-bars and clatter their chains or perform
hunger strikes. Or if they did engage in any of these stereotypical
methods, no one heard about it.
The facility was fairly new having been constructed just after the
'war on terror' broke over in the country. All the prisoners were high
ranking terrorists. In fact the word maximum security is concerning
to Shore-eye than to any other prison in Pakistan.
It consisted of a single square building with meter thick wall of
stone-blocks over a steel skeleton and concealed steel floors. There
were no windows. Surrounding of the walls on all sides were fifty
meters of flat earth fully covered with antipersonnel mines.
Surrounding the mine fields was a ten meters high electrified fence
topped with razor concertina. You access the single entrance through
a steel bridge over mine fields.
As a final touch, in case a prisoner dreamed too enthusiastically
of freedom the location of the facility was in most discouraging area.
For the ancient coastal port of Shore-eye, it has breath taking view of
the Arabian Gulf, was also home to the secret training base of the
Navel Commandos. They had a reputation as the toughest troops in
the Pakistani order of battle. They had absolutely no connection
with the facility but if by some miracle you managed to escape from
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it, you would be like a rabbit stepping into a pack of wolves.


It took Sahel a whole half day to reach the prison. Now it was
already afternoon and he had waited another hour outside the
prison while his clearance was processed and the prisoner was
prepared. There was a small mobile tuck-shop at the gate and he
finally bought an egg sandwich ate half and threw the rest away.
He was impatient with the waiting, yet not angered by it. He
understood that you never allow a visitor instantly, no matter his
rank or position. If an escape were afoot, few conspirators could wait
coolly without breaking and running.
Someone finally called Sahel's name and he climbed up the steel
stairway and crossed the bridge surrendering his gun and stopping to
have his ID examined and his photograph taken.
He descended into a submarine type chamber like the one at
Headquarters, answered the usual questions and signed the official
request cable from Dilshad allowing him to visit Falkshair Khan.
The secondary door clicked and Sahel was met on the other side of
the huge sergeant wearing pressed fatigues and a black moustache as
wide as you can imagine.
Come, said the giant and Sahel followed him along a yellowcoloured corridor but was so brightly lit it was almost painful to the
eyes. Sahel realized that in Shore-eye they were no days or nights,
storms or seasons. The warden was the lord and his nail pinned stick
was his tool.
Have you seen Falkshair before? the sergeant asked in a thick
voice.
At a distance.
Do you know how many times he has been interrogated?
I'm not here to interrogate him.
Over a hundred times. Do you know how many officers have
worked on him?
You'll tell me, I think.
Twenty seven Colonels and majors besides civilian's secret
officers, Even a Brigadier have been working on him. Clearly the
sergeant did not much faith in Sahel's power of influence. He
stopped outside a small steel door. Want to look at him first?
Okay.
They entered a small space completely dark with raised wooden
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benches. Sahel did not sit. He stared at a smoky glass pane the size of
an art poster. He could hear the giant's breathing heavily beside him.
From the other side of the pane, Falkshair stared back at them.
Sahel had, of course, seen Falkshair many times before, but
always under surveillance, but he was not prepared for this
diminished version of him. Sahel had liked Falkshair, as his tone in
intercepted conversation, his simple and elegant manner of dress;
Falkshair evidenced an idealistic sense of purpose, certain
professionalism tempered with irony.
Immediately after Kabul disaster, Razmak's cell has scattered.
Falkshair trail was quickly picked up. He was pressured with carefully
planned exposed surveillance until he began to run. And when he
finally reached in their cell's safe house near D.I. Khan in almost
panic, an informant was sent in, who persuaded him aboard a safe
convey destined for Karachi, and there he was caught.
He looked so much smaller now, sitting on a hard wooden bench
against the wall of the interrogation room wearing a light grey
Shalwar Kameez. His beard scattered on the face, his moustaches
thinned and his tan had faded. His black hairs gone much grey
around the ears. There was no light left in the sharp eyes.
Let me in, said Sahel.
The sergeant led him out in the corridor again. Then he pulled a
button from his belt, unlocked the interrogation room and waved
Sahel inside.
Falkshair was looking down at the floor.
Do you have to be here? Sahel asked the sergeant.
Yes,
How about watching through there? Sahel pointed at the two
way glass.
The sergeant looked at Falkshair as if he is taking measures of the
prisoner. He had already beaten him twice.
Okay, he left the two men alone.
Sahel stood in the centre of the room feeling awkward. After all a
man's dignity was a precious thing. It was hard to see it taken away
from anyone. He had to remind himself of his purpose.
Need a cigarette? Sahel offered.
Falkshair did not respond. He did not even look up.
Sahel lit one for himself.
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All at once, his heart felt so heavy, his hopes worthless. He knew
exactly what he was going to get from this man. What could he offer
him? Freedom? Some kind of deal? What had not been done that he,
The Great Sahel could bring for him? He had driven all this way for
nothing, fuelled by the rage.
He sat next to the Falkshair on the bench.
Listen, Falkshair, he tried to sound almost apologetic. My
name is Sahel Farhaj. I am no more important. I just want to ask a
couple of questions. One question really. Okay?
Falkshair said nothing, he looked on his knees.
I'm just a low level staffer. Practically just a clerk, a Historian for
the Ministry of Defence. It sounded as ridiculous as it came out of
his mouth that Sahel wanted to laugh at himself. He was grateful that
Falkshair did not laugh too. He suddenly wondered if Falkshair
understood him at all. Then he remembered that this man was from
South Waziristan, he might know Urdu well.
Maybe I can help you, Sahel lied. Maybe if you help me with
this one thing, your cooperation would be something good for.
Falkshair said nothing.
Okay, Sahel rose from his seat. He moved in front of Falkshair
with his back to the two-way mirror in order to offer some privacy.
It's like this, I will tell you straight. You knew Razmak Bilal
better than anyone else, everything about him. No one knows what
really happened to him, no one but maybe you. Some of the people
who worked on the Razmak arrest in Kabul have been killed recently.
Just tell me this one thing, Falkshair, and we will leave you alone. Is
Razmak dead or alive?
For the first time Falkshair raised his head and looked at Sahel.
His eyes narrowed ever so slightly, the deep lines at the corners, yet he
did not smile. It was almost an empathetic expression, the look of a
doctor regarding a terminally ill patient. And he did not speak.
Sahel allowed full minute to pass. Then he surrendered. He
turned to walk from the room, but what he heard stopped him dead
cold in his tracks and a shocking chill coursed up the length of his
spine.
Ina lillah ey wa inna ellahi rajaoon.
Falkshair was quietly reciting Quran verses, the prayer for the
dead.
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Sahel sped the whole way back to Karachi to catch his flight back to
Islamabad. He smoked one cigarette after another. He stopped only
once to gas up and he did not play the radio. He kept all the windows
open for he felt that he might not fall asleep at the wheel. He knew
that he should stop and call Amber, but something told him that he
would be able to get a piece of the day and it would not be too late as
long as she was still awake when he got home. He would tell
everything and she would understand. She always did.
The night was black as a moonless sky can be witnessed by
hundreds of flickering tinny stars and the highway was deserted too
to his astonishment. Sahel had emptied himself for memories.
Everything that had ever done with or shared with or seen of
Captain Rafi Ahmad had been played over and over until the film
finally burned out and nothing was left but a void that left his face
still and expressionless.
Around after midnight he climbed the long stairs to the
apartment, his leg burning, the aches and sores of his body coming
back full force. He let himself in quietly for a surprise but the house
was dead still.
A single light lit in the saloon. The coffee table was covered with
plates spread with chocolate residue and the ashtray was filled with
cold butts. The TV power light was still on glowing like a tired red
eye. One of the wooden small tables was piled with the soft-looking
multi-coloured wrapped gifts. In the corner of the table he could see,
was a dark hulk shinning in the dim light. His birthday cake!
There was a white piece of paper on the Sahel's seat. He picked it
up. It was Amber's script.
Happy birthday, we had your party without you. The surprise was that
you never showed up.
Sahel sat back on his couch with his fingers in his hair and
elbows on his knees. He did not know when his wet eyes dropped
pearls on his cheeks and then he laughed dreadfully.

_______

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Chapter 7

Bukhara
Chapter 8
Next Day
The black locomotive was steaming beneath its wheels at
Bukhara's Rostov Station at the northern end under deep dark part
of the platform. It was thundering like an angry bull waiting for the
whistle to run. The Uzbeks workmen and vendors were moving their
stuff in the luggage compartment. Rostov a small railway station had
only this last train after midnight bound to the border of
Turkmenistan for its onward journey to Ashgabat.
Razmak Bilal had much time to board. He stood on the damp
concrete platform and watched other passengers hurling and did not
desire to board early. He went to a vendor and bought a roll and
Pepsi for his appetite. A big clock hanging with the iron chain on his
head banged for 00.30. It's time to go he thought and moved toward
an entrance of the compartment. A white uniformed staff extended
his hand for the ticket. He tossed him up a card already in his left
hand and looked back around. The platform was almost emptied.
Only vendors and staff were winding up their work. Nothing
suspicious he noted and climbed up the compartment.
He kept his pace to the next compartment in the corridor. He
was heading toward tail. He knew his destination. He slowly made
his way along the entire length of the train and glanced over the

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passengers fixing their bags and readjusting their seats. He kept on


moving until he reached in the end at a first-class private
compartment.
No one stood in the narrow carpeted aisle in the middle of the
car. He marched quickly to the last compartment, checked the
number on the door and without knocking he jerked back on the
handle and slid it open.
Major Boris Yaakov of the External Services sat alone on the far
side of grandeur velvet couch near window just relaxed as he has
already accomplished his mission. He had broad shoulders and a
face unlike Russians but more close to the Uzbeks. His fair
complexion and dark brown hair made him comfortable in civilian
posture. He had long ago been transferred in External Services from
the regular army and now he has earned repute among intelligence
services.
Razmak nearly laughed. Yaakov was wearing a loose fitting tweed
coat with a tie. At the moment he had an open collar by pulling his
tie below the neck and his cloths were sweaty disarray.
Yaakov looked at Razmak and he tossed his copy of Pravda
Vostoka leading newspaper of Uzbekistan in Russian onto the sofa
and extended his hands in thanks.
Ah, the weather is terrible.
Razmak did not smile. He put a finger to his lips and pushed the
door behind him. He put his suitcase down and looked around.
There was one large window at the far wall and outside the distant
countryside lights danced as the train came into motion with the
rhythmic vibration of its wheels. Above the secured bed was a
luggage rack with a guardrail. There was a small mirror across from
the bed alongside a door. Razmak put one hand in his coat pocket
and then snapped open the door near to the entrance. Empty. He
kicked the foot of the sofa and then he moved his free hand along the
walls not so much a perceptible inspection as a way of focusing his
thoughts on all eventualities. Then he returned to leave.
What's wrong? Yaakov asked with a hint of annoyance.
To get acquainted with our neighbours.
We have no neighbours, said Yaakov. We are the last
compartment and I booked the adjoining one as well. And it cost me
another 300 dollars in cash to do it. He waved for Razmak to sit.
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Razmak stood for a moment, thinking. Then he locked the door


and moved to the sofa. He sat at the opposite end from Yaakov back
to the wooden corner wall. He removed his hand from his coat and
placed his pistol on the sofa next to his left thigh.
Yaakov glanced at the pistol and shifted in his seat. You seem to
have lost some faith, Hashim.
I had a professor in foreign land who taught me that faith is
only for the fools.
Yaakov nodded, recognising his own words. Perhaps he omitted
some exceptions.
Well, let's see, said Razmak.
Yaakov reached into the pocket of his tweed coat, keeping his
movement slow and deliberate. He removed a small box of Brazilian
cigar and lit one blowing a cloud of smoke, fragrant smoke.
Yes major, Razmak smiled. How's Peterov.
Yaakov shrugged. Perhaps Peterov may be annoying, but it's not
dangerous. You were supposed to board in Turkmenabat.
Yes but I thought to better here to face...
Death, Yaakov said. Yes, yes we may go on. If he heard his
own words thrown up to Razmak, he feared he might scream. He
wanted to conduct the briefing and then get rid of this Afghan.
Razmak was decidedly different out here than he had been in past.
The difference was not a welcome guest.
Razmak was also anxious to continue. He had waited a very long
time for this moment and he has done so patiently knowing that his
new masters had something in store for him which they would reveal
at their discretion. His feeling for Yaakov was resentful and thankful
at the same time. After all, it had been too clear in Kabul that the
Western intelligence services were snapping at his heels. Then
suddenly, like some grand support from Heavens, Major Boris
Yaakov had appeared to rescue him from the fire, effectively wiping
Razmak Bilal from the face of the earth and to be reborn as someone
else.
Razmak had no misunderstanding as to the motives. It was
cleared that his training was focused on enabling him to carry out
some elimination on Pakistan soil. However as with all such
operations of ES, his target would not be revealed to him until the
last possible moment. He assumed that it would be some important,
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perhaps some Pakistani, most probably a top diplomat of his own


country who had strayed from their agenda. This would be a double
edge dagger attack effects on international scene to keep Pakistan
government under pressure or may be someone else. He accepted
that. He would simply add a few more individuals from his own
private list.
Yaakov despite the scary feeling that he was sharing a cage with a
deceitful creature, leaned closer to Razmak; he leaned his elbows on
his knees and wiped his wide jaw with his meaty fingers.
Let's start with your face.
My face? Razmak looked puzzled.
Yes, your face. Did you think that we simply allowed our
surgeons morale license. Feel the scar.
Razmak touched the short curved fissure below his left eye. Yes,
he had always wondered how the ES would tolerate such a careless
mark on the face. But then he had grown to like this slight piratical
look. He tilted his head and saw his own reflection in the big window
on the far wall. Rain was striking the glass outside driving back in
horizontal streams with the wind. Razmak loved trains. They were
incredibly romantic.
On a weekly basis, Yaakov continued, the Pakistani President
with his close aides is briefed by NSS staff officers. Unless there is an
urgent military crisis, most of these officers are from Planning,
Logistics and Intelligence. Do you follow me so far Razmak.
Yes, Razmak nodded quietly. Already he had sensed that his
guesses had been way off the mark. He could feel growing curiosity
in his mind, such as an officer might feel upon while searching a bag
of a tipped passenger on the custom's counter at the airport to find
contra-banned item.
Now, Yaakov went on, posing a pleasure of the certain shock he
was about to administer. One of these strategic advisors is quite a
talented young man, though I must say that in typical Pakistani
fashion, he has attained his rank at too young age. His name is Major
Azeem Khalidi. Would you like to see a picture of him?
Razmak kept silent, but he could feel his heart pounding
inside against his silky shirt.
Yaakov reached into his breast pocket and came with a small
leather folder. It looked like a single sheet of glossy paper. The major
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held it out in front of Razmak.


Razmak swallowed his gasp. The face that looked out at him was
his own. The hair was slightly shorter but curly, the skin was little
fair, but the scar was plainly there. It was obviously a surveillance
photo with a background of cafe umbrellas and roadside guardrail in
front of an old high school type building. Part of the shabby
uniform with silver parachute wings on the chest could be seen
below the face. Yet most important glimpse was his broad carefree
smile. Razmak thought instantly that he would have to produce that
smile.
Razmak reached out and slowly took the picture from Yaakov.
Even as he did so it began to darken, as he watched it turned coal
black until nothing was left but a flat black piece of glossy paper.
Magic, Yaakov smiled and picked it up back and pocketed it.
The Major picked up his cigar box from the couch and offered to
Razmak. Razmak waved it away and Yaakov snorted a short laugh.
No, I knew these are not your brand. At the bottom of the box
you would find Khalidi's profile. All you need, you see? He pushed
the pile of cigars aside and lifted one corner of the foil to reveal a
white paper folded covered with unreadable Cyrillic print. You will
need a magnifying glass to read it. Buy one.
Razmak was only half hearing Yaakov's deliberation. He felt a
chilled tremble in his chest. So that was why Captain Rafi Ahmad
had stared at him so intently on the Tehran bus, obviously thinking
that the face is somehow familiar but he was forgetting on the
moment where he has seen him and on the other side he had also
knew 'Hayat Gul,' 'Razmak Bilal' or 'Hashim Badin' are one or the
same person. In fact Captain Rafi Ahmad had probably seen his face
somewhere, maybe even served with Azeem Khalidi at some point.
How he had come very, very close to being blown right then and
there. He looked at Yaakov, who was enjoying the surprise. Until this
moment major had told Razmak nothing. On the other hand
Yaakov was simply following the procedure. He could not possibly
have known that Razmak's own private efforts would again bring
him so soon into contact with Pakistani intelligence operatives.
Razmak fought with his anger and calmed his racing heart. He
had to hear the rest of it.
Nice-looking fellow, Razmak managed a brief smile as he took
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the paper and put it into his inside pocket. Yes, carry on.
Yes, Hashim, said Yaakov. Somehow he was disappointed that
Razmak had not had a more emotional reaction to his surprise. So
yours Target. The Major once again reached into his inside pocket
of the coat reminding Razmak of a comic circus magician. He took
out a small note book wrote something on the leaf, tore it off and
handed it to Razmak.
Razmak took the paper and looked at it. He blinked. He held it
closer and looked at it again. The name of the President of Pakistan
jumped up at him from the white scrap. He held it out for Yaakov to
take back. It trembled into his fingers.
Are you mad? Razmak switched to Russian. His voice was harsh.
Images of hateful Pakistani politicians popped up into his brain, but
the idea that they wanted to kill him had to be a joke, a ruse, and a
test of Razmak's sincerity.
No, I am not a madman, Yaakov calmly replied in Russian as he
recovered the paper. He went to the washbasin, lifted the cover, took
out his cigarette lighter and incinerated the evidence.
He walked back to Razmak and stood beside him barely
whispering now. First, I will describe how it will go. Then we will
discuss politics of it.
Razmak stared up at the mad Russian.
On the 6th of September, this man will address a group of senior
military and civilian elites on the Defence Day of Pakistan ceremony
at some place; I would let you know later.
Razmak listened, yet he felt as his brain was splitting into many
distinct parts. One belonged to Razmak Bilal, a hero of Afghan cause
who could bring salvation to his people through Muslim
philosophy. The other belonged to Hayat Gul, the intellectual, the
planner who always escaped the labyrinth and the third one Hashim
Badin who in ravage of his personal belonging murdering a series in
vengeance. Yet it would be like entering a bee's nest in an attempt to
crush the queen.
Now, Major Khalidi sees this man every single day, the security
people are so used to his presence that he has a free access to the
President. He can even approach your target and freely speak
without schedule. So he is most suitable person. Are you following
Hashim?
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Razmak just starred at the major's face eyes to eyes contact. He


kept quiet.
On the morning of the 6th Major Khalidi will not show up for
work. He will be abducted by some people and disposed of. The
security people bound for this man would be handled directly by the
ES people themselves. We know CIA has provided Pakistanis some of
the latest digital gadgets for the security of this man, yet we will
handle those all.
Yaakov stopped to light another cigar from a pack. Then
unthinkingly, he mumbled, These people cannot be trusted to do
anything right by themselves.
Razmak raised his eyes. Yaakov went slightly pale, yet there was
no use in trying to apologise. He cleared his throat.
That evening, just before the ceremony, you will surface in
Khalidi's place. Quite simply, you will execute the Target with your
pistol and promptly surrender.
The major paused, waiting for a signal to continue on. However,
Razmak began to laugh. It started at a low pitch and then he threw
himself back against the sofa letting the waves roll over him at a peak
level from his nostrils and throat as he slapped his leg and tears came
to his eyes. Finally when he was settled, he loosened his tie and
opened his eyes. The ES major once again readjusted himself on the
seat studying him like a concerned psychiatrist.
I am so pleased that you are amused.
I am sorry, Comrade Major, Razmak managed as he recovered.
But just imagine that I will order you to jump under this train and
expect you to take it seriously.
You will not be killed Hashim.
Oh, yes not of course. They will give me flowers and make me
Mr. Pakistan.
They will not kill you instantly; they would try their level best
to get something out of you about the conspiracy. Razmak rose to
his feet and began to pace, growing furious with the realization that
these were dead serious and he was expected to play the pawn in a
game on a highest level.
You will not be killed, you will pretend as a Pakistani officer
gone mad, you will not even speak and in the meantime, we would
manage to get you out safely. It's our duty and we are paid for it. Do
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you think this is a simple dream we have wished. No my dear, we


have been working for a long time, lot of research and mobilization
of resources has made this plan actionable and then have concluded
this assassination.
Razmak stopped pacing and stood before the window. He
watched tall grey telephone poles as they flashed by. The clatter of
the wheels was like a headache that would not diminish.
They would hospitalise you as a psychosis patient, it's simple.
You must retain your discipline and silence for a couple of weeks. At
that time, a team posing as terrorists will hijack a foreign passenger's
aeroplane at Pakistani soil and will land at some place in Central
Asia or elsewhere suitable at that moment. They will demand release
of only ten people kept in Pakistani prisons. They will include in
their demand the release of Major Khalidi. In less than twelve weeks
you will be back in Moscow relaxing whatever you wanted to do.
Razmak said nothing. He realised that he was gripping
something very hard and he looked down to see the pistol clutched
in his hand. He actually wished he were back there now. He thought
of Lina. He had never expected to see her again. As for Shirin he
knew that she was gone from his life forever. He had been given the
face of a top advisor in the government of Pakistan. Now no place
left for him to go that where he could not be tracked. He would have
to remain in Central Asia or Moscow all his life.
It's a politically disastrous idea, he whispered.
Look Hashim, Yaakov said in a gentle tone. I will explain you
whole politics of it all.
Razmak moved to the sofa again and sat down. He starred at
Yaakov, debating whether to hear him or shoot him in his burly face.
Hashim, what's your greater dream? Yaakov waited. No, you
don't remember, now I refresh your memory. I will tell you as you
have said to me. You wish to return to back someday to Afghanistan,
a motherland in the hands of righteous sons, correct?
True, Razmak's dream perhaps the fantasy that fuelled him was
to return his hometown as a hero. It would again be a city of honour
and respect and all the sins of his father would be wiped away.
Well, if this man lives, your dream is dead. Yaakov said simply.
You can't think that how much he is close to America and how his
covert plans to crush the Afghanistan through Americans and
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Taliban of his own. He is playing double game. If he remains alive,


neither could Taliban be succeeded nor the Americans. He is
pushing NATO forces fight in the Afghanistan the longer the better
so that he could remain stable on his seat. He was never a friend to
the Muslims. He would never be and you know he is now about to
wed with India.
Suddenly Razmak was alert again, listening, not indulging with
his own pity thoughts.
Yes, Yaakov continued. We have a copy of secret plan, code
name Flush-out courtesy of a European Diplomat in Vienna. The
plan calls for South Asian Strategic Peace Conference, Afghanistan
Elections, rapid autonomy and then relinquishing certain area to
Americans and some for Pakistan proxies and Kabul under Indian
and Americans both on the face of it to the Afghans. Northern area I
mean your homeland is going to the Americans. So this man is going
to sell out a part of your country to the Americans forever in
exchange for eventually returning home safe with East and West
borders under his own control.
Seeing Razmak's look in sheer disbelieve, Yaakov finished of his
story.
Yes, it is true. Now I will not insult you by pretending a selfish
heart for the Afghan cause. Your act will deal these holier-than-thou
Pakistanis a crushing blow. Our own disinformation will spread
word of an attempted coup by hard-liners. This will, of course, cause
a total collapse of their government and destroy the plan for his
rogue state. We will then move quickly to have the Syrians and Iraqis
initiate one final military push, which they can only do with our
support and mediation and we will be back in the great game.
Yaakov waited for some verbal reaction, but Razmak kept quiet
and starred at Yaakov without a word.
Would you like to go home, Hashim?
I would like to kill you.
Yaakov swallowed hard. You may shoot the messenger, he said
but the message would remain there. He realized how dangerous
this encounter was? He had seen Razmak performance in hand-tohand combat classes. This Afghan did not even need the pistol.
Yaakov had no idea that Razmak was buying this lie. The major had
to believe that their past relationship would carry him through it.
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The plan, of course, was much simpler than ever. There was no
pending agreement between Pakistan and India, no South Asian
Strategic Peace Conference for covert disintegration of Afghanistan.
This was a just a story to enhance Razmak's rage and distorted sense
of afghan nationalism.
Razmak would kill the President and Razmak himself would die
immediately. The dead Razmak would be revealed as an foreign
agent penetrated by the Americans and Pakistan would withdraw the
support for NATO and Americans instantly which would result
Americans to cross Pakistani borders in hot pursuit of Taliban from
the Western borders tipping Indians to enter into Pakistan from the
eastern borders. Russians might also come from other side and will
manoeuvre to take Baluchistan, her old dream to reach to the hot
waters. How warm she would be welcomed when they stepped into
save Baluchistan. Wild Iran and Syrians are already watching her
interest in the Middle East. The Politburo was becoming increasingly
pathetic, but at least the External Services understood them and had
to get back into the South Asia after losing Afghanistan to
strengthen their scope both in Middle East and South Asia.
Even if Razmak's attempt failed, ES would still blow him for the
NSB as an American operative. Hopefully, with the same results,
conspirator really would not lose anything with this plan, no matter
what happened to Razmak.
And yet seeing Razmak's eyes ablaze, Yaakov was not sure that he
would survive this briefing at all. He was getting old for a field
officer, nearly fifty. After this, he swore that he would retire for a
modest work and spend the rest of his life fishing on the Black Sea.
Hashim, Yaakov resumed in a careful and soothing tone.
Shut up please, Major. Razmak exploded. I have to think.
Yaakov sat dead still as Razmak rose and began to pace. Razmak
knew a trap when he saw one. Yaakov and his masters manipulated
him. They with their chess mind always playing chess! It surpassed in
their national psyche, and they layered their political moves with
plots and counterplots so you never saw the true objective until your
king lay bleeding on its side. Razmak was smart too, yet in an
instinctive animal way. He could not beat Yaakov at great game. Yet
he could refuse to play the ES rules.
With this involving and detestable face of his, there was nowhere
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to hide, hundreds of photos of him could have faxed and flying to


the capitals of Europe, Middle East and Asia within minutes by the
order of Yaakov. Moreover, it did not escape him as Lina and Sabeen
were at their mercy. Oh, they have run that well, giving him a woman
who has a selfish love and then instructing him to conceive a child
with her. And did they know how he felt about his lovely family? Of
course they knew, they had listened to their every word, every
whisper. Most probably they have recorded their lovemaking with
pornographic excitement.
The question was could he do it? All of it? Could he fulfil his
personal pledge to avenge Zahir, then carry out their order and get
out of it alive? Had the world called him Devil of Terror for nothing?
He was stronger now than he had even been, faster, armed with more
languages and combat skills.
Razmak had resources, safe deposits and old networks. He had
telephone numbers in his head and the names of men who would
bow to him and obey his orders.
The final objective, even without any benefit to them, did sound
sweet. He could strike a massive blow for Afghan nationalism and to
take devastating revenge from Pakistan. He could slash at the heart
of the enemy and derail its prosperity.
He also knew that his chances of survival could be very remote
indeed. He was no amateur and certainly no fool. The ES would not
allow me certainly to live a moment after my shooting and that would be my
skill to survive. He thought with some irony.
He also knew that their sponsored terrorists can hijack the plane.
He made his decision. He would do it. However he would carry
it out in his own way, using his own methods without aid from their
network. And Razmak pledged to himself, since he knew that his
own death was highly probable. I shall take Sher Ali and rest of his
commandos along with me.
The sixth of September? Razmak asked in a confirmatory
tone.
Yes, my Comrade, the Sixth. Yaakov voice was bright with
pleasure.
He reached into his pocket and took out a big brown leather
wallet of the type issued by international banks when selling
travellers cheques. He handed the fat wallet like a game-show host
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giving away prizes. Fifty thousand US dollars, he did not want


Razmak to think that this was some sort of cheap payoff. It's just for
additional expenses.
I shall be there. Razmak took the cheques.
That's a good boy, Major Yaakov was rather amazed at himself.
He has done it much to his own surprise. Unfortunately he was
ordered to discuss one additional sensitive subject which so far he
had not talked. Damn Boss!
Hashim, there is one more thing I want to ask you. Yaakov lit
up another cigar. He coughed briefly and glanced at Razmak, who
suddenly looked extremely impatient as he leaned against the door.
He was staring out the window. The train was showing considerably
slow as they neared the outskirts of the Turkmenabat, a border city of
the Turkmenistan. They had already crossed the border and left
behind Uzbekistan's last small city Karakul an hour ago. For
Razmak, route had always played a strategic role once he had in
action. I must ask why you killed Pakistani NSS man in Tehran.
It was only a guess as they were not positive about it. The signals
pointed to Razmak and ES instructed Major Yaakov to probe into it.
He hoped that Razmak would deny it completely but Afghan's eyes
flashed for moment and that gave an answer to Yaakov.
Razmak said nothing.
We are very upset about this, my friend, Yaakov said.
It's none of your business and concern, Razmak barely
whispered.
You must stop this, whatever it may be, no more killing.
I told you, it's none of your business and concern, didn't you
hear me, Razmak yelled at Yaakov and turned on him, his fist
clenching.
Listen, listen, Hashim, you must hear me, my comrade, Yaakov
put his hands up in the air trying to make him calm in a pacifying
gesture. Shit, why did he have to do this? But he had orders and he could not
decide which would be worse, Razmak rage or Colonel Mikhail's bull-shit.
Now I know why you are doing this, my friend. But you must cease
it; it will endanger the whole plan.
It will not, said Razmak almost thundering.
Yes, Hashim, it will be.
No, Major you are not always correct. They do not have all the
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answers. Razmak harshly said. As I said, I shall be there on the


sixth; however, I shall also conduct this secondary operation as I see
necessary. If you are not a fool you will see that this will also alter the
character of Pakistani's inability and inefficiency in the eyes of the
western agencies. In addition, it will draw the focus on one of the
already encircled terrorists in their list to find the killer. They could
never think of totally unrelated target.
Razmak's eyes glowed with rage frightening Yaakov further. The
major tried to appease.
Yes, I agree with you personally, however I have been instructed
to inform you and if there is some sort of help from us. I can
personally escort you to UAE and witness you boarding an aircraft
bound for Islamabad.
Razmak raised his eye brows and laughed.
Really.
Yes, Yaakov swallowed.
Lahol-e walla quwate.
What?
Razmak leaned down, grabbed Yaakov from his tie and pulled
him up to his feet and starred in his eyes.
Give me your belt. Razmak ordered.
What?
Your belt, now.
Image of his swollen body hanging in the compartment doorway
made him nearly dead but he managed to unbuckle his belt and pull
it through the loops.
Thank you, Major. Razmak took the belt and released Yaakov
who fell back on the sofa holding his throat where the tie had nearly
choked him.
Razmak walked over to his briefcase and lifted it by the handle.
He looped the belt around the leather and buckled it as tightly as he
could. He lifted the case and walked to the door.
What... what are you doing? Yaakov managed.
I prefer that my underwear not be scattered over the entire
countryside of Turkmenabat. Goodbye, Major. Perhaps we shall
meet again but let's not count on it. Razmak went out of the
compartment and banged the door behind that made Yaakov jump.
Then the major understood. He quickly rose to his feet and
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almost run behind Razmak who had already opened the exit door
and standing there letting chilled scream of wind inside corridor
with the whistle of the train merging into the rain clatter. Razmak
was standing at the footrest grabbing the sill and pushed his head
outside train and looked back at the Yaakov. And before Yaakov
could say a word, Razmak threw his case into the air and like some
horrible ghost launched himself from the train and floated for a
while in the mid-air, his feet together, and his arms clamped against
his head, he disappeared below the embankment like an end of a
nightmare.
________

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Kabul
Chapter 9
Couple of Days Later
The wheels of the Boeing 737 banged down onto the runway with
a screeching sound and unlike of Pakistani pilots, the former Brit
Royal Air force pilot apologised generously on the intercom. He
joked that there must have been an earthquake occurring in Kabul,
for the ground had suddenly jumped up and struck his airplane.
Some of the passengers laughed and applauded. They were the ones
who had been frightened the most.
Sahel arrived on the early morning Ariana Airlines flight from
Abu Dhabi. The airplane crawled towards the terminal building and
in typical native fashion the passengers did not follow the
instructions and while the aircraft was taxing everyone stood up at
their seats. A quick announcement in Persian and English came over
the intercom for the passengers to be seated until taxing is finished
and engines are switched off. In the last hour, Sahel had gone to the
restroom, refreshed himself, looked on his face, and combed his
small beard which he had intentionally let it grow in the last week
before he planned to reach Kabul. He changed into a sky blue casual
shirt with a khaki tone trouser and a slim black tweed coat to beat the
Kabul weather. However, the clothes were already sticking to his skin
as he sat in the aisle seat near the forward exit, gripping the metal
armrests and hoping that he would not bolt like a rabbit when the
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steward just passed by him preparing for arrival.


He glanced out the window; A BA 747 was parked at some
distance from the terminal like a lonely orphan forbidden to join the
play at a street. It was surrounded by armoured cars and grey
uniformed with machine guns waiting for the passengers to show
themselves out.
Security.
Sahel's choice of an Afghan air carrier was apparently
outrageous, for if alerted, the cabin crew would have had two hours
in which to examine their passengers and pinpoint him for the
authorities. Yet if the Colonel Zawri was already aware of Sahel's
unauthorised trip, the Colonel would assume that Sahel was not
crazy enough to be flying around on the national carrier of a
country in which he was still wanted for alleged-murder, which was
precisely why Sahel had made the selection. Albeit he is refused to
enter, he could have opportunity to go back on the same flight to
Abu Dhabi. It was operationally correct in his opinion.
In any case, it was highly unlikely that anyone had yet realised
that he had left Pakistan. He had returned to work and pretended
utter emotional sobriety for full three days. With his plans boiling in
his mind, he was even able to affect a mood of calm resignation as he
worked up his report for NSB. It was quite a work and he handed it
over to Anita for typing then informed Major Shahzad and Major
Dilshad that he was taking Amber to Northern Areas for a few days.
He said he had to salvage the remains of his ruined birthday party.
To Amber, he played the apologetic husband. He brought her
flowers, kissed her often and apologised for having to attend a
professional activity in HQ.
At Captain Rafi Ahmad's funeral, which took all of half an hour
and was held at their ancestral graveyard in Gojar Khan, Sahel held
Shaista's hand and played as commanding officer. He suppressed the
powerful urge to scream out at the top of his lungs and he was only
able to do so because he knew what he had in mind.
Someone had to stop Razmak Bilal from killing the rest of his
team.
I swear, I swear, he uttered in his mind.
The stewardesses lined up at the exit to say goodbye with their
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professional smiles to the departing passengers. Sahel's small bag


had just fit in the overhead. He jumped up and dragged it out and
joined the ordered line of the passengers toward exit.
He started quickly down the stairs shaking out his knee as the
tune popped up in his mind. Walk and don't run. He welcomed it
like old school mate one cannot shake, then he joined the rhythm
and slowed his pace, letting the cool fresh air relieve his feverish skin.
This was the most dangerous stage of his air journey. If he
survived passport control he would have a chance. The most effective
weapon of his trade had never been his pistol, explosives or
ammunition. Rather they were his papers--- forged passports, driver's
license and bank cards. But he had none of those now, for they were
weapons by the Armoury. Everything ever issued to him had been
recovered while he was still in hospital.
He was travelling on a simple, legal national passport of
Pakistan. He had not set foot on Afghanistan soil as Sahel Farhaj and
he realised that travelling without a cover was as unnatural to him as
to jump in the air from ten thousand feet free fall without a
parachute.
A line of proud-postured patient passengers led back from the
control desk that had Afghans boldly displayed above it. Sahel joined
the shorter line before a sign that said Foreigners.
Khosh Amadeed, Agha Sahel, The girl was pretty, petite, fair
complexion with dark hair, a perfect Afghan girl as Sahel placed his
passport on the desk for her.
I'm sorry, I don't speak Persian. Sahel said as he smiled and
tried not to look on the stern faced immigration officials on the
other side of the desk. He put his bag up on the edge of the marble
top and reached for a folded business invitation letter inside of his
coat pocket and handed it over to the girl.
It's never mind, the girl smiled as she pecked at a keyboard.
The girl opened the folded paper and glanced over it. It had bold
printed name of the company as 'SEIMENS', and Sahel was invited
for the meeting by its German Director in Kabul.
Are you Engineer?
Yes, Sahel suppressed his pounding heart inside and smiled.
Where are you coming from, please?
Abu Dhabi.
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Your purpose?
Business meeting.
For how long please?
A week maybe.
And where will you stay?
I think my host must be holding a good room in a hotel, yet I
don't know exactly.
Anything to declare? The girl just continued her litany.
Nothing, just myself.
She smacked his passport with a metal stamp and grinned
broadly.
Thank you.
He was in. He took his bag and walked. He played the tune again
in his head and tried very hard not to think about the last time he
had been at Kabul International Airport. He was ready to bet his life
that Galaxy Air had lost its operating license for Kabul Airspace.
There was a small window for rapid currency exchanges just next
to a row of rental car desk waiting for customers. Sahel changes two
hundred US dollars for Afghanis and went straight to Kabul Cars,
and rented a blue Toyota GLI on cash payment.
The car was delivered to him outside of the terminal. He threw
his bag into the rear seat and drove almost to the last parking sign at
the airport outskirts. Then he cut back and parked it in a long-term
lot. He took the bag, locked the car and dropped the keys to the
pavement toeing them behind a wheel. He had no intention of using
this Corolla again. He had created his first dead lead. He took the
bus into town.
_______
Kabul was not then same city, although only a year and half
passed. The images frozen in Sahel's memory were of snow slickened
streets under a purple-grey sky, the sidewalk cafes not yet empty of
tourists and Kabulis were still using summer clothing, although it
was beginning of the autumn, still the city was bright flowery and
festive. However the incoming winter has started to display on the
shops where new arrivals are hung with its new prices.
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Sahel's first feeling was nearly disappointed for he wished to be


greeted with a proper gloom to match his mood of frustration, yet he
passed over the City Centre sidewalks and saw the hundreds of
Afghanis and foreigners busy in the shopping and usual summer
morning hustle bustle. He knew that he would be schizophrenic
when he came to land of his first ever failed mission. He hated
Kabul.
When he had worked as a team leader here, there had been
occasional lulls in operations. Sometimes you simply had to wait for
the next event, a move by the opposition and you could visit the
endless museums, tombs and historical places and even indulge your
lust if you did so with care and anonymity. But this time Kabul was
an old battlefield upon which some very bad things had transpired.
It was place you never wanted to visit again until you were too old to
feel the pain, yet you suddenly realise you had dropped a precious
professional collapse in the bloody earth and you had to go back to
find the truth. And that's why he was here now.
Kabul was the only place for him to begin again. If Razmak Bilal
was operational, there was one man in Kabul who might know about
it. This time it would be all business. No time to enjoy the city, the
weather or the people. Sahel had planned every step in his head, and
he would move so quickly that he would arrive and be gone like the
falcon.
He got off the bus outside the National Museum and walked
into the massive National park entrance making one quick weaving
pass through the hundreds tourists and local inhabitants wandering
to enjoy the on-going sunny but cold air around. As he pushed
through the crowd, never looking behind him, he began to do
something which he had not done in a long, long time. He began to
pray.
Let it be there God, please. Just let it be still there.
When you began training with NSB, you were in awe of your
instructors expecting them to know everything and teach you every
trick of the trade. But as you went along, you realised that your
bosses were just humans. They learned from their mistakes and rarely
made them twice, yet someone was always inventing new, potentially
fatal error.
Once in Middle East, a nervous young NSB agent had forgotten
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his cover name because it was not adamantly linked to his


subconscious. It never happened again, as all the services revamped
their cover policies making sure that agents name were organic and
unforgettable. These things were basic, yet the additional
precautions were picked up along the way.
Khanzada Syad had been an encyclopaedia of such survival tips,
sort of a professional private source like an angel to Sahel's team.
Faizi Jaffar had always warned Sahel about the unreliability of the
Headquarters. They could made mistakes, and you had to have your
own secrets, your own reserves in case everything came apart on you.
You have to have an insurance policy. Sahel thought of his own
policy and hoped it's still in effect.
He walked through the almost whole park to reach other end of
it. Crowds of visitors and vendors swarmed around him chattering
like anything. At the western corner of the park Eat & Drink was still
there. God, Let it still be there. He once again prayed. Now, if only
they had not renovated it.
He walked straight for the cafe and pushed inside, past the
crowded tables, his guts constricting as his bag banged to his knee.
He went into the men's room and waited for a customer to finish his
business and leave the corner stall.
Sahel stepped in, locked the door and held his breath. The
window looked the same. Maybe the frame was freshly painted, but
the walls were still cracked and crumbly. He put his hand under the
sill and felt the slight separation between the wood and the lower
wall.
His fingers stopped. He gripped and then pulled a laminated
bank card along with the small key taped to it popped out. He
looked at it and then held it to his chest raising his eyes to the ceiling
and saying a silent thanks to God.
The Kabul Bank branch was just opposite of the National Park.
Sahel ignored the clusters of pretty girls perched around the huge
fountain in the centre of the roundabout in front of the park and he
did not hear the afghan music that encouraged the people to sit
around. He marched straight into the bank and went inside back to
the officer's desk, holding out customer's card as he greeted a small
fair Afghan young man in a grey summer suit.
Morning, Sahel said in a business like tone as he showed his
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bank card to him. Can I operate my safe deposit locker?


One moment please Mister Sher Ali, the officer took the card.
He checked with the computer and then raised his head with a
painted expression. I am afraid the payments of your safe deposit
locker are in arrear, sir.
Yes, but my locker is still intact, I expect.
Naturally, the young officer snapped even more erect, as if
offended by the suggestion that Kabul Bank might violate its own
regulation.
How much payments? Sahel pulled out his wallet.
Eight hundred Afghanis.
Sahel paid the sum without any hesitation and he was led down a
curved stairwell to a guarded vault. The young officer applied his
master key in a medium size locker and waved Sahel to open it by his
own key and left the room.
It was there, all of it. Five thousand dollars in a seal envelop,
which Sahel divided in four of his pockets. The brown paper package
was untouched as well. He felt the familiar L shape of his pistol in the
packet yet he did not open it. He put the packet into inside pocket of
his coat. The final pack was most important, for he could not go on
stalking around Kabul as a Pakistani citizen. In his last mission trip
he had all the forged documents got prepared by an Afghan artist--the afghan passport, driving license, military ID card to the cost of
1000 US dollars. The artist could not, of course, create infrared
marking in the passport but for everyday use and for leaving Kabul,
this document would suffice.
He tore the packet, putting the smaller documents into his wallet
and the Afghan passport in the inside breast pocket of his coat. He
reached into his wallet again and pulled out a handful of Afghan
currency bills of small denomination with some coins and dropped
them into the locker and closed it.
He pushed the call button to recall the young bank officer.
Back in the sunshine, Sahel felt considerably re-freshened and
optimistic. He knew where he was going with a limp in his walk, he
strode back the way he had come through the pressing crowd. He
exited the roundabout and turned left towards the Shahrah e Qutab.
He knew one medium-size inexpensive hotel called the Western Inn.
At this time there was hardly a room to be had in Kabul, but the
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hotel had not earned its repute for nothing. Kabul businessmen
frequently rented this hotel for one purpose only and as their
liaisons with their secretaries or girlfriends only lasted for an hour or
so at lunchtime, yet a room could be had anyway.
Sahel strolled in with his bag through the front door into a cool
darkened lobby. The reception desk was to the right; a few padded
chairs sat out on the dark maroon carpet around low glass table.
There was a small newsstand across the lobby, two stairs leading up to
a coffee shop, elevators further on and finally another exit at the far
end.
A couple of Asian and European businessmen sat close their
heads at one another around one of the tables. Behind the main desk
a very large, bald Afghan looked uncomfortable in a light blue
uniform coat that had not fit him for years. That was good. Sahel
could be bold with this man. He walked up to the desk and grinned.
One single room, please.
One single room, the clerk expression was almost apologetic.
Sorry, sir, there is no room at all, no single, no double.
You please, check it, said Sahel without a hint of annoyance. He
opened his wallet, looked around conspiratorially, and stuffed a 100
Afghani note into the clerk's hand. You know I just need it for a
night, he whispered. I'll be out by morning. He pointed to an
empty chair in the lobby. I will just be over there. Let me know if
someone vacates it.
He winked and walked away, leaving the fat man to manage
starring after him. He carried his bag to the newsstand, bought a
pack of Rothmans and a copy of Kabul Times took up his position.
Within a quarter of an hour he had a room on the third floor.
He stayed in the room for less than ten minutes, hardly noticing
the decor as he showered, washed his hair and scrubbed off the travel
sweat. He realised that he had to get some fuel soon, for he had been
too edgy to eat on the flight. He dressed again in the same cloths, left
his suitcase on the bed and went shopping.
He walked back to the City Centre bazaar area. The pedestrian
way was packed with the visitors laughing, some arm into arm and
most just keeping pace in hurry to catch their targets. Sahel was not
in hurry so he walked slowly looking into the shops. He already had
a list of shopping in his mind. He first bought a sewing kit. In a
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camping store, he acquired a short stainless steel knife with a clip on


holster. He found an American franchise Gap, and he nearly had to
wrestle a couple of college students to get a pair of black Levi's.
Finally he found his most wanted article a black leather Alpine
jacket. It had a metal cross buckles and rich green lining, a stiff
standing collar and it closed on the chest like a suit of armour. He
suppressed the realisation that it would only be usable on perhaps a
few winter evenings in Pakistan and he would probably be too
uncomfortable to wear it there anyway.
At last carrying a massive shopping bag, he bought a brown
cotton hat. He stopped, sweating like a passenger in the minibus at
Islamabad in hot summer, at a small fabricated, umbrella on its
head, eating cabin where a couple of people having chicken
sandwiches, rolls and fries. With the hat flopped on the back of his
head, he stood and ate a large chicken roll with a 500ml Pepsi and he
swore that he could hear his stomach acids devouring it as quickly as
possible.
Now there was still something left, which Sahel needed and he
had no idea where to get it and no time for research. He was just
looking for big departmental store where probably he could get it
and he found one instantly on the other side of the street. He crossed
the road and straight went into it, handing over his bag to the store
custody and looked for cosmetic section. A pretty sales girl appeared
on the counter and smiled.
Can I help you?
I suppose, Sahel smiled back. I am looking for a hair wig in
black with a ponytail.
Sure, you will get it. Girl went inside the back counter and
came up with different types of ponytail wigs in her hands. Sahel
selected one most resembled to his hair colour, yet he did not tried to
keep it on his head in front of the girl. He correctly visualised it's
fitting to his head and thanked the girl to pack it in a gift-wrap. He
intended to give her impression that he was buying it for her
girlfriend.
_______

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He walked back into the Western Inn with his hat pulled low over
his head and he went straight into the elevator and up to his room.
He locked and bolted the door, checked the closets and bathroom
out of his habit. Then he stripped out of his clothes and emptied all
of his pockets, arranging his documents on the blue coverlet of the
bed.
He opened the contents of his shopping bag and pulled new
Alpine jacket, laying it on the other side of the bed like freshly
hunted body for the skinning. With the short steel knife, he slit open
the green inside lining near the zip at the bottom left flap of the
jacket. He took his Pakistani passport, identity card, driving license
and his own rupee notes, sealed them in a hotel envelop and slipped
them into the lining. He double stitched wound with green thread
from the sewing kit. He pulled a grey T-shirt from his suitcase and
cut three gashes in it across the chest. He put on a pair of Adidas
black sneakers and a metal frame zero number photo-sun glasses.
Five minutes later he stood before the tall mirror on the bathroom
inside wall.
His reflection was gloomy, black from sneaker to jeans to jacket.
With his semi-spiked black hair by the courtesy of wig, the photosun glasses on, he remained himself of a character from some
Hollywood movies. His Afghanis and Afghan passport and papers
found homes in the various pockets of the new costume.
Finally he tore open the packet from his locker deposit box. The
paper was stained as he pulled out his pistol wrapped in sock
dampened with gun oil, then stuffed into a black waistband holster.
One full magazine was in the pistol and another was nestled
alongside the holster.
Sahel checked the action, stripped the weapon, wiped everything
down with a dry washcloth and clipped the full holster inside his
jean on the right hip. Now he felt fully dressed.
Sahel emptied his suitcase with his casual wardrobe and bagged
in the shopper alongside rest of the junk he had just discarded to
throw it out. He placed the empty suitcase in the lonely corner of the
cupboard. He had created his second dead lead.
He lit up a Rothman and sat down on the bed. He dialled an
outside number that had never left his head. A woman answered.
Subhu Bukharin
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Subhu Bukharin. Would you please take a message?


Who is this?
Ask Khanzada call me at this number. He recited the digit
from the phone. Room 377. I'll wait only five minutes. Do you have
it?
Yes, who is this?
Do it now. He hung up.
He had not finished the cigarette when the phone rang. Sahel
answered quickly with Alaka Sa hall de.
Who is this? The voice was so familiar to Sahel yet full of veiled
suspicion.
Look, Khanzada. This is an old friend from the East. Can you
meet me today?
I don't know anyone from the East. Who is this?
Sardar Jagat Singh sends his regards. Sahel said. Now there was
dead silence on the line. Can you meet me today, it's urgent.
I... I am rather busy.
Five pm at outer gate Pamir Cinema. I'll find you.
I don't know.
Be there.
Sahel hung up. He finished his cigarette and stabbed it out. He
had just exposed himself. The clock was running. He shouldered the
backpack and looked around the room. 'Faizi Jaffar' would not have
been pleased with such a cursory inspection. But then Faizi was dead
and then 'Barat Khan would have said that speed was more
important now.
Yes. Speed.
Sahel left the hotel by the side exit off the elevators. If anyone saw
him, they certainly made no connection between the professor's
looking casual and the businessman who had checked in. He caught
a taxi to the Wazir Akbar Khan. At the west end of the market there
was a rundown alley filled with motor repair shops and used cars and
Sahel preferred to halt there. Sahel quit the taxi and walked along
until he saw what he wanted, an old black Scion XD 3.0 with Kabul
registration number. Sahel walked around the car and inspected
critically. Tyres were in best condition and rest of the body had a
faded paint spots noticeably on the bonnet only. Sahel made up his
mind instantly. A mechanic was under a grey SUV. Sahel toed his
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work shoe and bent down.


Good car.
Not much, lot of work to do. Mechanic said still under the
SUV.
I am asking about this Scion black. Sahel was still looking on
the Scion.
Yes, it's a roaring lion, said the mechanic without looking out
from his repair job.
How much for it?
Not for sale. And he pulled himself out from the SUV cleaning
his hands with a cloth piece.
Is it yours?
Yes.
Eighty thousand Afghanis in US dollars, Said Sahel.
It's too late today, said the Afghani. All the paper work.
Are you insured?
Yes.
I'll rent it, said Sahel.
The man rubbed his jaw, thinking he understood now. For how
long?
Forever.
The Afghani thought for a moment. He looked around. How
much did you say?
Eighty thousand Afghanis cash in US dollars.
How much would US dollar? The man was slightly suspicious.
You know much better than me, two thousand. Sahel pulled
out the cash from his inside pocket of the jacket.
The man produced the keys and some papers, which Sahel kept
in the dashboard box.
______
Sahel looked on his watch. He wanted to be at Pamir Cinema a bit
early to five o clock. He looked on the fuel gauge needle which sat at
the end. He asked the Afghani for a nearby gas station. He waved
towards left of the street and Sahel put the gear into motion and
turned left for the gas station.
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He almost had an accident in the Stoor Bazaar. He had not been


in a sports car in years and besides the unfamiliarity, a strange
pressure on his leg produced a new kind of pain in his knee. But his
aggression made his progress and he roared onward enjoying the
slight cool wind on his face from the window. But before reaching to
the Pamir Cinema he wanted to do one last thing at his list.
He found the row of the low apartments on Masjid Shah Do
Shamshera without difficulty. You memorised potential safe houses
like important phone numbers. He paid an old woman five hundred
US dollars for a second floor flat facing the street. The building was
always a home to bachelor students from across periphery. The
woman alarmed slightly by his appearance however his money
looked quite safe.
At 3.45, with the keys to the flat in his pocket, he drove off to his
meeting with Khanzada Syad.
Khanzada Syad did not remotely resemble his namesake, neither
in appearance not in character.
Scarface Khanzada once had been a top most activist in
Northern Alliance notoriously known as first-commando against the
Taliban and Allies in Russian War. At the end of the War, Khanzada
Syad has been captured by the Taliban, then escaped and recaptured
and was near to execution when some of his connection inside the
NSB bailed him out. He was now a freelance yet obliged to work
whenever needed by the NSB
Khanzada was an orphan who had been raised by his aunty
whose family was eliminated in the Russian War. When the poor
widow passed on, Khanzada was left with a single possession--- the
right to adopt any history and identity that pleased him. His
childhood having been filled with glorified stories of the Russian
War. NSB was then a perfect breeding ground for such lonely,
unfocussed youth, and although he had no political convictions, he
joined his own small group named SarwatUllah meaning thereby
Resources of Allah. It was soon discovered that he is not really man
of action, but he did have a certain appetite for facts and figures
besides his linguistic skills that was how he became on the NSB
payroll. It was Dilshad's brainstorm and it resulted from freak of
happenstance. He knew Khanzada can speak Persian, Pashtu, Uzbek,
Russian and Urdu with native accent yet English to work with.
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Khanzada was never trusted but he was often used in certain areas.
Sahel parked the Scion on a side street off Pamir Cinema. He did
not bother to obscure himself, as his costume would make him
unrecognisable to anyone who had known him previously. He
watched the sidewalk movements in front of the shops and road
cafes. The scene was like a giant gala, with literally hundreds of locals
occupied cafe tables, the benches across street, shopping and
hustling soaking up the late sun. Khanzada arrived in a taxi. He was
wearing his ever present short waist jacket, but it looked silly over the
stripped green shirt and dark clip on tie that were apparently the
uniform of a postal official. As Sahel watched, Khanzada put the tie
off and stuffed into his pocket. He had not changed much. He still
had that heavy brown hair and moustache duet with his posture and
the tired blue eyes darted nervously over the tables in front of the
cafes.
Khanzada did not recognise anyone, so he took an empty seat
and turned it to face the street, drumming his fingers on the plastic
table top and craning his head for the waiter.
Sahel took a minute and scanned for Khanzada's watchers. He
vectored his eyes from the Afghan's position across the boulevard
into the compartments of the parked cars along the side cafes and
storefronts. There was no obvious tail; at least no one invited to
attend by Khanzada himself. Sahel pushed through the crowd
approaching from the rear. He pulled out a chair and sat down at the
small round table as Khanzada turned to stare at him. The Afghan
squinted showing no sign of recognition.
Kia hal hey mairy dost. Sahel grinned and lifted the photo-sun
glasses from his eyes for a brief moment. Then he dropped them
down again.
Khanzada's cheeks turned pale, the ever present complexion
suddenly turning into a Siberian grey. His mouth opened and his
eyes widened and he started to stand.
Sahel's right hand shot out and grabbed his leather sleeve.
Bakhair, he said soothingly, though his grip implied a warning. I
just got here.
Khanzada slowly sat back into his chair. His mouth was still
agape and his eyes discontented. Sahel quickly extracted his
Rothmans and offered him. He himself pulled one to light. The
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Afghan looked at the pack, rolled his eyes at the sky and took one of
the filters with trembling hand. Sahel lit up for both of them.
Khanzada chewed his filter and continued to stare.
You told me about Sardar Jagat Singh? Khanzada inquired
hesitantly.
Yes, he is okay, Sahel smiled and shrugged. It was okay to have
the opposition think you were fool. Insanity suggested danger, and
danger demanded caution.
You know, Sher Ali, you are still a wanted man in this country.
Khanzada said if Sahel might have forgotten.
Please, Sahel smiled. Let's not announce it.
A man wearing white apron appeared into view. He smiled and
asked for their orders.
Coffee please, Sahel ordered without asking Khanzada. He
knew Cappuccino was his favourite. Two hot cappuccino.
The waiter left.
Khanzada's eyes looked around, scanning the other tables.
I have given up Coffee; this is not healthy for me now.
Khanzada said in the leaned voice. I have been sick since last year. I
got bad ulcer.
Oh, Sahel felt some sympathy for him.
You can order whatever you like, Sahel insisted.
No, no it's okay for now. Khanzada smiled as he felt relaxed
somehow.
Sahel reached into his jacket inside pocket and took out a
prepared wad of one thousand US dollars. Allow me to contribute
to your health and well-being. He slid the cash wrapped in a small
white paper over to the edge of the table and then held it down near
Khanzada's leg. Khanzada had taken so many payoffs that just by
glancing at the roll; he could guess its value. He took it and then he
groaned realising that if Sher Ali had a photographer working he had
just opened himself to another ten years of blackmail.
The coffee arrived. Sahel picked up his mug and took a long
swallow. He wiped his mouth and smiled again.
So what is this Ali? Khanzada asked.
What do you mean?
Oh, please, Khanzada seemed annoyed. No games okay? Let's
just do it and I'll go. You are not here for the weather. What do you
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want to know?
Whatever you know, said Sahel carefully.
Okay, said Khanzada with resigned annoyance. He leaned in
closer and smoked hard, already a little more relaxed with coffee.
He's here or he was, yesterday.
He is? Sahel felt his blood quicken. This could not be the he
that he wanted it to be, so he tried to remain smooth and calm.
Yes. He is. He contacted Obaidullah straight away, just like he
used to. He said he was active again, but he refused a meet. He's never
done before.
What did Obaidullah do?
He assumed your old friend didn't want to show his face a
reason. But CTI owes the man some favours, and he called them in.
What favours?
Foreign passport and airline tickets. Khanzada detailed with
some disdain. Obaidullah and some his associates had a party last
night, without guest of honour. They celebrated as if Dostam
himself had risen from the grave.
Um, Sahel did not speak for a while. His heart was racing and
blood pounding in his ears. He could not believe that he might be so
lucky, yet there was absolutely no way that Khanzada could have
improvised all of this. He just was not that tactically brilliant. Tell
me, Khanzada, Sahel said matter-of-factly Just for record, to whom
we are referring?
Oh for God's sake, Khanzada reacted liked a spoil child, then
he assumed an expression of supreme impatience. Okay, we are
speaking of Tiger-3, all right? Is that clear enough?
Quite clear, said Sahel as his foot began to tap the pavement.
Tiger-3 was the code name for Razmak Bilal.
CTI, phrased as Central Tehreeke Islami, was in fact a new group
formed a couple of years ago by the like-minded dissidents turned
into terrorists across both sides of the border in Pakistan and
Afghanistan fighting against the aliens, what they reportedly
considered, NATO and Americans and all their allies including
Pakistan. In the recent past, they had gained much strength and
wealth to run their show on the both side against forces and civilians.
And NSB is one of the most bigly their targets in Pakistan besides
civilian installations and people at mosques and they claimed Islamic
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themselves.
And I suppose, you are in town for the second round.
Khanzada grinned.
All of us, Sahel lied.
Sardar too?
Sardar too.
Wonderful, I did miss him so. Khanzada sarcasm oozed as he
finished his coffee. He put the cup down and looked at Sahel. I
heard you were all shot up, Sher Ali.
I got better.
Hum, Khanzada began to worry. He stubbed out his cigarette
and held his hand out for another. Sahel lit one for him. What else
do you want?
Is there more? Sahel raised a brow.
Yes 'Wallah,' but you know how this is for me! I could be
finished by this. Tears actually welled up in the Afghan's eyes. He
looked up at the sun as if taking one last gaze at the heaven.
Sahel slipped him an additional five hundred dollars. Khanzada
pocketed the money and then began to speak quickly. It was a low,
mournful tone like the confession of a doomed man. I was at the
party last night. Obaidullah was almost bragging. He has a contact at
Kabul Police Headquarters. They got a copy of the latest files on the
Zahir's case. You do remember Zahir, don't you?
I remember Zahir. Sahel suppressed his anger and listened.
They dropped the file to Tiger-3. I don't know where. It had
updates on the whereabouts of all the murder suspects, including
you. Tiger-3 re-contacted Obaidullah and asked for some more
details. He refers to all of your comrades by code names. Orange is
someone named Barat, Queen is someone named Bano. I think you
might be Bravo.
Sahel felt an icy stickiness under his arms. Hearing Bano's and
Barat's cover names on a hit list made his spine stiffen. Is that all?
he managed.
That's all I heard.
Are you sure?
I am sure, Wallah, Khanzada rapidly draining of courage.
Talking in a public restaurant with a wanted murderer was clearly
making him tensed.
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Okay, okay, Sahel tried to sooth the nervous Afghan. Just one
more question. Tell me about the plane ticket.
Tickets, Sher Ali, said Khanzada. One for London and other
one to Colombo, and I don't think he's picked them up.
Then he still here.
Or not.
Sahel took out some cash and paid the bill leaving it under the
coffee cup. While he pretended himself that all he is unworried, he
posed his final question. So tell me, Khanzada, he asked. Why the
revenge?
For the first time Khanzada Syad seemed to forget his own
predicament and he actually looked at Sahel with some pity.
I don't know, Sher Ali. I don't know. But I suggest, you just go
home and pay up your insurance.
Sahel took off his glasses and starred at Khanzada, who finally
broke eye contact and began to examine his fingernails. Sahel took
out a pen and wrote something on piece of cigarette pack he picked it
from the floor. He pushed it to Khanzada.
That's where, I'll be. You contact me with anything further. He
rose from the table and waited for an answer.
Khanzada looked up with a weak smile. As you wish.
Sahel returned the smile, for he did not want to leave Khanzada
with sour taste from their encounter. Then he walked away.
Sahel did not go far. He walked through the crowd and stepped
behind a van shelter. He looked back through the smoked glass and
watch Khanzada drain his last sip of the coffee and get up. The
Afghan walked along the sidewalk, then he performed as expected,
entering the first available telephone booth and Sahel knowing he
could never get close enough to overhear, went back to his Scion.
Khanzada really did not want to turn Sher Ali over to Razmak,
but he valued his own life more than a clear conscience. No matter
what he did, Sher Ali would not kill him. You had to have committed
serious acts of murder to get yourself on a Pakistani execution list.
Razmak, however, would have no such moral hesitation. That was
why the Afghans probably win this war in the end, and Khanzada
preferred to side with the winners.
He called a contact number in Shahr-e-Nau and the deep flat
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voice that answered set his knees to quaking. He gave the location of
Bravo's flat and hung up. Then he threw the paper making into a
small wad. He caught a cab back to the Central Post Office, claimed
he was feeling quite ill and walked to the car park for his Lancer. He
started driving immediately to Ghazni. With the wad of cash from
Sher Ali and twice as much from Razmak, he would be able to take a
long, quiet and prudent vacation.
______
Sahel drove the Scion for half an hour. The skies began to darken,
but he did not really care that it might rain. He headed for his flat
and chose quiet streets and small alleyways. He did not want to focus
on traffic. He had to concentrate. His strategic thinking was coming
back, yet too slowly. His head pounded with the variations. It
certainly was likely that Khanzada was tripling on him, working on
him and reporting back to Razmak. On the other hand, Khanzada
must not be relaying all of it Razmak, just enough to save his own
neck. Or he might be too frightened to counter the terrorist at all,
but that was unlikely. Such fear would work in reverse.
Then there was the possibility that Khanzada had bluffed the
entire Tiger-3 story, knowing what 'Sahel' would want to hear and
giving it to him. Yet he has never demonstrated a talent for
tradecraft, and the facts themselves, especially the parts about Barat
Khan Bano Abagull were too accurate. That led Sahel to the option
that Khanzada had been turned by CTI or the Kabul Police. He
could well be setting Sahel up for the authorities. But then why had
they waited and not grabbed Sahel at the Pamir Cinema Cafe?
Sahel turned into a small street and abruptly stopped the car. He
got off and watched the entrance of the street. No vehicle slowed at
the turn, and in fact no car entered into little alley for a good five
minutes. And then it was a just a very old lady squeezed down behind
the wheel of a blue small Suzuki.
He smoked another cigarette and gathered his mental reflexes
once more. He decided that he was trying to evade the obvious. He
had to follow his instincts and pursue the simplistic. To the best of
his knowledge, Khanzada had, through Obaidullah or otherwise
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made contact with Razmak. Khanzada would, being essentially a


coward, re-contact Razmak if possible and give over the address of
Sahel's safe house. That was what Sahel wanted. He had to act with
that as truth.
Now he had to move quickly. He suddenly felt a surge of panic
like a starving fisherman eager to catch fish at his first attempt.
Khanzada was unwittingly setting Razmak up for him and yet he
had a few operational options. He could contact NSB; call the duty
officer at embassy. But if Razmak did not show, then his operation
was blown before it got started. Razmak had to lay the ambush first,
yet he harboured no illusions that he could take Razmak without
backup. His professionalism was still the master of his ego.
He finished the cigarette, reached into his pocket and counted
his remaining cash.
Suddenly he yanked and smile spread over his lips. He rushed
back into the Scion, took a sharp turn into the highway and drove
straight towards Kabul River. He had an operational option yet alive.
Shah Wali, an Afghan private security officer working in a security
company in Kabul since long. Once in Pakistan, Barat had been
helping him to procure some equipment for his company Afghan
Securities from the Scientific Equipment Corporation. He had
referred Shah Wali to Sahel for the details and then they became
friends. He knew his office at Andarabi. And with a little effort he
could find his office before he left. He had no time. Speed was the
essence of the task.
Sahel crossed the River Kabul and took right towards Andarabi.
Afghan Securities had an office in the basement of Plaza Hotel. It
took him hardly fifteen minutes to reach in the parking of the Plaza
Hotel. He parked his Scion and went upstairs from the parking
basement. On the reception, a petite fair complexion Afghan girl was
busy on the telephone. Sahel waited for a while drumming his right
hand fingers on the marble counter. The girl begged him through
her eyes expression still talking. Sahel responded her and kept
waited. Then she hung up and moved to Sahel.
What can I do for you?
I am looking for Afghan Securities Office, said Sahel.
I am afraid they might have closed the office, Girl was polite.
It's almost seven o clock.
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Sahel kept quiet for a while and before he spoke, the girl said.
Okay, let me check them.
She pushed four digit numbers quickly on the intercom and
waited for response. Someone picked up the call. She listened,
nodded and hung up. She turned to Sahel and smiled. You are lucky
enough, office is still open.
I appreciate your efforts, Sahel applauded her. Would you
guide me where office is located?
You go straight in the lobby and then turn right and you would
see the sign board of the company.
Many thanks. Sahel left the reception and walked toward the
direction.
He would certainly have a chance if Shah Wali set him with his
security men, as things were going smooth so far as he planned.
Maybe this time he was not going back with a failed mission?
He crossed the corridor and turned right. A small blue Flexi
board was hanging up on the door with Afghan Securities Ltd
gleaming on it. Sahel knocked the door and waited for a moment.
Nobody showed up. He slightly slid it open and poked his head
inside. On the far side of the corner in a glass room a man was
standing holding a cellular phone. He looked tired yet his bright
eyes caught Sahel's entrance quickly and waved him to come in. He
was alone. Sahel crossed the crush area and reached into the cabin.
By the time the man had finished his conversation and put the
phone on the table. He saw Sahel quizzically for a while unable to
recognise him as perhaps he had not seen him with this get-up.
What can I do for you? he asked in a pleasant tone.
You can't do me a favour unless you recognise me, so try it
first, Sahel smiled leaving the man with enigma and slid up his
photo-sun glasses on his forehead.
Ah, I am sorry I don't recognise you. Shah Wali accepted
defeat. That's what Sahel wanted. He was badly in need of assistance
yet with a dead lead of him. He introduced himself with his fake
Afghani name and as his brain would suggest him, he didn't take
much time to explain him a false story that how he had become
victim of life threat by someone unknown and he was in need of two
or three professional guards for his security for the upcoming night
at his place.
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Shah Wali although looked loath but agreed once he saw a wad of
eight hundred dollars in Sahel's hand. He collected the money and
said smilingly. Friend, I am doing this all for your safety, not for the
money.
Do me another favour, Sahel said. I don't want your men in
uniforms and if you deem fit, the deal may not be registered. I need
this assistance in personal capacity from you that might not
jeopardise your own company's image.
Good suggestion.
He called someone instantly, chatted in Persian for a while and
settled back in a relief. Within half an hour, a back-up team showed
up in the office with their heavy muscles. They had their
instructions from Shah Wali. They looked Sahel critically, shook
hands with firm grip showing their enthusiasm towards his security
and he had no doubt that they would perform for he had guaranteed
them a bonus too from his own pocket.
Sahel thanked Shah Wali with this pledge to see him tomorrow
and waved all the three guards to follow him.
They reached Shah Do Shamshera. Sahel stopped the car short of
the apartments. They had let themselves up with Sahel's keys,
hauling a shopping bag full of food and drinks supplied by their
'client.' Their orders: Disarm and disable anyone who knocks at the
door to the flat.
At 9.30, a dark charcoal Ford came cruising down the street. It
passed Sahel and stop just in front of the apartments building. Sahel
watched, holding his breath, as two men got off of the car. He slid
open the door silently, got off the car and inched his way up the wall
behind the car like a cat as he unzipped his jacket.
His instinct kept him from moving further. The two men were
tall, wore long, black coloured jackets and they were bare headed.
Something in their determined gaits began to register in Sahel's
subconscious as they pushed open the front door of the building
and went inside. Then the grill of a green-and red flickering lights on
a Lexus appeared at the far end of the street, slowly nosing its way like
a hound sniffing for game.
Police. And the two men were Kabul CID.
As Sahel's conclusion registered a series of loud crashes echoed
from inside the second storey flat. Shadows jumped across the
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lighted room as if gorilla were left in a furniture shop free to act


upon and then the front window splintered and one of the CID
officer flew through the glass, back first with his arms and legs. He
crashed down on the row of hedges. A flurry of shouts echoed into
the street as Sahel jumped into his Scion. He quickly pushed the
ignition and put the car into motion. By nearly skidding it over the
sidewalk but he banged down on the street back taking U-turn. He
looked at the rear-view mirror a siren buzzing somewhere behind.
Razmak had tricked him. He was sure for certain. Sahel had used
a security agency as back-up. Razmak had simply called the Kabul
Police.
And where was the Razmak going now? He had two tickets, one
to London and other to Colombo, but if Sahel was right, Tanveer
Ahmad was in Sri Lanka.
Sahel hammered the wheel with his fist and yelled into the rain
that pounded on the wind screen of the Scion. He slammed the
brakes and skidded again into a U-turn that sent cars honking out on
other side of the River Kabul. He leaned his head on the wheel and
pushed the gas pedal. He headed back towards the airport, racing
against his own stupidity.
___________

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Chapter 9

Colombo
Chapter 10
Next Day
Tanveer Ahmad was a happiest man on earth when he was placed
in Colombo.
In fact, Tanveer was not one who surrendered quickly to
melancholy, but it had taken him months to emerge from the
psychological stress of more than four months in Kabul Prison cell.
Not that those hard Afghan Intelligence officers had tortured him,
or had treated him with anything in less than professional respect.
For despite his tight-lipped silence, they certainly knew who his
employers were. It was just that a man who is accustomed to racing
around Kabul in all sort of high-powered machines does not take
well to lengthy confinement, whether it is a five star hotel room or a
five square meter cell.
On the road to Kabul airport, 'Barat Khan' had given the
Kabulis a good thrashing with his silver Audi. Fortunately for him,
the men had survived their rather serious injuries. The Kabul Police
unable to conclusively tie Barat to Zahir's murder had instead
convicted him of reckless driving, resisting arrest and carrying an
unlicensed firearm. He had given a two years sentence, yet it was
quickly commuted to six months when a faceless Pakistani police
liaison suggested to his counterpart at the headquarter that a
confirmed story about a Kabul based firm owned by one of the
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rulers having illegal connections in selling drugs to one western


country was ready to go for international press.
Barat had been quickly repatriated to Pakistan after four months
of confinement, where the first order of the day was an obligatory
bullshit by Colonel AK Zawri, followed quickly by his firm
congratulatory handshake before Barat could tell him to go straight
to hell. Zawri then handed him a cheque for double the amount of
his pay, which was customary whenever an operative was missing in
action, a prisoner of war or had served time in a foreign detention
centre.
Immediately after that Tanveer was sent back to his own unit
where he was honoured by a grand party on his exceptional bravery
beyond the call.
Had he been in some other country's national service, he would
have been awarded a medal, yet under the customary convictions in
the Pakistan intelligence agencies, he was highly paid by words and
that was enough for Tanveer Ahmad. It did not matter to him. He
did not want a medal, he wanted to have good spell of fresh air and
relief without keeping an eye to the door all the time.
The next assignment was attractive for his appetite. The stuff of
an agent's fantasies and if he had not been transferred here, he would
have not come close to this most sensitive and most relaxing work.
NSB's idea of a choice assignment was clerking a desk of a
Warehouse belonged to Scientific Equipment Corporation at port
in Colombo. While counting the suspected sailors who made their
headboards bang and to have a close watch over them for indulging
in weapons and drugs movements through the port. It was somehow
considered an undercover support to Sri Lanka government as well.
Tanveer had not quit the NSB's main stream in search of this
luxury, he had done so because his old team was now history and he
didn't want to work for Zawri's another long minute without them.
Although, he would have preferred to get his retirement from the
Game altogether, had a friend not talked with him for an easy spell
with the civilians?
Sri Lanka was perfect. It was as close to being at home as he could
get. A steady diet and Coke easily replaced his own Pakistani dishes,
yet he manoeuvred it sometime at home and if you were playing a
resident convincingly you had to consume your share of local dishes.
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Tanveer Ahmad belonged to a family of liberal thoughts, so


religious observance was not a much of problem for him while on
the foreign soil. The Colombo beaches were full of available working
women, yet Tanveer was instructed to liaise only with the local and
western residents specifically and to utilise his Pakistani charm and
brown haired good look to do so with frequent surrender. He called
it 'AZP' --- Anti Zawri Performance.
Tanveer was working on the southern part of the harbour close
to the Fish Market across NHM Abdul Kader Road under the cover
of Manju Patel, an expatriate Kashmiri who owned and operated a
one-man water taxi and land transport contracted with SEC
Warehouse in Colombo. He was beginning his thirties, tall, boyish
and friendly, his off-hour hobbies running towards families and
amateur photography. He travelled frequently across the length and
breadth of the coast of Colombo and its islands, had many friends
and acquaintances both locals and Indians, and he was free and
generous with the extra money that came from a trust fund after the
early death of his Hindu Gujarati father who had married a wealthy
Kashmiri Muslim women.
The most of the Sri Lankan people did belong to Buddhism;
they are culturally very close to Sinhala and Tamil languages, yet they
were adept at dealing with foreign invaders and 'Manju' was able to
conduct all the business in English, which was a relief. In typical
Northern fashion, when unable to make him understood, he simply
pronounced his errors louder. Yet he was well liked in harbour and
6th Street and everyone knew him as Manju.
Manju's place of business and residence was a two-room flat at
second floor in a three storied stone structure at the 6th street at the
foot of one of the long wooden piers that extended into the thin blue
harbour. Rows of bouncing white hulled boats stretched away from
his Blue-Waters headquarters like a pearl necklaces. The piers
themselves were covered with greasy coils of tough nylon ropes and
bleached sail canvas, shiny petrol cans and multi-coloured synthetic
tubs overflowing with weighty fishnets. The local boats owners were
not wealthy, but their mechanical improvisations kept the fleet
afloat. The Indian Ocean sun acted as a nasty nurtured paint peeler,
so the captains and crews of vessels constantly repainting their
wooden assets. Manju himself owned two fast wooden boats that
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resembled large whalers with stand-up wooden bridges and steel


poles for canvas sun covers. He rented them to qualified tour guides,
business firms. If the client 'interested' him, he would captain the
boat himself.
But he was not on harbour to reinforce the Pakistan economy
through sea trade. One hundred meters ferries made daily run to and
from Colombo to India and Male. His assignment was fairly
simplistic, as he was not expected to identify targets unless
specifically advised to do so. The small side window of his sleeping
room at Blue-Waters looked over the embarkation piers of suspected
ferries at a range of two to three hundred meters. His double curtains
made is virtually impossible to detect the monster lens of a Canon
SLR-5D Mark II with EF 28-300 millimetre mounted there and the
lens were pre-focused at the exact spots where the big boats always
picked and dropped their gangways and the passengers and their
cargo.
The brilliance of the set-up was that Manju did not have to
mysteriously retire to his bedroom every time the suspected or
wanted ferry came. The camera was motor-driven, refitted with nylon
gears for silence and remote activated from up to three hundred
meters. Manju kept the trigger device which looked like a vehicle
finder keychain in his pocket all the time. He could be lying outside
in deck chair, sipping coffee with a client, photograph every ferry as
he cheerily removed his keys around his suntanned fingers.
Manju was much more known for his amateur photography,
frequently clicking away at the vessels of local friends and presenting
them with oversize full colour portraits as gifts. But for 'ferry study'
he used only black and white for the convenience of Headquarters.
At night he used 3200 ASA Kodak recording film which was quite
sufficient for recording his targets at night.
He always delivered his cargo to SEC office. If he was to receive
special instructions for example to concentrate on a particular vessel
or something more to do in a particular direction, those orders in a
code contained letter from his angry mother, were arrived in his
daily mail at SEC office via its Dubai Main Office as the personal
mail is always given priority in Sri Lanka.
It was a wonderful life, striking with a touch of danger yet low
risked compared to his former assignment. He was instructed to
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socialise, be a 'party animal,' and keep his ears open and as he obeyed
these orders his water and taxi business flourished. He could not, of
course, keep the profit, but he was allowed to turn them around and
expense them. Yes, it was the stuff of an agent's dream. If he had not
paid for it with four months in prison, he might have actually felt
guilty about it.
This morning, although it was not yet eight o' clock Tanveer
Ahmad was running late. He had to ride for Kalutara along the
coastal highway, conduct a full day of business and be back in time
for a dinner date with an Italian girl named Lisa, whose striking
flexes hair, blue eyes with tennis player's body promised more than a
summit. He had been up half the night developing and watching
long shots of film. With a suspected cargo, it would be up to the
analysts in Islamabad to decipher the meaning of the images.
Tanveer shaved and showered quickly, pulled on a T-shirt and jeans
and pair of Nikes as he gulped a cup of Nescafe instant. He donned a
leather jacket and swung the strap of a leather bag over his shoulder.
His desk was covered with forms and papers and having no time to
sort it out, he stuffed most of it into his bag and one of his Canon
5D-mark-II. He grabbed four rolls of Kodak and then he hurried
outside and locked his door. His Mailbox at SEC was nearly
overflowing, but rather than scanning through it, he simply stuffed
that pile into his small bag as well. The evening telegram from Sahel
at Kabul International Airport went along for the ride unnoticed.
Tanveer chose his trusted Honda 250 for the long drive, which
might have surprised his friends of the past. For Tanveer, riding was a
sort of meditation, the only time when he was completely at rest. It
was as if the act of employing his reflexes allowed the intellect to
engage, in fact he had discovered himself a sixteen years old. Surely, it
was this sole manner to attain peace that had moved him to love,
motorbikes, cars and fast boats and even airplanes. The faster he
went, the more challenging the course, the better he felt. He was out
on the open road and completely out of the city when he attained his
state of grace. The sun from the east was blinding even behind his
Persol and the smell of sea salt in the air was slightly irritating into
his nostrils.
Honda's booming voice and speed brought on sense memories
of other engines, cars and places and these brought images of the
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past, the faces of Sahel Farhaj, Rafi Ahmad, John Victor, Roshna
Saleem. This was not unusual, for hardly a day passed that he did not
think of them. He missed them all for even though his sole
assignment was a choice piece of fruit, there would never again be the
blood bond attachment of working deadly missions with a team. In a
way, it was better now, for he knew that love was a dangerous thing in
this business. It was love of his friends that had driven his impulsive
deeds in Kabul, not duty, honour or country.
Captain Rafi Ahmad was dead. He had read about him in
Tehran Times and he had mourned in silence and alone. No one
would come to hug him for the loss of his friend. Surprisingly, he
actually felt worse for Sahel, for he knew that the crippled captain
and Rafi had been like twins.
Captain Roshna would also have taken it badly, wherever she
was. He wondered if she was still out there somewhere playing Bano
Abagull, the wandering painter. He had seen Major Dilshad Hussain
at NSB Headquarters in Islamabad. Dilshad seemed unstoppable, yet
Tanveer knew that the old man was an 'emotional' picture of Faqia's.
His outward appearance never changed, but somewhere in his close
heart, he wept with each soldier's death. Shabana Mir in Kabul was
another character he would not forget. Tanveer knew one of her
uncle in a senior position had managed to post Lieutenant Rati
Asma Farooqui to a civilian assignment. Asma would also have taken
Rafi's death very hard. Everyone knew that she had had a serious
crush on him. His passing would not end that emotion, only turn
into an empty longing. Tanveer, however, wondered about Rafi's
death in professional terms, but he assumed that the mystery would
be well investigated. A connection to Razmak Bilal never crossed his
mind, as he had gladly accepted the conclusion that the terrorist was
dead. He didn't know even about Major John Victor's accidental
death, which had attracted a small part of the Gulf News and never
heard anything further.
He was passing through the centre of small village. On the both
sides of the highway with its neatly ordered pine trees planted with
small hedge of different flowers to make tourists pleased with the
smell. He turned left along the old road and then swung left again to
climb up to the mountain area as the road began to curve around
deep cuts in the range. Far below to the southeast a bowl of Lanka
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bay was shimmering. Soon the wind curves turned fast and Tanveer
corrected his helmet and fixed his Persol more closed to the eyes. He
forced himself to drive on the left over a crumbling track. There was
no guardrail and he could not hug the mountainside. The memories
of his old team and 'Darkroom' had dampened his mood, so Tanveer
turned his thoughts to Lisa. He had approached her on the beach,
quite sure that she was 'secure' for his selection was random. He
never visited girls who made the first move, standard professional
policy. They had since then only once for lunch, yet now Tanveer
sensed tonight might be the evening.
He tried to image her and to bring her face into view as he shifted
over on the seat of the Honda. Something to his instinct, the sound
of another louder engine made him jerk his head around as the blunt
nose of a Hilux hit down at his bumper. He swerved hard to the right
across the narrow road and into the shoulder, yelling 'Bastard' in his
Pakistani fashion, but sure that he could recover if he hugged the
mountainside and let the idiot rush by. But instantly the panic
deepened as he felt the monster come again, its green bumper guard
crawling onto him, careening his left leg smashing it into the
machine as the roar engulfed him and he flipped his head over heels.
The scream of metal against stone rending against the tearing claws
of Hilux as his head banged and the world went black.
He opened his eyes. He was on his back and the sky above was
white-blue, painful to look at as a dark, salty curtain ran across his
vision and he blinked it away. He could not move his legs.
But he was alive. He would survive.
He looked down. He could only see one of his feet, the white
Nike pointing at the sky. He did know where his left leg was, but he
felt that he might be lying on it, curled or broken beneath him. His
left elbow lay on something hard, but the hand seemed to dangle in
midair. He was at the very edge of unconsciousness.
He twisted his head to the right and blinked the liquid away
again. The Honda was nowhere in sight, only a wheel lay on the
roadbed slowly spinning on its metal hub. He looked down toward
his foot again. An engine was still snoring and shadow coming from
a green Hilux parked some distance away. It was very hard to focus
but he could see a figure walking slowly toward him, shimmering
with the sun and the blood in his own eyes. The figure stopped above
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him. He could not bring the face into focus, but he felt some relief as
the man bent and hands reached out surely to help him. Then the
pain passed flashing over his body as the man took Tanveer's leather
bag and tore it from his body and his head banged back on the
pavement.
Tanveer opened his eyes again, blinking blood from his eyelashes
to see a row of envelopes flying from a pair of hands onto him. The
shuffling stopped. Something tore. A moment of silence passed,
while the man flicked his eyes over a flimsy telegram paper. And
then, of all things, a voice hissed at it in Persian.
I'll make you crazy in your cage, Mr Sher Ali. How does it feel to
be hunted?
Sher Ali, Persian? Then Tanveer knew for sure that he was
dreaming. Oh, yes, a horror of a nightmare. Your past is coming
back to haunt you. And besides, he was not Sher Ali, had never been
Sher Ali. But no, the voice was not talking with him at all. It was
talking to that small piece of paper, the paper that now went into a
ball and sailed into the wind.
Now the face was bending; it was coming into focus. Now the
voice was speaking to him in English.
This is for Gulo, it whispered.
Who the hell is Gulo? Tanveer tried to say, but no sound would
come. And then he heard the sharp scrape of leather on stone and the
kick slammed into his chest which flown him to another feet away.
The wind was rushing over his body as he squeezed his eyes with pain
and vomited mouthful of blood and began to pray something in
Arabic verses....
______
Although the midday heat was growing and yet the man who walked
into the police headquarters at Chatham Street looked as relaxed and
refreshed as a diplomat with an umbrella of immunity and an airconditioned limousine. He was tall and trim, his heavy brown hair
freshly cut, golden rimmed sun glasses fixed above a straight nose
and relaxed pensive mouth. He wore a two-buttoned, light blue linen
suit over a white cotton shirt and slim dark grey pinstriped tie. The
man's skin was pretty fair and body was athletic.
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His left hand rested easily in his trousers' pocket while the other
hand lay open in front of his body holding a cigarette between his
fingers. Razmak Bilal walked gracefully up the wide stone stabs of
entranceway, while a pair of Colombo policemen in navy blue kit
and caps was just passed looking at him, a bit impressed giving space
for him to enter. He resumed his serenity and levelled off before the
main desk, a wooden top filled with papers and a small silver hotel
bell. The desk was high and oversized and the corporal behind
attentively waited for him to speak.
Good morning, said Razmak as he approached the desk. The
accent seemed British, but he was certainly not Sri Lankan.
Morning, sir, the corporal replied in English.
I would like to speak with the officer in charge, please. Razmak
got right to the business.
The officer in charge?
Yes, your captain.
I am... He is at tea-break.
I would join him, said Razmak as he reached into his breast
pocket and produced a small Red booklet. He held it out over the
desktop close to the corporal's face and flipped it open with his
finger showing him the first page. Then he snapped it shut and put it
back inside his pocket.
The corporal starred him for a moment, weighing the
'diplomatic passport' which he ever had seen. He raised his finger
begging patience, picked up a phone from the cradle. A chatter of
Sinhalese, an apologetic nod into the handset, an embarrassed smile
at Razmak, and the corporal said, He is coming.
A full minute passed while Razmak stood and smoked, then the
wooden door to the reception foyer banged open and then a man
appeared through. He seemed as wide as he was short, with a bald
pellet head with steel-wool moustaches on his almost black face, but
the man retained formality by keeping his navy short jacket closed
over his belly in place.
Franco, Captain Franco Naike, The man boomed his own
name as he stomped up onto some kind wooden platform behind
the desk and slammed his palms onto the countertop making the
papers flutter, the corporal shy away and the bell sat on the top clang.
Razmak did not move. Then slowly, he reached up and carefully
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removed his sunglasses, folding them with one hand and gave the
captain both barrels of his ice-brown stare.
The captain's posture weakened a bit, some of winds out of his
sails.
Hayat Gul, said Razmak. Major Hayat Gul.
Razmak produced the passport again, holding it close to the
Franco's eyes. Franco took the passport, perused the document and
returned it back.
How may I help you?
May we speak privately?
I am at break. Have a seat for....
It can't wait, Captain. Perhaps your superior officer is
available.
Franco raised its palms in surrender. He swiped his moustache.
Come.
The captain marched through the doorway again and Razmak
walked around the desk, following slowly enough so that the
policeman would have to wait for him.
He emerged into a large open floor with the features common to
urban police stations worldwide. Rows of scattered wooden desks
lined the walls and facing each other with at small chest height
wooden partition like work place. Two large metal standing fans kept
hundreds of flimsy papers dancing on the desk tops and ancient
peeled desktop computer monitors with their mingled cables falling
on the floor. The hall had two water coolers, a pathetic jungle of
neglected plants and collection of notice boards hanging on the wall
holding some of the notices yellowed by age and weather. The police
officers in uniform and plainclothes were all male. They wore navy
blue kits with white belts. A few busy on the keyboard as their pistol
holsters hanging on the back of their chairs.
Razmak stopped just inside the doorway, where he perused the
room slowly. He made certain that Franco had also stopped and had
turned to look at him.
This way please, the captain called out through the clatters of
telephones and printers as he held open a peeling grey door at the
left side of the hall and gestured for Razmak to enter.
The captain's office was a large enough, with a cream colour tiles
partially covered by a synthetic blue carpet. Franco moved quickly
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behind a brown polished desk covered with bound police reports


and framed photo of his wife with three children. A large plate of
half eaten pizza filled with cheese and meat balls lay before him. A
tall glass held a dull milky liquid.
Please. The captain gestured at a chair as he stuffed into his
own black leatherette mounted chair.
Razmak closed the door behind him with his fingertips. He
walked over and stood before the desk.
Captain, I am the Chief of Security to the Pakistan Embassy. I
am here to request your assistance in a rather delicate matter of
state.
Franco reached into a drawer and set another glass on the desk
top. He poured some more of the milky liquid and handed the glass
to Razmak. Then he took a ferocious gulp from his own glass waving
it to Razmak face to join him. Razmak, thinking, whether his next
move would put him on friendly or hostile terms, decided to sip the
liquid. It was tasteless. He put the glass the down.
My office is rather concerned about the welfare of a Pakistani
national who resides at Blue-Water.
Franco looked up at Razmak showing no expression at all. He
did not even blink. Razmak decided to sit and pulled up a wooden
chair and sat lightly at its edge so that his face remained close to the
desk.
This gentleman, Razmak continued, performs certain tasks
for our embassy. He acts, shall we say as a delivery man. He
maintains, under my instructions, a rather vague profile.
Franco continued to watch Razmak, yet he still exhibited no
obvious interest.
This same gentleman, Razmak pressed on, was scheduled to
appear at our offices this morning at nine sharp. He has not
responded to our telephone calls since yesterday. Nor did he respond
to my personal appearance at his residence less than an hour ago.
With this Franco showed finally a spark of interest, for the
Pakistani official was suggesting foul play of an order somewhat
more significant. Franco reached out for a local pack of cigarette and
lit one. He leaned back and began to smoke thoughtfully.
What's this man name please?
Manju, said Razmak. Manju Patel.
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I do not know this man, he shrugged indifferently as he could


manage. The captain began to tuck his soiled shirt, signalling that
the meeting was about to be over.
Razmak realised then that this was going to be far more difficult
than he had imagined. Having just murdered Tanveer himself,
Razmak has entered the police headquarters knowing that he was
walking in tiger cage. However, the outrageous and the unexpected
were his specialities, and besides his political and personal motives, it
was his blood pounding risk that produced such high-wire tactics.
Yet here his boldest move was being threatened by a policeman
unexpected response. Franco clearly could not give a damn for these
Pakistanis. Razmak had to do something quick to hook this lazy
uninterested fish.
He Stood up.
Sir, this may seem to you a small matter. However I assure you
that our concern involves matters that could impact on your
station.
Franco gave him a look that said either I don't understand your
English or go ahead whatever you like to do
If I might phone my embassy, they may allow me to share this
information.
Franco shrugged and waved at the phone. Razmak dialled
embassy number. The captain recommenced his meal eagerly.
The embassy secretary answered, and Razmak began the
conversation in his fluent Urdu, asking simple questions about a
passport renewal. Then he altered his tone and began to berate over
the ridiculous reception hours at the embassy, which allowed him to
build a control fury, until he was shouting into the telephone.
Finally he slammed the received down and recollected himself. He
could feel Franco staring at him, and the chatter from the other side
of the wall had receded to the whisper.
I apologise, said Razmak. It required some convincing of the
Consular General.
Franco's mouth was open and the eyes widened.
Al right, Captain, it's like this. Razmak began again and he
leaned conspiratorially. The captain offered him a cigarette which he
ignored. This information is highly classified by our intelligence
services. However, this is your jurisdiction and we have no choice.
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Franco continued sipping his white milky liquid and starred at


Razmak.
We believe that Manju Patel may be the victim of an attempt of
his life. We believe this, because there is certain individual abroad
whose trail has gone cold for us.
What individual... who is this man?
He is renowned Afghan terrorist, formally a member of
Northern Alliance, now a paid shooter for the Taliban.
And he may be in my country? Franco asked as liquid dropped
from his wiry handlebar.
Yes.
Who is this man?
His name, Razmak whispered as he leaned even closer, is
'Mullah Junaid.' Razmak's invention of a name was a good one,
memorable. I am sure you have heard of him, but he is travelling as
Mr Sahel Farhaj. We know that his mission is to kill Manju Patel.
Franco stood up. He finished tucking his shirt as he began to
pace. An Afghan terrorist, A famous one? He had never heard of
him but this could be good. The courts would let him go, not
wanting a tribe of foreigner terrorists acting on this soil. But the
capture, that would be a sizeable feather in Franco's cap.
Razmak saw the shift in attitude as clearly as a flashbulb in closet
and he knew that he was nearly home free.
But this Mr Patel of yours, said Franco as he paced. I must
now more. He wanted it now badly. Razmak could see it.
Razmak stood up. He waited and looked at his fingertips and he
was deciding something.
Al right, Captain, I can see that you are a man of discretion and
I can trust you.
Franco stopped pacing and pulled his waist belt upward to swing
his chest in pride as he thought, he tricked the Pakistani to get
something out like a state secret from him.
Manju Patel was working under a cover name. I cannot, in good
conscience, reveal his real name. However, I can tell you he owns a
transport business down at the pier. It is called Blue-Waters.
Jay! Franco screamed out to one of his subordinates, for
getting completely that he was supposed to be discreet. A small man
crashed through the door as if pulled by the suction of his captain's
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voice. Who owns Blue-Waters Ltd? he demanded in quick


Sinhalese.
I...I don't know, the little man trembled.
You don't know, the harbour is your beat, and you don't know,
you fool!
Hey... the Kashmiri, Manju, a voice called from the squad
room.
Oh, Yes, Jay exclaimed as if saved from the gallows. It's Manju
the photographer boy.
Get me a car! Franco yelled. And find, Wardna, Baisi, and
Dordham!
All at once the captain was so bent on speed that Razmak
realized he would have much time to assure the idiot's success.
And Captain, Razmak said quickly as Franco pulled a pistol
from his drawer and checked the action. We also believe that Manju
was stopping somewhere en route to Kalutara today. Razmak
added.
Where? Franco asked as he holstered his pistol and set his cap
at an angle onto his silk bald head
Monthay village perhaps, but it should be checked.
Jay! Franco called out again to the little officer, who had just
left to get the car for him.
Yes, the responding voice echoed.
Call Wardna and have them checked all the routes around
Monthay.
Yes Captain.
Franco was already at the door. Then he turned and looked at
Razmak who stood in the middle of the office slightly
dumbfounded by his results.
The Afghan name again? Franco asked. The name he is using?
Sahel, Sahel Farhaj.
Franco threw his shoulders back. If he is here, I will find him.
I know you will.
Thanks for the tip.
Thank you.
I will keep you informed.
And the Razmak was alone in the office. He waited for a
moment. He slowly shook his head and smiled.
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Then he walked out.


In next fifteen minutes, Razmak was at Colombo airport. He did
not, of course, have a limousine, and he had parked the Hilux way up
in the parking, so he grabbed a taxi. Within an hour he was about to
board a Kenya Airline's flight for Nairobi, where he would catch
another flight for Zanzibar but before he did so, he stopped at
public telephone and placed a long distance call to.........Uzbekistan
Speaking in Russian, he identified himself as Mr Dimitrov and
made an unusual request to the station manager at Radio-Kogon.
Baby please come home, merry Christmas...I have a favourite
Christmas song which I would like to have broadcast over the next
six days in breakfast program. My account is already in credit with
you.

________

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Chapter 10

Zanzibar
Chapter 11
Next Morning
Sahel Farhaj had not had much strength to move forward. He was
about to faint.
He stood in the arrival lounge of the Zanzibar's Kisauni
International Airport, looking down at the peeled dusty marble
floor. He lifted his hand and saw his fingers trembled. He had not
eaten anything since last night, and low glucose in his blood made
his body swing above his knees and aching feet.
He had continuously been flying right from Colombo airport to
Nairobi throughout the night and had caught connected Precision
Airline's flight of seven o clocks in the morning for Zanzibar.
He raised his head slowly and looked for a support and took
couple of careful steps to the exit until he could reach out of the
airport building.
He crossed the exit slowly and exposed himself to bright sun
shine. He blinked his eyes to adjust and looked around and turned
left in search of some place to sit. For a moment he was engulfed by a
group of tourists as they flowed around him like trout passing a rock
in midstream, chattering and trotting after someone who yelled,
Thees way, thees way please.
Sahel found a wooden bench under a green fibre shelter fixed
near the small parking lot for the drivers to pick the passengers and
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guests. He sat there quietly. He wanted desperately to doff his


ridiculous Alpine jacket, but he was afraid that the effort would leave
him flat out onto the bench. He had arrived in Zanzibar without a
Tanzanian Visa, so it had taken over an hour until he was finally
allowed to pay two hundred US dollar required for Pakistan citizen
on arrival for such spontaneous entry and a mandatory money
exchange of fifty dollars into Tanzanian Shillings.
Thanks to the Sri Lankan police, he was now travelling without
his shoulder bag or a change of clothes; he was left only with his
Alpine jacket, his documents, and wad of US dollars and a few Sri
Lankan rupees. He did not really care as he knew he was nearly at the
end of the line.
A small boy walked by pushing an empty trolley. Sahel called out
weakly to him in English. Hey you, young man he tried to smile.
Come here.
The boy approached with the wide, unselfconscious grin, his eyes
aglitter with the knowledge of expected money. Sahel slipped his
trembling hand into his pocket and produced folded small US
dollars currency notes. He pulled out one note.
Please bring me something sweet to drink, my friend, quickly
now.
Yes meester. The boy ran off somewhere while Sahel rubbed his
chin with one hand. Almost immediate boy came with an iced
orange juice can. He stared as the small two hands pulled the metal
strip, opened the can and placed it before his face. Sahel drank it
down in one swallow. Again, he said as he reached once more in the
pocket. The boy took off without waiting for more money and this
time Sahel gave him extra two notes as he finished the second drink,
more slowly now.
Thank you.
Poyea! the boy smiled and thanked in Swahili. He took the
empties and his money and sprang away.
Sahel felt a little better. He was now able to stand without
support. His hand was wet from the iced cans and he rubbed his eyes
with the cold liquid. His vision cleared yet he blinked hard twice at
the figure that appeared in front of him.
A young African in a baggy black cotton suit and red shirt
without tie was looking at him as if he is trying to recognise someone
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carefully. He had a small round face with distant glasses on his nose.
He passed a wide toothy smile and asked, Are you meester Farhaaj?
as if he had already approached a hundred others with disappointing
results.
I might be. Sahel astonished thinking who knew him here?
The man stopped and frowned. Are you not shoor? The last
word he spoke in his African Swahili accent.
I would give you thousand Shilling to see the leather of your
belt, said Sahel.
Without thinking the African opened his jacket with both hands
and examined his own waist, wondering why this crazy foreigner
would be interested in his belt.
Sahel, satisfied that the man was unarmed, handed him the
notes.
Asante, the man thanked him. I have a letter for you.
Of course, said Sahel, his tone exhibiting tired surrender,
feeling like a pathetic old man dancing to the whims of young and
beautiful fashion model. He reached out and took the small
envelope. Inside was a folded piece of paper. He opened it to see one
sentence neatly scripted in English.
Would you care to join me at the Kempinski for my hospitality? It was
signed by Abu Faraz.
Sahel almost laughed. Abu Faraz had been one of the most
ruthless of Afghans, a hero to Afghan Muslims for his war against
the Russians. He had once invited all of his Afghan enemies to his
Hirat palace for peace talks. Once inside the gates he had those all
slaughtered. He immediately rolled the note into a ball out of habit
and put it into his jeans pocket.
I have been waiting many hours for you, said the African
hinting openly at his expected tip.
I hope you were well paid.
I was paid.
I don't suppose, you actually saw the man, did you?
The letter and the instructions and the money were all paid by
one of the counter boy here, meester Farhaj.
Naturally. Do you have any further instructions?
Only to take you wherever you wish.
To the Kempinski perhaps, said Sahel.
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Only if you wish.


Sahel looked around the pavement outside the terminal
building. It looked deserted now. There appeared an interval between
flights. The terminal looked rather some small airport like Multan
or Faisalabad in Pakistan. Sahel wished he was there instead of here.
No one seemed to be watching them.
Do you have a car? Sahel asked.
My taxi, of course.
Good.
Where would you like to go sir, man asked.
I want to go Paje.
Oh, it's very far.
Yes, I know.
Across the Jozani forest to the Dolphin area in the west, the
African said it as if there were no hope to reach Paje.
I know.
It will be expensive.
Let's go.
They walked out of the driveway into the parking, where taxis,
cars and mini buses all stared at each other, yet no one moved. The
African led Sahel along the sidewalk toward a blue Nissan, which was
actually parked on the curb, its front wheels on the pavement.
You have no baggage, meester Farhaj?
Not anymore.
Some sort of uniform security guard was leaning against the
Nissan, looking bored and smoking a cigarette.
You will have to pay for the parking, meester Farhaj, said the
African.
Sahel looked more closely at the guard. He was a local
policeman.
How much is it?
Two thousand Shilling, the policeman said.
He took Sahel's money, tipped his cap and walked off.
Very tactful, Sahel said as he got into the shabby taxi.
In a few minutes they were on Nyereri road, heading towards
Stone Town. It was almost two hours drive, but with African drivers
despite the bad road conditions, one must expect it quicker than
usual. Sahel knew it might take one and half hour.
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To Sahel, everything in Zanzibar is slow except driving.


Do you mind if I smoke? The African asked as he turned in his
seat. He had to rise up a bit as Sahel had fairly collapsed in the rear.
Not at all, if you'll share, said Sahel. He took a Lite from the
driver and leaned forward for the light. Then he dumped back again
and let the hot breeze from outside dry his scalp. He did not have the
strength to wrestle with the jacket.
Normally, when I have my 'special sign out' said the African,
'the trip is five thousand. African was talking like if his addressee
was himself. And because I can really take four people, each further
person has to pay three more.
Cut to the short, said Sahel.
I beg your pardon.
How much?
Twenty thousand.
Fine, I just want to rest a bit.
The driver took the hint and stopped talking. Sahel put his head
back on the cracked leather. The sun was setting rapidly. He glanced
out the window at the barren wastes of Zanzibar's outskirts. He
closed his eyes. There was nothing new for him here. He had been in
Zanzibar once earlier. For a moment, he felt his throat tightened and
the liquid rose in his eyes.
Was it really less than seventy two hours ago that he had departed
for Kabul, electrified by the self-centred conviction that he could
catch up Razmak Bilal? Within two days his plan had been turned
upside down. Now it seemed that whole world was after him. He had
just spent the entire day in a baking Sri Lankan police cell.
He had arrived in Colombo from Kabul and literally hit the ground
running, hoping that he was wrong about Razmak, that the Afghan
was decoying him that he was not going after Captain Tanveer
Ahmad. And even when he jumped from a taxi at the foot of BlueWaters Ltd, he was immediately arrested by that bull of Sri Lankan
police office. He still held on to the prayer that he was not too late.
But when they booked him in Colombo for murder, he did not even
have to ask who the victim was supposed to be. His scream of denial
and regret only made the fat captain smile.
They stripped him of his belongings, cuffed his hands and threw
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him into an empty concrete cell below the police headquarters.


It was more like an animal cage than a detention cell, and there
was actually a straw on the piss-stained floor. Two armed guards were
posted, yet the event became a circus as every cop in town, and not a
few of their wives and children came by to see the murderer.
Franco came down to begin his interrogation and he was
increasingly angered by Sahel's constant attempts to reverse the
procedure.
Who are you? the captain demanded.
What happened to Tanveer? Sahel shot back.
What is your name?
You have my passport. What happened to my friend?
Your friend, you killed him.
I killed him? I did it? You let him be killed, you idiot!
Your name is Sahel, but your real name is Mullah Junaid. Are
you not a former member of Northern Alliance, now a paid shooter
terrorist?
Paid shooter terrorist? You fool. And who told you such
nonsense?
It went on for hours. Sahel argued with Franco, using all of its
wits to counter the supposed evidence, finally able to piece together
what had happened. He waited until he thought Franco was at the
verge of self-doubt. Then he played his ace.
Al right, captain, I will admit this much.
Yes, Franco was fairly happy now. He made Sahel wait until he
had tape recorder brought down to the cell.
Go on. Five men were gathered outside bars. All of them
including Sahel were exhausted and dripping with sweat.
Tanveer Ahmad was a Pakistani officer, said Sahel.
Good, Franco clapped his beefy hands together. Now we
advance!
Bring me my jacket, said Sahel.
What?
Bring it, if you are not a coward and a fool.
The captain had no choice. Sahel's leather Alpine was brought
down, and following his instructions the lining was slit open. Franco
sat there with his crony, staring dumbly at the Blue official passport
with the embossed Pakistani Ministry of the Interior emblem in
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Golden. For a long moment, it was dead silence.


So as you can see, began Sahel softly, I am a Pakistani
national, so I can hardly be notorious Afghan terrorist, you fools.
Then why do you have an Afghan passport also? Franco
boomed fighting to maintain lost position as he stood and banged
on the bars.
Because I am a dual national.
Then why it's a different name?
Because it is common on the border lines between Pakistan and
Afghanistan as their families has divided by the partition to change
their names from Persian to Urdu. In a very small part of tribes, it
was true, but not in Sahel's own case.
Then who is Major Hayat Gul.
He is your terrorist.
Nonsense. He is the Chief of Security at the Pakistan Embassy
in Colombo.
Oh, really? Sahel's voice oozed sarcasm. Then why don't you
call the embassy and speak to him?
Once again Franco was trapped. He had to pick up the truth. He
went up to his office and returned after ten minutes looking quiet.
Sahel had to feel sorry for the man. After all he himself was
apparently not much brighter than Franco.
He was not there, was he? Sahel asked quietly.
They have never heard of him. Franco's answer was barely
audible.
Okay, Captain, Sahel took a breath. Please let me out of here
now.
Franco considered it for a moment. Then he dismissed the rest of
his officers. They were reluctant to leave, not wanting to miss the last
scene of the drama.
Get back to work, he almost shouted.
They rushed upstairs. Franco spoke politely to Sahel. It is not so
simple. You are my only suspect.
Sahel grabbed the bars and his chains rattled against them. He
tried to stay calmed.
Captain, believe me, I understand your position. We have all of
us been tricked by him. If you do not release me, I will make it know
to your national newspapers that you held a Pakistani official in
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your cell while you allowed a terrorist and murderer to escape your
grasp.
Franco pulled at his moustache for a while as Sahel held his
breath. Then the captain decided that he had had enough for one
day.
You will have to post substantial bail attested by your Embassy
said the captain.
Alright.
And you will have to return here for... How it is said?
Depositions perhaps.
Yes sure. I'll give you in writing.
Jay! Franco yelled. The keys.
They held Sahel, saying the passport have to be examined in
laboratory. And the bail posting was painful. Sahel asked full
description of 'Hayat Gul' and a follow up on his movement, but
Franco declined on all counts. He had to release Pakistani official
but he did not have to help him.
Still fuming with the rage of humiliation and impotence, Sahel
went to Colombo airport. He examined the flights left this
international terminal since Razmak's expected departure until this
time and noted that only three flights had departed in that spell of
time--- to London, Dubai and Zanzibar via Nairobi. He washed up,
calmed himself, pasted a smile and concerned look on his face, and
every counter inquired as to whether his 'cousin' Mr Hayat Gul had
boarded the particular flight. He had to find him, he maintained.
The man's mother has suffered a severe heart attack.
He was almost certain that the answer would come at Kenya
Airways, and so it did. For Lieutenant Rati Asma Farooqui, after her
best role played as 'Shabana Mir' in Kabul, was posted as Liaison
officer in Pakistan Consulate office at Zanzibar and she was
probably the next 'prey' on Razmak's list. He had to wait for two
hours to make many connected flights into one to reach at Zanzibar,
unable to eat, drink or think....
Sahel opened his eyes. The taxi had stopped, but by the looks of
the buildings and the angle of the disappearing sun, they were only
in Kwebona at the southern end of the Jozani National park. The
driver was out of the taxi and was poking his grimy face into the
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open left passenger window.


Why are we stopping? Sahel asked.
Do you need something to eat? the African smiled as he asked
Sahel. There is a good restaurant here, and it's my meal time.
I am in a great hurry. Sahel tone was stern, but he tried not to
lose his temper. He no longer harboured great illusions about being
able to save Rati Asma. I can't take an hour now for a feast.
The African frowned like an offended child. I must have
something my friend. And to be truthful, you look as though you
should take something as well.
The African was right. Sahel needed some fuel. He could barely
linger-on starving anymore.
Can we take along?
The African raised an eyebrow. It's not proper. Then he banged
an open palm on the door sill and smiled. But we shall do it, what
would you like?
Up to you.
I shall get us Kebab in pita, baklava and a Safari, a hard beer of
Zanzibar, Okay? And yes, do you need some Kili Manjaro, a fine beer
liked by tourists.
No, no it's fine without beer. It actually sounded terrific. But
please quickly.
The African looked at his foreigner with some pity.
I shall be quick. But you must abide, my friend, that during
meals you should bend to the winds of our thoughts.
I am learning.
The African nodded and waited.
Oh, Sahel reached into his pocket. How much?
Fifteen thousand Shilling should be enough. The African
thinking perhaps Sahel had no Tanzanian Shilling in his pocket.
Do you want some dollars change into shillings?
No. Sahel said. I have already. And he pulled the money and
handed him over.
Asante, the African took the notes and walked away.
Crook, Sahel muttered under his teeth.
Within 10 minutes they were again on the road. Sahel had
finished his feast and licking honey-soaked flakes of the baklava
from his fingers. He could feel his strength returning and he sat up
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on the rear seat and drank his Coke.


Now cut over to Kitogani, he instructed the driver.
The African obeyed, turning down to Kitogani.
You have been here before, my friend?
Yes, once.
You will miss the sights of Jozani National Park.
Sahel suppressed his laughter. 'Who cares the sights?' Sahel thought.
You can stay on it all the way to Kijini, said Sahel. Then cut
east to Kufile.
You have an excellent memory, said the African.
When they reached to Kijini, it was almost dark. Sahel could see
the lights of the restaurants and some hotels on their way on the both
sides of the road.
Take a left and cross the big mosque, and then right up to the
hill.
Sahel's orienteering abilities had left the African slightly
threatening, for he was unable to play a shepherd to such a
knowlgeable foreigner. They crossed the mosque, took right and
went up to the road alongside thickly cedars and palms on the
western beach facing shimmering Indian Ocean in the early moon
days. Somewhere very far in the ocean, glowing lights of the sailing
ships were dazzling. When they arrived at the small intersection of
the road, Sahel told the driver to stop the car.
Can you wait for me? he asked the African.
I can always wait.
I don't know how long it will take.
No problem.
Sahel paid the money and gave the African another five
thousand Shilling as a deposit. He left the taxi and began to limp
quickly west, parallel to cedars, until he came to the huge building.
He turned right and could see the small beautiful white stone
structure villa with a golden plate fixed at its big entrance reading
Consulate of Pakistan. The flag on the roof had been drawn down as
matter of practice. The drive and the entranceway were secured with
local security troops.
Two uniformed African stopped Sahel at the small entrance next
to the main gate. Without speaking, he showed them his Pakistani
passport.
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The visiting hours are closed. One of the African said in


broken English.
I am not a visitor. Sahel's harsh voice somehow convinced the
guard and he took him by the arm and led him near to the front
entrance's small window. The African spoke into a walkie-talkie as he
kept Sahel from mounting the stairs.
Mr Khan, There is a Pakistani out here.
What does he want? A voice crackled back.
I want to see Asma Farooqui. Sahel said.
He half expected this answer over the walkie-talkie Tell him,
He's too late, she's dead. Come tomorrow.
For a moment a wave of shock rippled into his spine. Rati Asma
Farooqui is dead. All went in vain, and how this bastard was
announcing it on the Consulate's gate to a stranger. Sahel blinked his
eyes and restored his senses.
I want to see her now, Sahel shouted close to walkie-talkie
before the African released the microphone key.
There was no further response from the walkie-talkie. After a
minute one of the door slid open and a head emerged. It was bald,
suntanned and wore sunglasses despite the emerging dark evening.
Sahel broke himself free and limped up the steps. The African
charged after him. Sahel switched quickly into Urdu before he could
be dragged away.
I have to see Asma Farooqui! he shouted. His heart was
pounding now as he had regained some hope that she might still be
alive. Had she been murdered, the reactions would have been
decidedly different.
And who are you. The Pakistani security officer asked.
I am here right from Pakistan to see your wedding, you fool,
now let me in, before we have an international wrestling in front of
the Consulate, a lead for the morning news.
The door slammed shut with a resounding echo. After a moment
two young guards emerged from the door. They were typical NSS
Jawans, not long out of the army, muscular and rock faced. One of
them opened Sahel's jacket and searched him quickly, front, back,
arms and legs.
Clean, he said.
Come in, said the other one.
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They led Sahel to the main building, and waited for a while in
front of the entrance. A quick click produced a tray into the wall
beside entrance and Sahel dropped his passport into it. It slammed
back and shut, and after another minute the secondary door buzzed
and the two men escorted him into the consulate.
He found himself in a large, arched reception hall. The building
had probably once been someone's palace. Although reception
hours were over, many of the government workers were still at their
tasks. As they passed through the area, someone stopped to stare at
him.
Khan, the Chief of Security, came into the expensive room. He
put his hands on his hips and looked Sahel over without removing
his sunglasses. He wore them to frustrate recognition, for he was
thinkable target at any time especially once facing the stranger.
Al right, the conversation recommenced in Urdu. What's the
problem?
I have to see Asma Farooqui.
We have no such person here.
Of course not, but I have to see her anyway.
I am afraid, we can't help you. Are you lost?
I am not an ex-husband or jealous lover. Get yourself a second
secretary, a note pad and let us talk.
The chief looked Sahel over. The costume was weird, dried punk
hair, face full of tiredness, and nerves stricken. However, the man was
clearly not a simple tourist in distress. He seemed to know the drill.
Johny, he gestured to one of the guards. Take him upstairs to
room 105 and wait for me.
The two NSS men escorted up Sahel a long stone stairway. He
looked at the face of every by-passer female worker hoping to spot
Asma, but the strangers returned his frank gaze with disdainful
expression. Room 105 was simply an empty room with a desk, four
chairs and fan hanging up in the roof. The chief returned with
another young man. By his age, modest suit and expression of
enthusiasm, Sahel could see that he was not of the rank assigned to
tasks of any important.
Sahel sat down in a chair, wanting very badly to appear
composed and rational. He looked up at the four men.
How about a cigarette?
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Khan produced a pack of Golf Leaf. Sahel looked at the pack and
took one surprisingly, how he is managing this brand over here, and
lit it.
Okay, let's hear it, said the officer as he looked at his own
cigarette lighting.
Fine, but can we keep the guests to a minimum? Sahel asked.
The Officer looked at Sahel then he nodded to Khan and two of
the guards left the room. They knew their boss can handle this alone.
Sahel smoked for a moment, considering how much he should
say...
Al right, first of all Asma Farooqui is in danger of being killed.
He put up a hand. And No, don't say it that you have never heard of
her. But if you have heard of her, and she is in the consulate, don't let
her leave.
The second secretary began to write furiously on the notepad.
And if she is not in the consulate, find her and put a team on her
round the clock. No better than that ship her home tomorrow on the
first available flight.
The chief kept on smoking and listening quietly to Sahel. He put
one foot on the empty chair.
Okay, Boss we understand this, but who are you?
You have my passport.
All right, Mr Sahel, one again who are you?
Sahel knew what the question meant. It does not matter, he
said. Just do it as I said for God's sake, and we will play policeman
later.
Khan watched his for another thirty seconds, while Sahel
returned his stare without blinking.
Johny! the chief called out and one of his officers appeared
almost immediately. Khan took the second secretary's note book,
scribbled something on it, tore off the sheet and handed it to his
man. Johny left quickly.
Sahel looked on them and headed off the interrogation.
Look, I can't give you the details, I want to but I can't, he felt
stupid playing the game, but old habits die hard. He knew it really
didn't matter now while telling them the truth about him and all as
his career was over now.
I served in the 45th GG regiment. My Unit Commandant was
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Colonel Niaz.
And then...? the chief asked.
And then, I was transferred to some other assignment, you want
to land us both in Adiala prison.
Khan was fairly sure that he was dealing with a professional now,
but his own code of conduct demanded some more caution.
You want to play some more geography; we will probably wind
up related. Sahel continued.
Khan actually smiled and second secretary laughed.
So that's all, the chief asked. You are worried about this Asma
Farooqui.
Sahel considered his next move. If Asma was still alive, then
would probably be safe very soon. The NSS people had to act on the
tip. And that was his job. Sahel knew that his own run was now over.
They might hold him for more questioning, delay his departure for
home. And in the meantime Razmak Bilal was out there, and who
knew where he would go next?
There is one more thing, said Sahel.
What's it? Khan asked.
It's big thing. Sahel took a deep breath. It's information about
Razmak Bilal.
The chief put his foot back on the floor and placed his hands on
his hips. Sahel could see his face squeezed a bit and in disbelief as it
crossed the man's eyes.
Razmak Bilal, the terrorist?
Yes, said Sahel.
Razmak is dead from all the reports.
No, he is not dead.
Khan and second secretary exchanged looks.
Razmak is not dead?
From the new tone that had arisen into the chief's voice. Sahel
knew that he had lost his credibility. Both men were now observing
him like some scientific experiment gone away.
He is very much alive. Sahel pressed on.
And I suppose you know where he is?
Yes, he is here at the Kempinski.
Even as Sahel said it, Razmak's brilliance washed over him like a
shock wave from a nuclear blast. Yes, he knew for certain that the
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Kempinski was exactly where Razmak would be, why? Because it was
too simple to believe by any sane professional that he would be there.
Razmak knew that Sahel would be found mad by anyone whose aid
he attempted to procure. That's why the terrorist had left note,
inviting him to dinner.
So, the chief was growing angry now, Razmak Bilal staying at
the Kempinski, is he?
And Abu Faraz at the Matoni Marina, I hear. The second
secretary spoke his first words of the encounter. And Baitullah
Masood is signing in at the Dunga Kwibini Resort Club tonight.
Al right, I am not arguing you. Just let me see Asma. See her face,
see that she's alive. Then you can put me in a straitjacket and ship me
to Islamabad.
The chief shrugged his shoulders. You are behaving like a
madman. I don't know who the hell you are, and you are not going
to see Asma Farooqui or anyone else. You calm down and I have to
check you out. He turned and called out into the hallway again.
Johny.
The young guard came back to the room. Entertain this
gentleman, while we go over to communications. Khan ordered.
The Chief motioned to second secretary to accompany him.
They left the room and closed the door while Johny stood over Sahel
and looked at him.
Sahel knew exactly what was now going to happen with him. He
envisioned the telexes and flash messages, the orders that would
soon have him immobilised. But he could no longer be sure that
Asma would be protected, and he was damn sure that Razmak had
not done his work.
He looked at the young Johny and he smiled.
Where you from, Johny?
The guard did not answer immediately.
I am from Jhelum, myself, said Sahel.
Me too. The ice cracked a bit.
Really, I am from Wadepore near Dena. Sahel grinned.
My folks lived near to Wadepore, village Hushman. Johny
retuned a smiled.
Johny, Sahel said as he rubbed his right knee. I have to stand
up. I have got a bad leg in last Exercise 'Zarab e Karar' in Murree.
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The mention of the name of the latest army exercise held at


Murree caused Johny to offer a helping hand to a wounded comrade,
which Sahel accepted gratefully as he said.
Sorry, Johny....
The Chief of the Security came marching back out of
communication, the second secretary barely able to keep up. In his
hand, Khan clutched a flimsy telex sheet. He had began to send out a
coded inquiry to NSS headquarters in Islamabad, asking for
information on an Pakistani citizen named Sahel Farhaj, with his
passport number and general description. Yet even as he dictated the
communiqu, he saw the Top Most Secret/Immediate Message from
the office of the Colonel AK Zawri from NSB posted on the Flash
Board. It was an order to worldwide NSB's Covers to detain one
Sahel Farhaj at all costs, being a NSBs Officer an AWOL from HQ.
The Chief slammed opened the door to room 105.
Johny sat on the floor against wall, holding his head and
groaning blood from his nose running over his chin and onto his
neck all the way down.
Sahel had gone...
You have to be very quick now, my friend, very quick. Sahel
said as he was settling down in the back of the blue Nissan, finally
stripping off the jacket, he had loved at Kabul and now hated in
Zanzibar.
Yes, meester Farhaaj. Quickly.
The African had waited for him as promised. He was driving as
fast as traffic would allow him. They had already passed the Unguja
Ku over to Kitogani.
What is your name, my friend? Sahel finally asked. He was
feeling sorry for the disdainful way in which he had treated the
African all evening. He realized that at the moment, an African was
his only ally.
My name is Yaqub.
Please to meet you, Yaqub. Sahel said as the driver turned sharp
right to avoid a donkey cart and Sahel's head banged with the left
window glass.
The pleasure in mine, meester Farhaaj. There was true joy in
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his voice for hospitality was the greatest feature of the Africans.
Yaqub, you must do two things for me now. Maybe three.
What should I do meester Farhaaj?
You will take me to someone you know, perhaps someone in
Stone Town, not too far inside, as we have to go north again after
that.
Who will it be meester Farhaaj?
Someone who may give me a change of clothes, a shirt and a
trouser.
There was silence from the front seat. It was clear what Yaqub was
thinking.
Meester Farhaaj, the African said after a long pause, I do not
want a trouble with the police.
I am not a criminal, Yaqub. I swear by Allah, but I am in danger
and I must change these cloths.
Silence again. Then, I know someone in Stone Town.
Good, now one more thing, Yaqub.
Yes?
I want you to get me a dagger.
The image of the dagger made Yaqub gasp, please meester, it's
too much.
Don't worry, Yaqub. I will not harm anyone.
Then why do you want a dagger. Yaqub was not a fool. You
don't need such a dagger for cutting carrots.
I promised it to someone.
To be shoor, Yaqub wanted to be sure.
Look, Yaqub, Sahel began to bargain as they came across
Kitogani and were about to cross Jozani National park. I'll give you
all the money, I have left.
Sahel could see Yaqub's face with indifferent smile. Forgive me;
boss, but perhaps you only have a few dollars left.
I have two hundred dollars, when you are done with me, it's
yours.
Two hundred dollars were more than Yaqub could fetch in two
months.
Mungu awabariki, Yaqub wished the foreigner 'God bless you'
as he turned the car towards Stone Town.

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Sahel had to wait patiently while Yaqub's cousin finished ironing


a short sleeved sky blue cotton shirt. He wanted to scream at the
man. I'll take it wrinkled, damn, yet he just stood there massaging
his aching knee.
He certainly had no illusions left about taking Razmak Bilal
down alone, but he did not care much anymore. He was functioning
on a soldier's momentum, the same poison that made men stand up
in a trench and yelled 'Attack.'
He knew that the terrorist's list of 'prey' was growing shorter with
each killing, and he felt that Razmak probably saving him for last.
But if Sahel was lucky, the terrorist might go for him at this juncture,
and Sahel preferred to die than witness the demise of anymore of his
friends.
The man left back and lifted the shirt from the table examining
his work. He smiled through a wide gap in his teeth, Nzuri sana, he
praised proudly, and Sahel took the shirt. He was already wearing as
pair of man's baggy tan trouser. The African immediately picked up
the Alpine jacket that had been offered in exchange. He began to
smell the leather. They were in a cool stone basement of a slum in
Stone Town. Yaqub came down the steps holding a kerosene lantern
in one hand and bundle of wrapped cloth in the other. He set the
lantern down on the floor and walked over to Sahel. Sahel opened
the cloth slowly and there lay the dagger. Its handle was decorated
with jewels; the small curved almost a seven-inch steel blade shinning
under the yellow light. It seemed unused.
Let's go, he said as he tucked the dagger into his belt.
Sahel and Yaqub had pulled the car over just north of the Zanzibar
Museum. The hotel was a just a short walk over the Marubi Bay. The
evening has cooled considerably and Sahel pulled the windows glass
over and the Nissan engine smooth down as the metal condensed.
They reached on the end of the pavement short of Kempinski's
entrance. Sahel sat for a moment and watched the passing crowds. In
this part of the town, they were mostly wealthy foreigners. The men
wore tropical suits and mostly women with jeans, a few with skirts.
He felt an inexplicable disdain for their wealthy indifferences. He
reached over the seat and handed Yaqub the two hundred dollars.
Thanks, meester Farhaaj. Do you want me to wait?
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No, Yaqub, I am going to the Kempinski. It may be danger there


and I don't want you involved.
With what he was about to do, Sahel realised that Yaqub might be
the last man to know him, the last soul to share his last day before he
died. He did not know how he would find Razmak, if Khanzada
Syad had been right then he would have no idea what the man
looked like now. But if he could manage to locate 'Mr Hayat Gul' he
would do his very best to kill him, if it was right there in the lobby in
full view of the world. He was just as sure that Razmak would
probably disarm him of his newly acquired dagger and slice him
with it.
Yaqub, you have been a good friend.
You paid me well, meester Farhaaj. The African had turned his
seat. His eyes watered.
No, a good friend. Sahel got out of the car and leaned in the
front window. He took Yaqub's hand, Kwaheri, he said goodbye in
Swahili.
Be careful, called the African after him.
Sahel walked straight for the hotel. He did not pause, or hesitate,
nor did he bother to check for tails or watchers. He leg pained like
hell but he ignored it. He could feel the cold feeling of the dagger
against his belly beneath its open shirt over trousers. He crossed the
big circular driveway, where the big cars of diplomats and wealthy
European visitors cruised in and out and he neared the steps.
They appeared before him like a flash of the thundering storm.
His heart pounded and his face jerked as he lifted his aching leg onto
the first step. Both of his elbows were suddenly locked in a crushing
grip. He turned his head to see three Africans plainclothes
policemen. One of them flashed a badge while quick hands moved
over Sahel's body. He felt the dagger being jerked from his belt.
Please Mr Sahel, a low African English accent rumbled. Just
come along.
He did not resist. The detectives escorted him across the drive. A
large black car sat there with its rear door open like a panther waiting
to swallow him. He was pushed inside and the door slammed.
The Chief of Security from the Consulate sat in the rear seat.
Two of his men were already in the car, one in the front beside the
driver and other with the chief.
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I think it's time for you to go home, Mr Sahel, said Khan.


And the car began to move.
On the steps of the Kempinski, Razmak Bilal stood casually
conversing with a pair of striking Danish women. They tittered as he
entertained them with a concocted story about life in the African
Congo. Yet all the while, as he smoked a B&H and smiled at the
women, his eyes were watching the lightning quick capture and
removal of 'Bravo.'
He smiled, dropped his cigarette and crushed it out on the rich
carpet of the stairway.
______
Sahel arrived at Islamabad International Airport at five thirty in the
morning. Dark clouds over the sky had not let the morning light to
stretch over the city and the sun still far away to rise. He had flown
unescorted, although the Chief of Security cautioned one of the crew
of Thai Airways to keep a close eye on him.
He sat in his seat while most of the passengers hurried to the exit
anxious to see their friends and families and tell of their visits to an
African country. His flight had directly come from Dar es Salaam.
Sahel was not avoiding the crush; he simply found himself
unable to get up. His body repelled against inevitable, until a hostess
finally offered him to get up and he managed to disembark with a
declining shake of his head. He walked to passport control with his
legs heavy. What he was expecting, yet it did not happen and he
strolled himself into the queue for the passport control.
His problem was solved, as he looked on the other side of the
passport control counter. A team of NSB men were approaching
him, three gorillas in jeans and blue winter blazer. One of them
showed an ID and cocked his head indicating that he should follow
along.
They surrounded him as they would do with a head of state,
leading him past through the passport control, tourism information
counter and group of excited Pakistanis who were claiming their
bags and wondering if they would get caught with their smuggled
electronics. They skipped the declaration section of custom and went
passed a pair of uniformed ASF guards through a side exit, and
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suddenly they were outside on the side walk.


Captain Qadri was standing there. He was in full uniform, his
bars and boot polished, his hands on his hips and his dead eyes
glittering.
He step forward and made his pronouncement with undisguised
pleasure.
Captain Sahel Farhaj...You are under arrest.
______

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No Amity
Chapter 12
Who are you, a soldier or a damn civi?
Colonel AK Zawri voice banged off the walls of his office like a
bombshell.
A soldier!
Zawri pounded on his desk top and the pencils and the papers
bounced as he marched around it like an attacking soldier, put his
legs up to the knees, his chest full packed with air.
You are not some goddamn corporate executive in an Italian cut
suit, running around Asia and Africa whenever you damn well
please. You are a soldier, and you will follow orders, and if you can't
follow orders then you will be subject to the same disciplines of any
pathetic person in the army. Is that clear?
Sahel sat in a wooden chair in the middle of the room like a
murder suspect at a police interrogation. They had been at it for over
an hour, or rather, Zawri had been at it, for most of the hearing
consisted Colonel's wild bullshit with Sahel's attempts to explain
himself.
Sahel was long past exhausted. His body felt like burning in hell
and perhaps he had not yet felt the severe fever which had been
dwelling in his bones, his stomach agitate and his legs made him
wish they have opted for elimination.
Yet Abdul Karim Zawri dressing down, replete with
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exaggeration, insults and threats was far more painful than Sahel's
physical condition. And even more the frustrating fact that the
major Dilshad stood there the entire time, saying absolutely nothing.
I asked you a question, Sahel. Zawri was leaning over him now,
arms folded across his chest and sticking his nose in Sahel's face.
What was the question? Sahel asked quietly.
Do you correctly understand your position in this unit?
Yes.
Do you understand your duties and obligations as an army
officer?
Yes.
Do you realise that I could send you down to prison Zero for
half a year for being AWOL?
Yes.
Good. The Colonel backed away and stood against the desk. It
was well past 8.00 AM and outside, Islamabadian had commenced
their day with great passion as usual. However the SpecOp NSB
building was in repose except for the remote clacking of the telex
machines from Communication on Floor Two.
Then, I assume you also understand my displeasure.
Not exactly, Sahel said simply. Actually it seemed out of
proportion.
This is too much! Zawri stamped up onto his foot and began
to pace again, but this time he turned to Major Dilshad, who sat
passively on another chair along the wall.
Dilshad, this is all your fault.
Mine? Dilshad placed a hand over his chest.
Yes, yours Zawri stared at Dilshad as he pointed a finger in
Sahel's direction. This man is insubordinate, devious and
unapologetic.
Dilshad almost suppressed his laugh. I was his field
commander, sir, not his father.
I'll take the blame. Major Shahzad stood over near the
windows, one foot up on a chair's lower part, clicking his teeth on his
cold pipe stem. If that's what you are looking for.
Don't get smart with me, Shahzad. Zawri warned him. You
are all close to transfers. He put a thumb and finger together to
show how close they were.
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You can't transfer me, Zawri, Farhat said. The NSS Major was
leaning against a corner wall, smoking. I don't work for you.
The Colonel looked over at the NSS man as if he is seeing him at
the first time.
Remind me Farhat. What are you doing here?
You asked for NSS team to pick him up at the airport, said
Farhat and he shrugged. If you don't want to secure eggs, then don't
keep a live hen. It had double meaning yet Zawri ignored it.
He is going to penetrate now. Sahel voice was soft, quite
drained of.
Don't start this again, Sahel. The Colonel snapped.
Al right, said Sahel, but he is.
Uh, Qadri moaned from where he sat near Zawri's desk. He
was so pleased to be wearing a uniform.
Rabia, Zawri turned to his secretary. She was a plain looking
girl with dry black hair, and she looked like as she had woken from a
pleasant post-coital sleep.
You can type up the report and go home.
The girl nodded and rose from her chair. She had been almost
spent whole of the night in office, since they have got news of Sahel
Farhaj. Sahel had repeated his story three times and she had enough
notes for a novella. He left the room.
Come on, sir, Sahel sighed. It's only logical.
Logic? Zawri fumed again. Logic? You go running off like a
schoolboy and you are selling me logic.
Forget about me for a minute and look at the facts.
Believe me; I'd love to forget about you. However, the fact is,
that Razmak, if this is Razmak, may be a fanatic, but he is certainly
not suicidal.
For a moment Sahel allowed himself the luxury of a small
success. Al right, he had failed miserably in his attempts to ambush
the terrorist. But at least Zawri was no longer putting down the claim
that Razmak had resurfaced. If nothing else, Sahel's venture had
brought the truth to light and perhaps Zawri would finally take
some action.
In fact Abdul Karim Zawri was much more firmly convinced
now of enemy activity than he let on. He had listened to Sahel's story,
and then made him repeat it twice. The Colonel was an ambitious
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career-officer first which forced him to swallow some distasteful


stories. At the very least events of the past three days surely indicated
a vengeance play against Sahel's old team. Most of Zawri's present
anger stemmed from the fact that the Captain might be right rather
than from his unauthorised mission abroad.
On the other hand, Zawri truly did not believe that the killer or
killers would attempt to penetrate Pakistan so easily now. Although
in the recent past terrorists had tried that nonsense across the
borders every day even within the country often they succeeded to
kill the innocent civilians yet they were mostly drugged up, money
packed and influenced under coercion kids who with a suicidal
jackets succeeded for their targets. He had a plain soldier mind yet
holding of this sensitive unit's command, he had guts to find and
analyse the truth somewhere beneath. He had to think over it.
Razmak had already vended an irreparable loss to this country and
Zawri, as a soldier, was bound to make him pay the cost.
Based on that history, Zawri had already begun to take action to
protect his interests abroad. He had done so upon hearing of
Captain Tanveer's death in Sri Lanka the day before. He revealed his
moves now just for the record.
However, Mr. Sahel, Zawri announced, despite the fact that
you may think me a bull headed incompetent, I did not attain this
post through a Sifarish. He used the slang for undue favour. Asma
Farooqui is now under round the clock guard. Two of our people are
already in Sri Lanka using covers as Pakistani detectives. Additional
teams are in Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam working out with the
embassy.
He watched Sahel's reaction, which gave him some arrogant
pleasure. Does that meat with your approval?
Sahel nodded. Thank you, sir. I know you're a true soldier.
Sahel somehow felt a deep strange empathy between hate and love
about Zawri. At least Asma was safe for the time being.
Don't thank me; I am not doing it for you.
There was a knock on the door. Qadri rose to see it, his combat
boots slapping the tiles. A sergeant from Communication peeped in
and handed the captain a telex sheet. The door closed.
Qadri took a while read the cable enjoying being the focus of
everyone's attention.
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Read, Zawri demanded.


It's from the Zanzibar Consulate, said Qadri. He began to recite
the formal decryption.
URGENT MESSAGE. QUOTE LOCAL POLICE REPORT
INDIVISUAL USING PAKISTANI PASSPORT BOARDED
KEYNA AIRWAYS FLIGHT KQ 406 FOR NAIROBI AT 1000
HOURS (.) PASSENGER'S NAME AS HAYAT GUL (.) UNQUOTE
END MESSAGE
For a moment there was silence in the room. Then Zawri rose
from the edge of his desk.
Well, Sahel? Isn't that the correct name?
Yes, but... Sahel lifted his brows.
Yes, so what's the problem?
The destination, said Sahel. He lifted his hand to scratch his
head. He was thinking; no wonder he was sitting alone in the middle
of the room.
What about it? Zawri demanded.
Nairobi, Sahel. Major Shahzad spoke, come on, who is in
Nairobi?
No one, Sahel shrugged. It didn't fit. None of his teammates,
in fact, no one he knew at all was in Kenya.
Oh shit, Major Dilshad finally said something, yes, Babul.
Who the hell is Babul? Qadri asked imitating his boss
impatient tone.
Dilshad got up from the chair and began to rub his hands. It
does make real sense though.
He looked around at the eyes that were fixed on him. He's
freelancer, one of my own, a Kabuli. He was just a watcher, work for
me sometimes. The image of Babul wearing his feathered hat
constantly petting his German shepherd floated before Dilshad's
eyes.
So? Zawri looked at Major.
He was with us in Kabul, but only for an hour. No one saw him,
not even the team.
I have never met him, said Sahel as if lauding the major's
professionalism.
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He has a daughter, I think, said Dilshad as he pulled his lips. I


seem to remember, she lives in Kenya. Babul spends time with her
occasionally, but it's too farfetched.
Qadri! Colonel clapped his hands together and his aide nearly
clicked his heals. Call Dar es Salaam on scrambler and get that team
to Kenya right away. Dilshad will give you this Babul's full name and
description.
Wait, sir, said Sahel.
But the Colonel was already on a roll. He was smelling blood and
was going to snatch this 'Hayat Gul' fellow, whoever he was.
Farhat, forgetting the NSS man was not one of his troops.
Contact your people at Nairobi embassy and get someone to
airport immediately.
Excuse me sir, said the NSS man. But I already have a boss.
Are you going to argue with me? Zawri has risen to his full
height and beginning to wave his hands.
Sir, Sahel was shaking his head. Wait a minute please...
The Colonel seemed not to hear. He strode to the door, opened it
and caught Qadri with his voice as the captain stepping on the
staircase. And call the Civilians. He meant the Civil Intelligence
Agency. They might have best contacts with the locals. Get me duty
officer on phone.
He slammed the door and turned back to the room. He was like a
tank commander now exposed in the war headed for battle and
glory.
Sir Zawri, will you wait for a minute? Major Shahzad said.
Something's not right here. He was gesturing on the faces of Sahel
and Dilshad.
What's not right? Zawri snapped.
Stop racing, Dilshad said.
What's not right? You want this man or not?
No. Sahel said. He was shaking his hands trying to reason him.
It's a trick.
What? The Colonel's face folded into an ugly expression.
It's a trap move, would fire back, said Sahel. You are wasting
your men, forgetting his own position. He should simply allowed
Zawri to run it and let him fall on his face but his problem was that
he cared too much.
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You are telling me, Sahel? What are you telling me? Colonel
advanced on his shabby captain, critically.
Dilshad, this man is now unbearable. Zawri shouted.
He is trying to express himself, Sir Zawri, Said Dilshad.
He is coming straight for Islamabad, Sir, Sahel groaned. He
shot a finger at the commander. Straight on your face and you are
playing right into his hands again, just like a fool.
A what?
I know this man, better than you and better than anyone in this
room. Sahel's bloodshot eyes were burning. And if you'd listened
to me last week, Captain Tanveer would still be alive.
As he had said it, an icy silence engulfed the office. No one
moved. Finally Zawri walked behind his desk and sit down. He
folded his hands together and placed them on the green leather top
of the desk.
Rabia, he shouted. No one spoke while Zawri and Sahel stared
at each other like two cats. The secretary came back into the room
clutching a notepad in her hand, as she always did.
Sit, Colonel ordered.
She sat.
Take this for the record. Zawri gestured to her note pad.
Qadri hearing the shouting match, had reappeared in the room.
Captain Sahel Farhaj, Zawri tone altogether had changed to
one of imposed calm, though his anger had not left his face. The
word 'fool' was invented for officers such as yourself. As of this
moment, you face summery Court-Martial for unauthorised leave.
Verdict?
Guilty.
Sentence?
Two months suspension at half pay, forfeiture of all casual
leaves until further notice and disallowance of all related expenses.
The Colonel knew his man's personal record. He knew how to
hit them and where. He knew Sahel's financial problems, his
apartment and his wife's longing for a holiday with her husband. He
knew too much of him.
To be as a stony, he slammed his palm onto his desk top.
Dismissed.
Sahel could not move. He was stunned. His hands opened and
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closed. He wanted them around Zawri's throat.


Get the hell out of my office! Zawri roared.
Sahel took a step forward, but Qadri was there quickly. He took
Sahel's arm and showed him out of the room.
_____
Colonel Abdul Karim Zawri was alone. His officers had left and he
had finally released his exhausted secretary too. He sat behind his
desk and looked through the large window as Islamabad's morning
began to go cloudy, and the chatters of the starlings outside
somewhere only aggravated his brooding mood.
He should have gone home as well, but it was a long drive off and
a nap on the sticky vinyl of his office coach seemed more appealing
than the image of his sad drowsy wife in her shabby Shalwar Qameez
in this moment of morning. She had been so beautiful once, Sughra,
yet now the light was gone from her baggy eyes and harsh voice had
replaced her thin starling chatter.
It was like that with so many career officers wives. The men were
strapping, youthful, middle-aged warriors in crisp uniforms, and
you were shocked to see their women, heavy with their days and
nights of longing, filling their emptiness with food, all but widows
except that their absent husbands still lived.
He reached down into the desk drawer and pulled a rarely
touched golden wrapped cigar. He cut the cellophane with his teeth,
crushed its mouth and lit it. Under a cloud of smoke he blown, he
saw the soiled face of Captain Sahel Farhaj.
He did not like the way he felt about Sahel, for Zawri was not a
stupid man and he knew that his anger was misplaced and unfair. He
also knew where it came from, but he could not help himself.
The bloody past...
It returned to him every day now, and every night. He lived with
it like a crippled member... or the loss of a child...
Kabul fiasco had really made his position, somehow, vulnerable
before the eyes of seniors, especially General Qasim, who had been a
great admirer of him in the past, still he owned him but in the
ministry there had been analysis to fix the ultimate responsibility
and yet it's kept pending for want of circumstantial evidence. This
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haunted Zawri and he hadn't been managed to slip through the net
at ministry.
Even as junior officer, Zawri had been damn sure of him and
dislike admitting even the remote possibility of an error, unless it
could be proved to him. He had not made a mistake. He had
correctly identified Razmak Bilal, but then his team has allegedly
been set to kill the wrong man. His professional judgement was
sound, his instinct correct. There had been no error, only clever
enemy action which caused it and he knew it there was no fault even
at the team's action.
There was only one question still deep in his heart though never
surfaced officially, how and hadn't Zawri warned his men time and
again to be careful, to be absolute certain before action. Hadn't he
ordered them to withdraw, if there was even the slightest doubt?
Perhaps, if Sahel had also been self-righteous, bull headed refusing to
take the blame for the Kabul, but the Captain's pathetic acceptance
of the responsibility left the Colonel's heart cold and pitiless. As
commander of SpecOp, Zawri was ultimately responsible for Sahel's
screw-up, and the captain's admission that the murder of Zahir was
anything but an act of God. They could not help it and inquiry is
still kept unresolved at ministry.
A burning smell suddenly made Zawri jump to his seat. He
looked down realising that his cigar had slipped from his fingers
over a pile of papers on his desk that had taken sparked, no flame but
smoke and smell. He lifted the papers quickly shudder them over the
bin besides his legs. He saw the specks of grey ash floating in the air
like his own career set afloat in NSB. He felt threatened.
______
The National Security Service's team were already out in at
Islamabad International Airport, when the late morning EK 444
arrived from Dubai. Despite Zawri's apparent disdain for Sahel's
fantasies' the Colonel had reminded Farhat before dismissing him
from his office, that internal security was really the responsibility of
the NSS. Farhat did not need to be instructed. With three Pakistan
army officers now dead, and the theories of NSB captain, who
seemed perfectly sane to him, ringing in his ears, Farhat had already
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ordered an upgraded security alerts at all ports of entry.


But Razmak Bilal barely attracted an eye.
He appeared quite fresh and charming in his grey business suit,
blue silk tie with long-toe dress black shoes holding a dark-brown
leather laptop bag in one hand, other in the trousers' pocket, though
he had been flying all night from Nairobi to Dubai. His posture was
quietly confident as either an elite corporate persona or a bureaucrat
arriving at home with success.
He not only looked the bright Pakistani, he sounded it too with
so many English words on his tongue, responding through bright
smile and armed with plenty of 'thanks.' He was quite secure in his
cover. The choice of the passport was a good one, as Green Pakistani
passport had taken care to specify his arrival back to home after
longing trip abroad.
He breezed through passport control, unquestioned by even one
of the steely eyes security agent who stared past him, examining the
faces of those travellers who 'fits in the profile.' The NSS man
seemed rather jumpy and the Afghan behind him in line was quite
patient in the terminal.
A smart uniformed control officer took his passport, examined
it briefly. He looked up and compared the photo with the passport,
pointed the camera toward his face and clicked on the computer key
board. He satisfied and smiled as only the young can smile at that
hour and stamped the passport with a metal plunger.
Welcome Mr Kazmi, he said warmly.
Thank you, said Razmak. It's good to be home.
_____

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Next week
Zoor Khan had never heard a word like 'terrorist.'
He knew nothing of sabotage and had never fired a weapon. He
had never fought with a commando knife. He was unable to
differentiate F-16 from a MIG-23 and had never attended a seminar
at Shah Madrissa in the village.
For a point of fact, even as a boy Zoor had not participated in
any anti-communist demonstrations. He had never thrown so much
as a glass marble at video shops, never climbed a telephone pole to
hoist Islamic flag under the mob uproar. Even on the walls of distant
well house, he had never dared to scribble wall chalking.
Zoor Khan was first, last and eternally a musician. As far as acts
of terror, his only crimes along those lines would have been the
occasional alarming of his neighbour's sheep when he would forget
himself and practice his flute past the midnight hours.
Zoor lived alone in a small mud house on far northern corner at
the edge of the huge orchard of apple trees. He was short, slim,
slightly hunched at shoulders fellow contrasting his name whose
love for music had superseded all attractions to materialism, politics
or money. Or perhaps Zoor's own recognition of his physical
detriments, he had found his beloved instrument an excuse for his
social indolence.
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Zoor, for the most part, played his flute in a local classical
quarter. Given that the indigenous inhabitants of Dhok-Mahi, a
village on the GT Road from Islamabad to Peshawar, had little
appreciation for this kind of music, the audience were usually from
the civil service or military personnel or often Europeans relaxed at
the evening cafe, which soothed their minds by working in the
refugee camps under the auspices of UN flag. He was not paid for
these concerts, though he did manage to gather a few rupees teaching
a couple of students from the adjoining villages. He taught the boys
the harmonium and piccolo as well.
Apart from his flute, Zoor's only apparent obsession was his
radio. Had been fortunate enough to have friends or family, they
might have noticed that his incongruous portable Panasonic radiotape only received attention from the hours of seven to eight each
morning. No matter what Zoor Khan never failed to hear the
breakfast from Radio Kogon in Uzbekistan. The morning broadcast
in Persian was one of the popular shows in Afghanistan and some
part of Pakistan. On the very few occasions when he had known that
he might miss the program, he had laboriously taped down the
Panasonic record button and carefully fixed a light timer.
In those rare days Zoor was as nervous as a camel in snowstorm.
Like an obsessive-compulsive worrying over a range on short-length
wave, he would recheck his tape over and over before leaving his
house. However, his fear was justified, as if he missed the program
just once on the wrong day, his stipend, his livelihood and his music
would be gone forever. Not to mention his life.
Zoor was a classic sleeper, although he would have not
recognised the term. He did not know who paid him, nor the full
scope of his mission, and for his Master he existed only to perform a
single act.
He sat at a small table in the kitchen corner of his room. Unlike
most of his neighbours' homes, his modest two room mud house
had better furniture, although the chairs, table and a shabby wooden
bed were leftovers donated by his UN admirers. He rejected the
notion that to be a true Pathan, you had to consume your meals
while seated cross-legged on a carpet or some nylon-mat like a
prisoner of war.
He sipped his tea and reread a program from a recent
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performance of the Pakhtoon female artist. He had not attended the


concert himself but had obtained a copy in the same manner he had
received his furniture. He would have loved to hear Pashto songs in
the grand public forums but never get much chance to attend unless
some concert is held at UN's auditorium under a big canopy tent. He
had many invitations from Islamabad but he always politely
regretted. He didn't want to miss his radio program.
He was trying to keep his cup on the table when he suddenly
froze, his hot cup still in his hand, his wide eyes fixed on a spot of
sun on the far wall. He had long trained his ears to relegate the
annoying utterance with its background noise of Radio Kogon,
while leaving one small part of his brain to that single sniper of
music which set him free from his vigilance. Now, like an angel
whose appearance he never really expected, it was there in the room,
and he did not believe it. Slowly he lowered the cup of tea to the
table, not even feeling his charred fingertips. He dropped the slice of
bread to the plate and he focused his hearing as he turned his head
toward the Panasonic.
Baby please come home, merry Christmas.Mariah Carey's voice
had true magical aspire with basses and baritones. Zoor blinked at
the Panasonic and hardly realized that he was rising to his feet,
reaching up to remove his steel rimmed glasses, cleaning the lenses
with his skinny black shirt as if his eyes rather than his ears deceived
him.
When the song ended, there was a long moment of silence. Zoor
began to think that he had imagined it, that he was actually still in
bed and dreaming, until the announcer opened his microphone.
That was an early holiday greeting from Mr Dimitrov, the
voice said in Persian with some Russian prefix and accent.
Apparently he likes to begin his Christmas well in advance. Well
done Dimitrov, we all are with you to enjoy your holidays.
Immediately announcer's voice was cut by a Pepsi advertisement.
The jingle incongruous in its Uzbek mixes with Russian accent yet in
Persian. That was it. It was over, the song and a Christmas greeting.
It was late August.
Like a farmer walking through a marsh, Zoor walked slowly to
the radio reached out and switched it off. Then he turned and walked
across the room, feet nearly dragging on the worn carpet to his old
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green telephone, which had once been gifted by some of his Pakistani
friend who used to work in Telecommunication Department
installing telephone cables at UN office.
He looked somehow mesmerised, fallen into his thoughts,
shocked by the wash of relief and the rising heat of fear that clashed
in his brain. His hands appeared before his face like disembodied
limbs as they reached for the telephone, and the number popped up
from his brain as clearly as if it were blinking on there.
He dialled the number thinking that it would not work. After so
many years, it was impossible. The line would be dead, or the
number changed, or if it did actually ring through, the party would
have long since departed.
Hello, a deep voice answered almost immediately.
Zoor Khan could barely get it out. He felt that he should chat
first, maybe establish that he had the right person on the other end.
But his instructions were very much clear, the phrases burned into
him.
This is Zoor Khan, he croaked. Then he cleared his throat. He
did not want to have to repeat himself. I just want to wish you a
Merry Christmas, In case I'll be out of town.
There was no response, just silence coursing down the wire. Zoor
hung up.
He began to move more quickly now. He could almost taste his
freedom and he started to fantasize as he hurried through the house.
No longer would he be chained to his small breakfast table, no
longer would he be afraid of fatigue, cold with dread, he might have
overslept. Tonight when he returned, he would smash the hateful
Panasonic. So he would miss a few evening FM Islamabad music
concerts but he would buy another radio-tape, a clean, new,
innocent, virgin one.
He walked toward the wash basin installed in one corner of the
kitchen, and found a hammer and a stone chisel wrapped in shabby
cloth. He took them to his bedroom and with his meagre muscles he
hauled on his wooden closet until it came away from the wall. He
pushed it aside with his shoulders then remembered the front door,
ran to lock it and returned.
His hands were shaking as he bent to the task, chipping at the
loose cement that held the jagged stone in place. It seemed like an
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hour until he was finally able to dislodge the stone in the wall and
though the morning was cool; the sweat ran through his eyes and
dripped at the end of the nose. His glasses were fogged into
uselessness and he folded them into the front pocket of his shirt.
He lifted the long cloth package from the moist hole in the wall
and he jumped back as a huge spider ran between his legs. The
package fell clanging dully on the stone floor. He lifted it again and
un-wrapped the dusty cloth.
Inside was a short, wide steel tube. One end was widened like the
bell. The middle was encircled with polished wood like some musical
instrument. However the other end was threaded two short turns, he
had even seen. He did not know what it was and he did not care.
He replaced the stone and the closet and he brushed up the floor
and the dust around, then from inside the closet he reached for his
old big flute case and laid it on the bed.
There were many times that he wanted a new case for his old
fashioned flute lay loosely inside the maroon velvet cover. But the
case had been gift from someone long ago with a note that he should
not divest himself of it.
Then he reached for another velvet cloth into his closet. He
pulled it out and spread it on the bed as if something is being rolled
into it. He politely laid the iron tube onto the spread velvet sheet and
rolled its corners to fix in it. The extra cloth he cut with the scissor
and stitched it like a case of the pipe. Now apparently it becomes
something like a musical instrument wrapped in velvet cloth.
He picked his all items and put in a shoulder's bag and left the
home quickly, hurrying to catch the bus for Camp Tober Khan. He
felt he was carrying a cobra and he wanted to get rid of it before it bit
him.
_______
Unlike Zoor Khan, Aminullah Jansher was not a stranger to iron
hardware.
His tiny workshop at Murree Road outside Islamabad looked
like an aftermath of an explosion in a toilet factory. Everywhere you
looked, there were piles of jagged steel and cement drain pipes,
ceramic sink parts, broken bath tiles and sanitary wares. The smoke
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blackened cement walls were punctured by rows of nails, upon which


hung across of plastic pipes joint tapes, rubber drain stoppers and
greasy black and grey plastic washers from wedding-ring to horse
collar sizes.
The workshop had no real windows, just a vent holes made high
on the walls. Above the steel workbench in the centre of the single
room, a pair of electric bulb hung with the aluminium reflectors like
the generator lights of a combat field surgery. The air smelled of
burned acetylene.
When you were inside Jansher's shop, you could hardly tell day
from night and that was just as well for Jansher. Being a highly
demanded plumber, he was always in his shop by 7 O'clock in the
morning and after his daily house calls, he returned to prepare the
next day's replacement parts, often working at late night. He did not
keep a clock in the workshop; he needed no reminder that he has
spent his three-quarters of his life in the work. His wife made certain
to repeatedly apprise him of his absence. However, she never
complained when he handed over his daily pay.
Jansher was bear of a man, his gleaming muscles evidence of
years of hammering and hauling. To his friends and neighbours, he
could hardly have been regarded as a political animal. He wore heavy
boots, work paint and T-shirts, not even to bothering to wear
Shalwar-Qameez that was the usual costume of the area. He often
said to his friends that Shalwar Qameez was an outfit for those
unwilling to work. A sign of Fainant.
In public he never expressed his militant viewpoint. However, at
home he made sure that his two young sons knew precisely where he
stood as far as the militants were concerned. The efforts paid and he
was supremely proud when they would come home battered and
bruised from rallies against Americans or the government decisions
against militants.
Jansher was his own man, an independent owner of a thriving
business, answering to no employer and bound by no schedule. The
only constraint in his life, the single inflexible rule, was that he has
to be in the shop every morning at early hours until before Namaz e
Maghreb. During that time he could listen to any radio program that
pleased him but especially news hours were at his crest. However, he
had to keep the telephone line clear all the time.
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He happened to be standing next to it when it rang. He expected


the call from a widow Janat Gul, for the old lady kept complaining
about a drain that was perfectly functional, if she would just stopped
mixing used black tea in bulk in the sink.
Unlike Zoor Khan, whose name he did not know and whose
voice was not familiar, Jansher was not alarmed by the signal which
activated him. As a boy, he had been a regular member of the village's
mosque for learning of Quran. Then he had begun to sit in the late
night meetings of a few elders in the mosque after prayer who
happened to discuss the Islamic ways of living and converting the
society into pure Islamic version. Then one day he was asked to
scarify his soul to the cause. By then Jansher was although grown up
but he was a simple man, yet intelligent. He realized quickly that as a
deep 'cover,' he could go about his business, bound to perform only
one or two crucial, patriotic tasks.
The package had been delivered nearly six years ago. Except for
the annoying morning schedule that he was forced to maintain and
he would have forgotten about it completely.
He looked at the receiver in his grease stained hand, and then he
hung it back on the wall cradle. Christmas. The voice had said,
Christmas. Well that was it then. All he had to hear. He clapped his
hands together. It was going to be a beautiful exciting day.
There was a large metal bin at the back of the shop, something
like a garbage trolley. It was full to the brim with copper and plastic
tubes/pipes, which made Jansher curse, yet he moved quickly to his
task.
It took him almost half an hour to empty the bin. Finally he had
to climb inside to get to the package.
The heavy black plastic wrap was covered with dripped stains,
but when he peeled it away the object inside was still sealed in a
length of half a meter in a tyre-tube. He pulled it off and examined
the hidden treasure. It was length of black iron pipe about sixty
millimetres at the mouth. Part of the back end was covered in the
polished wood. Below the tube there was two handles, their grip of
the same wood as the rear of the piece. One handle was smooth and
without mechanical additions. The other grip was more like that of a
pistol, complete with the trigger and a thumb catch for cocking.
Jansher was not afraid of the obvious harmful device. He would have
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been much more alarmed had he found the body of a flute.


He rewrapped the device and climbed out of the bin. He went
over to his work table and pulled his tool box from underneath.
Then he lifted out the metal top tray, emptied the lower contents of
the box into a dark brownish sack and laid the tire-tube package into
the bottom of the box. The tray went back in and he locked the metal
hooks and left the shop.
Janat's sink would have to wait.
He fixed the box onto the back carrier of his Yamaha. As he
began to ride south toward Islamabad, he realized that he had
forgotten to make the prescribed telephone call. He cursed himself.
Well, it was alright. The number was as clear as his own birth date.
He began to look for a public telephone.
______
In an old small village housed in valley of green orchards, Haji
Rehmatzai lowered himself slowly to the ground. He was wearing an
off-white shabby Shalwar Qameez with a typical turban with black
and blue strips, yet he did not lift it from his head despite the sharp
stones of the valley had finally begun to discomfort his tired old
flesh. With his sandaled feet beneath him, his aching coccyx settled
over his heels. He was not praying. He had done already. Haji was
checking his new seedlings in his watermelon patch.
He turned his face and peered along the arteries of fragile vines
that wandered over the rough earth. Water, more water, there was
never enough of it.
Muttering, he placed a hand on one folded knee and levered his
body upright. He turned slowly around to the east and at last he
managed a smile. On that side of his small property, the watermelons
multiplied like mushrooms, growing into long, fat hard green
balloons, which at this stage of his life he could barely lift.
The eastern grove flourished because the earth there was rich
with the water from the small hills, yet on the other hand, the
western grove might as well have been in Thar Desert. It had to be
watered by hand. And it showed.
That was the difference between the Power of Allah and the
pathetic trials of Mans.
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He was lucky to have been born in this part of valley, an oasis


that had flourished since centuries, never subject to destructive
droughts, always desirable green.
He lifted his face and squinted up, when the sun was high
enough in the east at every morning; Haji could begin his
watermelon sales.
Father! A voice called from behind, the direction of his house.
Sandaled feet padded over the uneven earth. Father!
Careful, watch the seedlings, said Haji without turning. Then
he mentally shook his weary head.
It was one of his two sons Jamal Khan, by the sound of voice.
When he had chosen the name for the infant, almost thirteen years
ago, he could not have imagined that beautiful would become the
only positive adjective of which his youngest would be worthy. Jamal
was handsome alright, striking as a Kashmiri prince. He was also
quite stupid, a realization which pained the old man more than his
arthritic bones.
What is it? He spun on Jamal.
The telephone rang!
Haji took a step back. This was truly an event, as none of his
friends or relatives had a telephone, and Haji only kept the telephone
because he had been told to do so. Except for the occasional wrong
number, it almost never quivered in its cradle. Someone else paid the
meagre bills.
Are you sure?
Yes, Father.
Due to the range of Jamal's IQ, which was somewhat below the
level of Arabian Gulf, Haji was afraid to ask the next question. But he
pressed on.
Did you answer it Jamal?
Yes, I did Father! The boy was now getting scared.
Haji reached out his hands and gripped his son's shoulder to
steady him.
And? Haji encouraged the boy, afraid that he might soon
forget what had been said.
A man spoke to me Father. Jamal said.
What did he say, Jamal?
He said the boy knitted his brows, enjoying the rear parental
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attention. He said; tell the man of the house that I send him good
wishes for an early Christmas.
Haji stared the boy not quite believing him.
Christmas, Jamal, the man said really Christmas?
Yes, Father.
Did he say anything else?
No, Father.
Are you sure?
Yes, Father.
Then Haji did something he had not done since Jamal was a
toddler. He reached up and kissed him on the cheek. Then he patted
the soft skin.
You are a good boy, Jamal.
His son was shocked. Tears came to his eyes, almost as he has
been slapped. The blinding smile overcame his lips.
Thank you, Father.
Good boy, Haji smiled too. Now, run and bring me my
trowel.
Your trowel?
Yes quickly.
Jamal turned and ran toward the house. In a moment he
returned with a short tool in one hand, his brother Jalal and sister
Amina were following close behind.
Haji took the tool. He looked at his three children. Both his sons
were handsome, but his daughter was too petite to be imagined in
her age and also had a bit limb in her right leg and she was the
youngest.
Look children, Haji said as kindly as he could manage. There
was no telephone call. Do you understand?
The boys looked at him blankly, yet his daughter was not even
listening. In fact she looked more interested in the small
watermelons drooping on the vines placed on the mud hedges.
You must pretend that there was no telephone call. Do you
understand that?
There was a bit more light in their eyes. Both the boys nodded.
Now go back in the house, and don't come out until I call for
you.
The boys just stood there.
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Go now.
The boys spun around and called Amina to join them and ran
away.
Haji turned back toward the eastern grove. There were only three
four trees on his property. He walked to the first. The other three
trees were almost fifty meters away, ten meters apart on a line to the
first. He counted twenty steps and quickly knelt to the earth, this
time ignoring his knees and feeling no pain in his spine.
He started digging and kept on for a long time, perhaps an hour,
and when he was done the top of the long meter crate lay exposed at
the bottom of a hole half a meter deep. The surface of the grey
strongbox had long been encrusted with mineral deposits and rust
from years of exposure to the grove's watery roots, but the integrity
of the steel appeared intact.
Haji did not expect to be able to lift from the hole; instead he
preferred to open it. He used the blade of the tool and pried it open.
There were two long packages in the box. Each one was a many
layered wrapping of the kind of thick clear plastic that is used in
packing of the electronic goods for sale. Inside each wrapping there
were two dull-green tubes. Of each pair, one of the tubes was simple,
half an arm in length. The other tube was more meaningful, as at one
end was an ugly steel head. Each head looked like two green cones
joined at the mouths with one point melting with the tube, while the
other exposed tip was covered with a protective cap.
Haji rose painfully from the whole. He began to search through
his grove selecting two of the largest watermelons. With his curved
tool, he freed them from their vines and rolled them over to the open
crater.
He reached to his Shalwar's inside pocket and came up with a
sharp knife. He opened the knife. He cut a square piece around ten
centimetres of each side in the watermelon and pulled out a red piece
like normally customers in Pakistan used to cut before they buy it to
check whether it was red and sweet. Then he pushed one of his hands
inside watermelon and scooped with his fingers to pull out all fruit
outside until the ground was littered with pulpy red entails and his
arms were covered with black seeds.
A few more scooping, and some careful pushing and
manoeuvring and both the plastic cocoons were hidden inside the
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melons. He put the cut pieces again on the mouth of the melons.
Finally, Haji pushed all the littering into the metal box, closed it and
refilled the hole with the fresh pile of earth. He stamped it all down
and pulled on some vines until the scar was covered.
He sat down, his was almost sweating and soaked through and he
took some time to catch his breath. At last he managed to cry out.
Jamal, bring some water for me.
The boy must have watching from somewhere as he came
sprinting from the house holding a copious jug of water in his one
hand and a steel glass in other hand. He handed over the Jug and
glass to his father. Haji took both and filled the glass and gulped it
one swallow.
Help me up. Haji said to his waiting son.
He pulled him to his feet, and like a king's tailor he brushed him
off and smoothed his shirt, cleaned his soiled arms and washed his
hands with the remaining water in the jug.
Today, we will begin to sell in Islamabad. Haji announced as he
straightened his back and lifted his head high.
But Father, we always start it in the village.
Islamabad, I told you, said Haji. And he begin to stride towards
their Suzuki pickup, he turned and pointed at the hewed melons.
Place those two melons at the bottom of the pile on the
pickup.
Jamal sprang to the melons, heavier now than any such prizes
they had ever grown. He lifted up and stunned after his father, who
was striding as he had not done in twenty years, he set turban on his
head.
He lifted his finger of caution.
And if you sell them, he warned. I'll sell you.
_______

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Sunroom
Chapter 14
An Evening of Late August.
Sahel was running in a deep trench clouded by the fire ablaze on
his head.
Everything was going wrong. Sound of the mortar and heavy
artillery deafening his ears. He had no strength even to hold his gun.
He was shouting over to his soldiers who had already opened counter
fire from their CP- Howitzer and Mortars. They had a sudden attack
by the enemy on the last hour of the night. He wondered how he had
been awaking all the night thinking about his limp, perhaps his sixth
sense ignited which took him to his soldiers in the bunker.
Suddenly one of his best soldier caught by a mortar shell and he
fell down on the ground squeezing his legs to his belly without any
scream. Sahel grabbed his face up and turned his legs straight and
made lay him on his back. He had a big cut in his left rib. Sahel tried
to pull out the piece of the shell but it had already penetrated deep
inside and the fainted soldier with heavy bleeding muttered
something, which he could not hear in thunderous noise. He pushed
his left arm beneath soldier's neck and pulled it upward and lowered
his own ear to his mouth tried to listen what the man wanted to say
Guns noise was slamming into his ears as his eyes widened with
the horror when the soldier took his last breath as his neck once
stiffened and suddenly softened and face turned to one side. He
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abruptly forcefully pushed his chest with his right palm and without
waiting further he hit him on his chest, but in vain. There was no
sound of anymore breath. He was shocked and horrified. Amid
gunfire and howitzer's blowing noise, he pulled him to his chest as
some father grabbed his son dying helplessly on the bed in front of
so many doctors and attendants.
Dying of a soldier in his arms made him feeble inside and he
screamed dreadfully.
______
Amber was sobbing in her sleep. In the soft blue light of the
night bulb that slanted on them from the sidewall. Sahel could see
her curled up at the edge of the bed, her arms covering her neck. He
looked down. He was sitting upright on the soaked sheet, the only
sound his wife's sobbing breath. On his lap was a crumpled pillow. A
piece of its cloth case was torn away. He looked at his left hand. A
ball of the right cotton was clutched in his fist.
He put his hand to his clammy forehead and he squeezed the
temples trying to emerge from the horrid tunnel of his
subconscious. What day was this? He tried to remember. Yet it was
not day it was night-time.
Fragments of his combat with the enemies still jabbed at him
from that other world, so he accepted with some relief that his cold
fear was merely the product of a dream. Then he began to wonder if,
to hope even, that all of his discomfort might be unreal. Had he
really been in war? Were his senses transmitting some warning
signals? May be his confrontation with Col. Zawri and his courtmartial and suspension were also merely lucid dream production?
He lay back on the sheet, cold with his own evaporating seat. He
reached out to the bedside table and brought the luminous face of
the watch close to his eyes, six o' clock. It was almost dark outside. It
was six o' clock at evening.
Then he remembered and groaned.
His soldier's death was a dream. The rest of it was as real as the
white ceiling above him. He realized with a degree of disgust that he
had been sleeping since noon. He had arrived at home in the
morning, cursing Zawri, cursing the service and cursing Dilshad for
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failing to back him up in this hour of need. Major Dilshad, Sahel's


commander and idol, a legend of military brain and brawn, had
shattered the army rule: you never leave a wounded man in the
field. Sahel could not soon forgive him for that.
On the top of it all, Amber greeted him onslaught of her
justifiable fury. Yet that did not materialize.
He had expected her asleep in the bed, but she emerged from the
bathroom, pale and shaky and threw her arms around his neck and
babbled with happiness. Immersed as he was in his own grief and
fatigue, Sahel did not at first comprehend why she was expressing so
much joy over an episode of nausea.
I am vomiting, Sahel! She said. Do you know why I am
vomiting?
The news of Amber's pregnancy flooded their reunion with joy,
superseding Sahel's exhaustion and relegating his professional
troubles almost to the mundane. Sahel decided that he would not
discolour their happiness by revealing details of latest disaster.
Amber wanted to know what had happened, where he had been
but he simply promised his wife that he was giving up Darkroom
forever and planning a new, bold future for both of them. He had
actually no idea of what the hell he was going to do, but he covered
over his self-doubt with a broad smile. Inwardly he decided to just
hope for the best and guard his home and his family until the whole
Razmak thing had blown over.
His fatigue returned with full force within next hour. He made
Amber promise to take a day off, lock up the house and not leave for
anyone or anything. Then he fell into gulf of warrior's sleep.
Apparently during the afternoon Amber had joined him.
He back was warm beneath the sheet that covered her.
You're crying, he said assuming that she was already subject to
emotionalism of hormonal assault.
She sniffed and wiped her nose. You hit me.
What?
You hit me. She looked at him as if he'd struck her for
becoming pregnant.
Then he realized what had happened. He had actually been
hitting Amber while he was trying to restore breathing of his soldier
in the bunker. He reached out and cupped his face and whispered. I
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am so sorry Ambi, I was dreaming.


Amber blinked. Then she smiled and curled an arm around his
neck and tendered her nose pressed against his cheek.
A hard bang made Sahel jerk his head back. He sat straight up
and Amber putting her hands up to her face in fright. What is it?
Sshhh Sahel heart was racing again. The 'artillery' from the
landing zone in his dream. It was a violent pounding on their front
door.
He rolled from the bed and landed on the cold tile floor, as he
focussed his hearing. He squatted there for a moment on the balls of
his bare feet; he reached out slowly and opened the drawer of his bedtable. He found the steel of his browning and lifted the pistol into
his hand.
He quickly found his short and slipped into it for he knew he
cannot do battle half naked wearing only underwear. The rest
happened instinctively, and he moved swiftly and quietly despite his
still knee. He cocked the pistol and let the snout of the barrel emerge
first, clearing the bedroom door, then the small corridor, then he
curved into darkened lounge to the front door.
All right, he thought, so it's going to end right here, right now. He's
here. No ambush, no stealth, no surprise. Goddamn the all, no one believed
him. Razmak was at his front door, simple as that. But this Bastard
would not get Amber or their baby.
Another hard bang and a big slam! The front door shook with a
hammering fist from the hallway. Sahel had the advantage. It was
fairly dark inside the house and the hallway was fiercely lit. He
backed up next to the door, pistol in his right hand. He reached out
with his left hand and turned the key hard, leaving only the flip
handle between him and final encounter.
He stepped back and gripped the pistol two-handed. For a
moment nothing happened. Then the door handle dropped and a
man stepped into the lounge holding some files in his hands.
Sahel jumped into the opening and froze the pistol between
Dilshad's eyes. Neither of men moved. Sahel's breath was coming in
ragged gasps. Dilshad just stood still, looking calmly over the iron
sights, until Sahel finally lowered the pistol toward the floor.
I thought you might be sleeping. Dilshad smiled.
Sahel could not yet speak the blood in his veins kept his arm
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locked and stiff. Dilshad removed the files under his armpit and
reached out slowly to the pistol and slipped the cocked hammer and
the firing pin back to its place.
Did you really think that I would leave you in the field?
Dilshad asked with some hurt in his tone.
Sahel stared at the Major, feeling suddenly ashamed. Beyond
Dilshad's shoulder, up on the next door, he saw the alarmed face of a
white haired lady peering from her door. Sahel forced a weak smile
and found his voice.
It's all right, Mrs Bashir, he said. I thought it was some
burglar.
The old lady returned a sceptical nod, yet she retreated and
closed the door.
Sahel backed into his apartment and Dilshad followed. His hand
still kept the pistol as he closed the door with his foot.
It's okay, said Sahel. And Dilshad released the magazine into
his left hand and gave the back the pistol and magazine to Sahel.
Dilshad found the light switch. He could see how frightened
Sahel had been, as the captain's skin was slick with sweat. He did not
bother to apologise.
I almost killed you.
Dilshad shrugged. Unintentionally, I would hope.
Sahel did not respond to the humour. So, said Dilshad.
What's the answer?
To what? Sahel looked puzzled.
Are you ready for battle?
Am I ready? His tone was somewhat different.
I would think, after all these years, said Dilshad, that you
realised that my silence in that fool's office was not the result of
some newly acquired shyness.
Then what was it?
Strategy of course.
I see, said Sahel. He rose from the table. Dilshad I am now
tired.
So am I, you just slept too much.
I have other consideration, now.
Ah, Bhai Dilshad, we are expecting baby. Amber's voice
surprised Dilshad. She was standing in the bedroom door. She must
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have been quite frightened by the episode, but she could not help
smiling as she released the news.
What a pleasant surprise, Dilshad slapped his palms together
and danced a little with his shoulders twist and fingers up in a
Pakistani fashion.
Sahel too could not help smiling. Pretty presumptuous of you
Dilshad.
I am an arrogant Bastard, Dilshad said. It's wonderful news,
Bhabi, Kuch ho jaye.
Amber obeyed gladly, bounding for the kitchen. Dilshad looked
at Sahel. It's all the more reason, he said.
You can't quit now.
I am pretty much been fired.
Not by me.
Amber appeared with a jug of orange and carrot juice with three
empty glasses.
Bahena! As he took the tray from her, Sahel is involved in a
crucial case. With your permission, he must carry it through. It
cannot succeed without him.
Dilshad did not wait for a response. He began to fill the glasses.
You don't need me.
That's a lie. Dilshad said to Amber, not even looking at Sahel.
This is so important, so vital that I need your approval to work here
with Sahel, outside the office, in absolute security.
Sahel did not know what Dilshad had in his mind, but he found
himself unable to resist his own obsession. And Amber, knowing
that Sahel need to serve was the essence of this being, found herself
compelled to give her assent.
The two men while she looked from one to another. She sighed.
Well, as usual, I have no idea what it's about. But if it is
important, I have to say yes, Sahel. She turned to Dilshad. The rest is
up to my husband, Dilshad Bhai.
More than half way home now, Dilshad turned to his captain.
If you can say no to this, then let's see you do it. He was actually
poking at Sahel, like a devil making a pitch for a soul. Sahel smiled
weakly in return.
Okay, major, for the last time I volunteer.
Good. Dilshad boomed. But wait, he put out a hand to stop
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Sahel from raising the glass to his lips. We'll need more glasses.
He strode to the apartment door, pulled it open, put two fingers
into his mouth and made a single shriek as loud as police whistle.
While Amber and Sahel watched, Dilshad held the door like a butler
at a big restaurant.
After a moment, footsteps began to quicken up in the staircase.
First into the apartment was Khaki from Research Wing. He was
dressed up in blue T-shirt and white trousers and he carried a hard
black plastic case in one hand and a heavy gym bag hanging on other
shoulder. He looked at Amber and shyly returned his gaze away,
saying, Hello to Sahel as he sat the equipment on the floor.
The windows, Dilshad said to Khaki, and the young man
moved quickly to lower the blinds throughout the large lounge. As
he did so, he kept stealing glances on the mused haircut on Sahel's
head that had replaced his normal style.
Tariq appeared next breathing heavily as he grabbed two file
cases holding with his chest that looked too weigh as much as he did.
He sat down on one of the cases and wiped his semi bald head with a
handkerchief not bothering to greet anyone in the room.
Shaista with a leather bag on her shoulder, from the Cipher
Department, corrected her dupata, had to stop in the doorway and
steady herself. She was holding a Pepsi can in her one hand and
croaked. We can build a nuclear bomb, but we can't make a
goddamn decent elevator.
Major Shahzad pushed past her, grinning over his pipe stem. He
was carrying only a light briefcase and he winked at Sahel as he
stepped inside.
Sahel thought that his eyes could not open wider, yet they
expanded at the appearance of Farhat the NSS man. The convening
of NSB operation was risky enough, but involving other agencies
seemed like borderline dangerous. Farhat saw Sahel's look and just
shrugged, jerking his thumb toward Dilshad, as if the major had
somehow pushed him into participating.
A man whom Sahel did not know appeared in the doorway. He
was tall and broad shouldered, somehow firm, yet powerful looking.
He wore a white striped shirt and jeans. He was around forty with a
curly brown hair, needed an instant haircut, that crawled over his
collar. Despite the hour, he was wearing sunglasses, though they
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could have hardly concealed his features. He hesitated in the


doorway, until Dilshad said in English, Come in, Jahangir. Come
in, as he waved him inside.
Finally Shahzad's secretary appeared. Anita looked somewhat
nervous, probably more so at the idea of entering Sahel's home than
at participating in this questionable mission. She was dressed in a
modest trouser and long blouse and she made a point of locating
Amber and smiling broadly at her. When she realized that Sahel was
standing there in his short and a sleeveless upper she blushed and
looked away.
Dilshad pulled her inside and shut the door. He rubbed his hand
together and walked to the middle of the room, and then he
motioned with his arms for everyone to gather in close. They set
their equipment, briefs, and files and crowded together so he would
not have to raise his voice.
Sunroom main Khush Amdeed, Then he turned to the stranger of
the group and said in English, Excuse us for the Urdu, Jahangir.
This is legal formality that should not worry the Unilateral Military
Intelligence, I mean UMI. Jahangir nodded, and the Dilshad
continued in Urdu as the group eyed the UMI man with some
surprise.
I am commencing this operation under rule IX-2 clause Four of
Pakistan Security Laws, permitting unilateral initiation of a secure
mission now recode named as Sunroom under the command of a
senior intelligence officer Major Dilshad Hussain and my second-incommand is Captain Sahel Farhaj. He looked over at Sahel, who
watched the performance with amazement. I am ordering full
compartmentalization as deemed necessary for the security of this
operation. No details shall be revealed to fellow employees of any
institute, nor shall any approval of any Sub-Committee be sought
until I determine such necessity. Are we clear so far?
Dilshad looked around. All heads were angled toward him to
hear his low tones, and no one expressed surprise or dismay.
I might remind you as volunteers, he continued, that as the old
saying goes, Success has many fathers, while Failure is a lonely
orphan. All those who wish to withdraw may do so within the next
one minute.
Then he looked down at his watch, following the sweep second
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hand raising his eyes, until full minute of silence has elapsed.
Good. He clapped his hands together. Now speaking of
fathers, I have just discovered that Sahel here will be joining us again
after recovering from his deadly injuries and another ex-officio
member to this project would be Amber, who has graciously granted
full support to this mission in the name of her motherland, for
which I personally owe her lot of gratitude. He patted on the naked
shoulder of Sahel. After lot of congratulatory whoops and shouts,
Dilshad asked Anita to help Amber round up a sufficient number of
glasses from the kitchen.
When the juice was poured and as mismatched glasses
converged to clink together, Dilshad made his toast, To the 'new'
Sahel and to the success of operation Sunroom.
_______
By the time Sahel emerged from bathroom after taking his shower,
his home has already been transformed into a bustling outpost of
NSB's SpecOp. Wearing black jeans and a white T-shirt, he walked
bare footed along the lounge as he towelled off his hair. The
bedroom telephone had been pulled into the lounge, its white wire
taped down to the old carpet and its handset also secured to the
cradle with metallic cyber Wi-Fi link. A second black wire continued
from the telephone and along the floor to the Sahel's study at the far
corner of the flat. He followed it and poked his head into the office.
Khaki and Shaista did not bother to look up. The small man had
cleared Sahel's desk and set up a portable HP printer all-in-one on it,
he was busy connecting different devices to the machine. A laptop's
screen alongside the HP was now flickering progress in green
horizontal line as the computer letting the programs installed on it.
Shaista has pulled a chair up to another small makeshift table where
she was laying up the intercept files that came from Khaki's
'professional' briefcase. The intercepts were all decodes and
translations on thick stacks of folded computer paper. They were
having different colours each according to its source such as foreign
embassy, overseas intercept, emails, and landline telephone and
satellite transmission.
Sahel wondered how Dilshad had managed to get all this of topPage 259

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secret material out of the NSB's building. He stepped quietly over to


the lounge. Dilshad was seated at the round common table, his great
bald head looking like a science model. He had occupied round table
as his workplace and had no paper work spread out beneath his
meaty hands. He was keeping the table cleared for the landing of
steaming coffee cups, cakes, cookies and whatever else Amber might
conceive.
Sahel smiled; Dilshad was sticking his neck at the steaming
coffee.
Just listen to me, Sahel, because there is not much time,
Dilshad looked over to him and strode toward Sahel grabbing his
hand and made him sit in front of him. When John Victor had his
accident in Dubai, I didn't think much of it. But when Rafi died, I
got on your 'frequency.' I started this thing together right there and
then, but I didn't tell you in case I couldn't mustered the support.
Then I turned around and you were off to Kabul. He scratched his
head and laughed. That was crazy move by you, Sahel, but it did the
trick. I hope you understand that I couldn't back you up in Zawri's
office. It would have tipped him off.
You not backing me might have tipped him off.
No chance. His ego is too enormous.
Who is Jahangir?
Jahangir, Jahangir Shah is an analytical expert in UMI, very
intelligent.
So what the hell he is doing here?
He is a good man. I have known him for a long time,
trustworthy and reliable and have his own independent sources.
Presently he is on holidays. He has double motives. First he has
worked a lot on Razmak at his HQ after the incident of European
Diplomat in Islamabad case code named ISD-3355 and knew him
more than us and he's pissed off because of his own bureaucratic
futile solutions against terrorists in the recent past.
And second?
Second, a close friend of his was a case officer in Kabul at that
time and he is going back home probably. They both want Razmak
too.
Now there is a motive, I can understand.
I am going to call every favour I can, Dilshad spoke. It's about
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morning in America. We will have to work fast and we'll work all
night.
What do you expect to get?
Just enough to prove our case, before Razmak strikes us again,
not a miracle, just a little hassle and one break-through, that's all we
need, then this time he can't escape.
Now go and dry off your head and come down back.
In the middle of the lounge, Shahzad and Jahangir were working
over a powerful satellite cellular phone and a machine of
interception. Shahzad as usual chewed enthusiastically his pipe stem
while Jahangir screwed a large antenna into the base unit. They
appeared to have hit it off, having discovered some mutual
discovery. They were conversing in many common things about
espionage.
Across the television set on the far wall unit, Farhat, the NSS
man was busy unhooking the roof aerial and affecting a connection
to a powerful field radio, a modified unit which he usually use in his
car to contact security units around the country.
Sahel dropped the towel on the railing and joined back Dilshad
at the round table and poured himself a cup of coffee. Already the
room beginning to go blue with cigarette smoke.
Are you clean? Dilshad abruptly asked him as Sahel sat down
before him.
As a virgin bride.
Now I have already taken the liberty of handing out
assignments.
Brief me.
Basically we are putting out requests to personal contacts in
different international intelligence agencies.
Asking what?
Updated information on all recent Razmak sightings or even
speculations.
The sighting will come up negative.
Probably.
Why do we need speculation?
To cover to our bare assess. We will keep the ones that match
our theories and throw the rest out.
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Very bureaucratic of you, Dilshad.


You know, this is how I work.
From the dining room Anita's electronic typewriter began to
clatter.
What's she doing?
Keeping the record.
Oh no.
Dilshad waged a finger at Sahel. Extreme bravery should always
be based on meticulous preparations.
Okay, said Sahel impatiently. What next.
Listen, Dilshad instructed as he pointed at Shahzad and
Jahangir. The UMI man was sitting on the couch, pressing the
cellular handset to his ear.
Robert? Hey buddy. It's Nick. Got anything for me yet?
Jahangir waited for a moment. The connection must have been weak,
for he inserted a finger in his free ear. Okay buddy call me back
soon as you can, at, he leaned over the base module, yes seven, nine,
nine, three, two, one, nine, zero. Roger out.
He is talking to UMI station. They are working on Razmak.
At the moment Jahangir got up from the couch and walked over
to the table, Sahel stood up to offer his hand.
Nick Ferro, said UMI man. His grip was powerful.
Friendly cover name, Sahel grinned as he switched to English.
Sahel Farhaj.
My pleasure, said Nick. He examined Sahel streaked blonde
hair, light eyes and European features. You don't look Pakistani, he
said.
One shouldn't look like a wraith, Sahel responded smilingly.
Jahangir laughed and patted Sahel's at the shoulder. He grew
serious for a moment.
I want this Bastard, too, Sahel.
I know you do, said Sahel. We all do.
Jahangir turned to Dilshad. It will be a while. What else I can
do?
Dilshad looked up at Jahangir and rubbed his jaw.
Look Nick. I don't want you to get burned. But we could use
Langley's latest pickups on anything related to Razmak or ISD-3355,
even seemingly unconcerned intercepts. Can you do that?
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Jahangir smiled. Can SpecOp offer someone coffee?


Amber, Sahel called his wife loudly and then instead waiting
for her, went inside Kitchen and brought two more cups.
Here goes, he poured and handed one cup to Jahangir and
pointed with the wink toward cake pieces at the table.
Thanks, Jahangir smiled, picked up the cup and filled his
mouth with the cake and strode toward his Cellular set. He had
always liked the hospitality of Pakistanis.
Tariq came out of the dining room, cleaning his glasses with his
T-shirt. He was tall and bony; looking like that he didn't eat enough.
His hair was mussed and stuck all around his head like untrimmed
grass.
Okay, sir. I can talk to Kabul, he said proudly.
Fine, Tariq, but very careful now, Dilshad continued, first ask
for an Eyes only contact with Khanzada Syad. When you have him,
call me.
Tariq walked back into the dining room and sat down at his
Grid.
What he is using, asked Sahel.
IP phone Set through scrambler, Dilshad smiled.
Amber came out of the kitchen. She had brushed her hair and
changed into trousers and long shirt. Sahel smiled at her, wondering
what she would look like if all becoming overweight.
Can I do something other than cooking? She asked.
Apparently feeding fellow comrades is a big job, said Dilshad
as he gestured at his own stomach, but still you are free to
participate.
As a matter of fact Sahel abruptly turned to Dilshad. Is the
phone working?
Yes of course.
Ambi, said Sahel. We don't want any surprise visitors.
Oh, she put up a hand to her mouth. That's a real possibility,
especially with our recent news.
You just please call everyone around who might just pop up
tonight. Raheela,
Dr. Shazia and Irram and your folks too.
Tell them everything is okay, yet you are feeling lousy and going to
bed.
Good Idea, Dilshad said.
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And not too far from the truth, Amber looked at Sahel and
smiled.
She pulled a chair over to the dining room pass-through, picked
up the phone and began to dial.
Shhh, Dilshad hushed everyone in the room as he gestured
toward Amber.
Sahel leaned toward Dilshad and whispered. What's on in
office?
Shaista is connecting embassy in Zanzibar and Nairobi.
Farhat walked over from his radio and sat down at the table. He
poured a cup of coffee and lit a cigarette. Well, we can't do much
more. Every border unit and team has been ordered to report to me
with details of all male admittance in the country matching with the
description of Razmak Bilal, I mean age, height, eyes, hair and
everything.
Thanks Farhat, said Dilshad.
Anything to check with your commander?
We don't need to check him, said Dilshad. We just want to go
around him.
Then leave it to us, my dear, said Farhat with a wicked grin.
Amber finished her last call and came slowly over to the table.
She was holding her forehead.
I didn't have to do much acting, she said. I think I'll go up to
bed.
Sahel began to rise but Anita came out of the dining room and
took Amber's elbow. I'll help her, she said.
You are a sweetheart, Dilshad said. When you are done, Anita,
canvass everyone and update your files.
Amber kissed Sahel on his head and the two women went into
the bedroom.
The cellular phone rang with an electronic burbling; Jahangir
answered, said a few superficial thanks and hung up.
Most people in Dubai say's John's death was hundred-percent
accident, Jahangir said with some apology. And my office had
checked out the driver as well. He still in custody but had not opened
his mouth yet. He claimed it was purely an accident and did happen
with brake failure.
Okay, Sahel gave Jahangir a thump-up. Razmak may have had
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nothing to do with 'John Victor,' but the sequence afterward support


Sahel's theory.
I have got Khanzada, said Tariq from the dining room.
Tell him Sardar JS would like to discuss an old matter in
private, said Dilshad.
Roger. Tariq responded.
Khaki came bouncing on his steps from office, which amazed
Sahel, as he had never seen this little man even walks quickly. He was
rubbing his hands together.
We are going to get a description, he announced.
What? Sahel looked at him surprisingly.
Tehran Police has 'loaned' a file on the murder of Rafi and the
Indian store salesman. Apparently a bus driver gave a description of
a man who accompanied Rafi into Fatemi Square. Three days ago,
they took that sketch around every hotel in Tehran. A clerk
recognised it and filled in the rest of the details. The sketch will be
emailed to me within an hour.
Ye Maara, Dilshad pounded his meaty hand onto the table and
stood up. Wonderful, now get back and bring it. Khaki turned
back and went to his post.
The joy was temporary as Tariq reappeared wearing a sheepish
look. No go Sir, Khanzada says he can't end-run any information
around your commander. Apparently his boss and Zawri party
together in Kabul. He says it's too risky.
Damn, Dilshad slammed the table.
Shahzad walked over to Dilshad. Bastard, Greedy Kabuli, he
said as he chewed his pipe. Want to let me have a go for some other.
No use, said Sahel. They look good but they are full of holes.
Yes, that I understand, said Shahzad.
Excuse me, said Jahangir, give it to me in English. Maybe I
can help.
Jahangir, said Dilshad. The Kabulis won't cooperate with us.
What a surprise, he said. They are always for the money,
bloody Frogs.
Jahangir ran his fingers through his curly hair. Why don't you
let me try it via UMI HQ? I'll false-flag the request.
Farhat looked at him with surprise. Now you are thinking like a
Pakistani, he said.
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Too much confusion, said the UMI man as he returned to his


telephone.
Farhat field radio hissed. He had the speaker on very low
volume, so he walked over to the set to receive the communication.
In less than half an hour, Khaki came hurriedly again holding a
copy of email print in his hand as gently as a butterfly wing. He
placed the sheet on the table and everyone gathered to examine it.
It was standard police sketch, well executed but still aesthetically
wanting. The best remembered features were emphasized, the curly
hair, strong jaw, slim nose and narrowed eyes. The image caused all
the men to squeeze their brows, for something about the face struck
somewhere in memory, yet gradually one after another they shook
their heads.
Looks familiar, but not from any of the NSS files.
Yes, said Dilshad as he held his chin and studied the print.
Sahel released an exasperated sigh. It's no Razmak Bilal I've ever
seen. Not that I'd expect it to be.
You have another page, Shaista voice croaked from the office.
Khaki ran back at the door and returned with second page. It's the
description on colour and details, he said. Then he read the
English. Hair: blackish brown, eyes: light brown, skin: fair, curved
scar beneath left eye.
As Dilshad listened to Khaki, he picked up a pencil. The print of
the sketch had come over somewhat smudged as it happens in poor
scanning at the transmitting end. With the lead point he drew a
circle just beneath the left eye.
Oh my God, Farhat whispered. That can't be. He lifted his
head took a step back.
What is it? Dilshad straightened his head up and demanded.
That's Azeem Khalidi, Major Azeem Khalidi, Farhat
whispered.
Who? Everybody baffled.
I swear, he is Azeem Khalidi, he's major with Planning and
Logistics.
What? Shahzad's usually cool behaviour was punctured by his
own gasp.
He is a PSO to an advisor to the President, said Farhat. I often
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ups.
Sahel snatched the sketch from the table and stared at it. Years'
back, when he was an officer candidate, Khalidi had been a staffer at
training base Five. Yes, now I got it, he looks like Khalidi.
Dilshad took the sketch. I would say you are all out of your
minds, if I did not also have a memory for faces. But what is
Khalidi's face doing on this transmission.
Shall I cite precedents? Khaki has taken a seat and was eating a
piece of Amber's coffee cake. He sipped the tea from the cup.
What did you say, Khaki? asked Dilshad.
Do you want me to quote historical precedents for doubleagents posing as other individuals? Plastic surgery is no longer just a
science, you know it. In west, it's an art.
Then so what? said Dilshad.
Well, said Khaki as he picked some crumbs from his shirt. If I
were inserting a man into your military environment, I'd double
him as one of your officer. Of course I'd have to eliminate the
original one.
Anita, Dilshad yelled. The girl came hurriedly out of the
dining room. Drop what you are doing. I need a photograph. Take
my car and go to the office.
Wait, said Sahel. Change that, Anita. Stay away from HQ. Go
to PID, the Press Information Department. Tell them, he is being
promoted or something. Don't use your ID unless you have to, and
get it back here in half an hour.
Major Azeem Khalidi, said Anita.
Yes. Go.
She quickly stepped out of the door.
I'll get a team to Khalidi, said Farhat and he made for his radio.
Yes, said Dilshad.
No, wait. Sahel gripped Dilshad's arm and shot him a look.
Farhat we can't risk that yet. We might blow it. Let's wait till we
transmit Tehran our own picture for confirmation.
I can't wait on this, Sahel, said Farhat.
Please just for a while. But in the meantime you can have your
office check Khalidi's recent movements, If he's been anywhere
outside the country, just in case.
Okay, Farhat relented.
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Dilshad gave Sahel a quizzical look. Sahel just put his right
hand's first finger on the mouth, a Pakistani gesture that demands
patience.
During the next half hour, over a packet of cigarettes died and a
litre of coffee was consumed, but nothing of significance transpired.
Before Anita returned, Shaista made her first appearance since
her linking with the intercept transcripts. She limped slowly for her
arthritis was flaring and her lungs were as black as a coal miner's. She
was holding a single sheet of computer print.
Well, she croaked. There is only piece of any interest. Then
she looked at the round table, the cups and saucers. What's the
matter? You can't bring an old lady something to eat?
Yes, darling you can have anything you need to fill your tummy,
but what do you have in your hand. Dilshad said smilingly.
It's one item of some interest, a pickup from the Central Asia
station. It was an intercept of a telephonic request to Radio Kogon,
in Russian.
What? Sahel tried to be patient.
A Mr Dimitrov requested that station to broadcast a Christmas
song on three morning running. The song was 'Baby, please come
home, merry Christmas.'
So what's so strange about that? Farhat asked.
It's not even September yet, you policeman. Shaista added as if
she had spotted a cockroach.
On hearing the song title in English, Jahangir rose from his seat
and came over to the table. May I ask something? he said.
It's a wild card, as you might call it, Dilshad told him.
Possibly a coded message, a song called 'Baby, please come home,
merry Christmas.'
I could send someone to the American Cultural Centre to get a
copy of song, said Shahzad.
No need, Khaki overheard and said. I can just bring the whole
song for you in five minutes. I've heard it on YouTube.
Put it on the CD and play, said Sahel. And Jahangir, you please
listen the whole song and put it in writing. See what you can do with
it? You may take help of Khaki.
Yes, I do it, Jahangir responded.
There was a soft knock on the door. Dilshad rose and
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extinguished the lights while everyone else froze. Sahel checked the
peep-hole and admitted Anita, then flipped the lights back on. She
proudly handed over a coloured glossy of Major Azeem Dilshad.
Dilshad glanced for a while and yelled at Khaki.
Khaki just ran it to Tehran before it was too late.
Just the face, Dilshad continued, cover the uniform.
Jahangir appeared with a hand written paper of lyrics 'Baby,
please come home, merry Christmas.' I got this and now try to
break the possible cipher.
Jahangir's telephone rang. He answered it, listened for a while
then covered the mouthpiece and spoke to Dilshad.
It's my man in Washington, we duped the Frogs, but they really
don't have anything. However, our Satellite station does have one
item of possible interest, but they can't give it to us on an open line.
Dilshad thought for a moment. Can he telex?
Hold on, Jahangir turned back to the phone. Can you telex it?
Come on Danny, just give it to me in a simple One-Time. I don't
know; use your imagination for God's sake.
Dilshad waved his fingers and Tariq wrote his GRID modem
number on a pad and handed it over to Jahangir.
Yeah, now you're cooking'! Jahangir said into his phone; then
he recited the number for his co-worker in Washington. Encode it
and send.
Tariq switched back to his telex software and after fifteen long
minutes a paragraph of garbage appeared on the screen. Jahangir was
pacing next to Tariq's computer.
All right, said the American. It's like this. My boy says, 'Back
up the value of the last digit of Twin Tower year'. That was 2001, so
take each letter and back through the alphabet by a value of five.
Tariq saved the strange phrase on the computer and loaded a
word processing program. Then he pulled the enciphered message
and began its processing as told by Jahangir.
After a few minutes, he came out with a printout. Jahangir
smiled as he read the decoded transmission aloud.
HI NICK, THIS IS FUCKING RECENT INTERCEPT OUR
STATION A PHONE CALL TO MOTHER. Call Initiator, Major
Boris Yaakov, Recipient Colonel I. Mikhail of ES. QUOTE 'HE
CAN'T LAST LONG WITH THAT FACE THEY WILL EITHER
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PROMOTE HIM OR KILL HIM' END OF SHAREABLE INFO.


GOOD DAY.
Jahangir lowered his paper, Dilshad and Sahel stared at each
other.
Farhat responded to the crackle of his radio and picked up the
handset. He signed off and spoke to the room.
Major Khalidi has not been out of country in last six months.
Khaki appeared and put his right hand on the round table. He
was holding a piece of paper.
Tehran police responds to our communication. They have seen
the photograph and confirm that's him. That's the killer.
It wasn't easy task convincing Farhat to leave Major Khalidi alone
until something emerges to lead them for his pickup. The NSS agent
didn't believe that a Khalidi was a double or a mole, but he wanted to
pick him up for questioning, just the same.
Dilshad and Sahel delayed him for a break of ten minutes.
Dilshad, Sahel and Shahzad gathered in the Sahel's study room
where they conferred quietly in the silence of post-midnight
Islamabad. Then they asked Farhat to join them.
Another round of coffee and cigarettes was taken up and after
long debate they finally agreed that Farhat will do nothing about
Khalidi until 0900 morning at which he would be free to act as he
deemed fit. In the meantime they asked Farhat to accomplish
another difficult task.
Dilshad explained that a prisoner in Shore-Eye might still hold
the key to the Razmak case. He wanted Falkshair Khan transferred to
Islamabad and only a NSS man of Farhat rank could affect such
transfer and he would have to do so in person.
Farhat reluctantly agreed not bothering to cover his doubt. This
had better not be a wild-goose chase, he said as he packed up his
communication set.
I promise, I would invite you when goose is cooked, said
Dilshad.
As no more important task left or forthcoming from any
quarter, Dilshad ordered one and all to work on 'Baby, please come
home, happy Christmas.'
They did so until 0200 A.M and everyone was thoroughly
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drained. They produced a lot of phrases out of its lyrics but nothing
operational value.
Finally Dilshad gathered them all together in the lounge.
Well, he said. Good work. Wrap it up and sweep it. Don't
leave a scrap. Go home, get some sleep and keep your mouths shut,
ear open and mind working.
One by one the analysts and agents left the apartment. Jahangir
shook hands all around. He was promised a discreet post-operation
debriefing by Dilshad.
Shahzad was the last to leave. In the doorway he turned and
Dilshad and Sahel.
What you guys are up to now?
A few hours rest, we hope, Sahel answered.
Sure, Shahzad smiled over his pipe and left.
Alone now in the apartment, except for Amber, who had slept
peacefully through the entire rumpus, Dilshad and Sahel put up a
fresh pot of coffee.
Sleep was a luxury they would have to abandon.
______
It was just another late summer morning in Islamabad; the air was
still cool and moisture with the early morning brief rain shower. The
sun was peeping behind the small clouds on the violet sky paling to
blue. The branches of the trees were heavy with the dew-dampened
leaves and dancing starlings. However beginning of autumn can
easily be witnessed with the fallen yellow leaves on the streets.
In the eastern hilltop suburb of Rawal dam, Major Azeem
Khalidi stepped out from his small old-fashioned stone house, he
was wearing a crisply iron dress uniform, his black combat boots
highly polished and his Carrera perched on his nose to his straight
brownish black hair. The Islamabad summer had brought out the
freckles on both sides of his jaws and the stretched tissue of the
curved scar below his left eye was a souvenir of near fatal jeep
accident.
Khalidi carried the usual pile of rolled-up maps under his left
arm and with his right hand he cheerily swung the leather brief case
that never left his side. He stopped as he often did to take in the fresh
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scent of Askari Villa's red roses. Then once more thanking his lucky
stars for his career growth opened his small wooden alleyway gate
and strode toward his parked Suzuki Liana.
Khalidi stopped short as two men emerged from another parked
car and blocked his way. They were both in civilian clothes. He could
not see their eyes for their sunglasses, but they were polite as they
showed him their ID cards designating them as NSS Field Security
officers.
One of them asked him to confirm that he was Major Azeem
Khalidi from Planning and Logistics. Khalidi produced his own ID
and the two men asked him that they had been instructed to escort
him immediately to NSS HQ. When Khalidi asked the reasons for
the summons, the men replied in a typically fashion, This is a
matter of national security, and they produced a typewritten order
from the Commandant.
Khalidi wanted to take his own car. The officers politely declined
his request and he reluctantly joined them in their vehicle which
promptly sped off of parking lot of the Askari Villas. Yet the car
made left turn on the main Highway instead of right, which should
have been evidence enough
The men were not simple Field Security officers and Azeem
Khalidi was certainly not headed for Islamabad.
______

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Camp Tober Khan


Chapter 15
The Next Morning
Razmak Bilal was almost home. Through the whirling dust of a
NATO convoy he could see the arched mosques and minarets of
Camp Tober Khan, a small roadside village on G.T. Road, on his way
from Rawalpindi to Peshawar. The NATO convoy carried oil tankers,
containers and over-covered Hino trucks with tarpaulins stretched
for half a kilometre along the G.T. road dipping into a shallow bowl
of scattered shops and houses before rising toward the village.
Razmak had no other choice but to wait his turn for the
customary Pakistani road-blocks were out in force and there would
be no skirting for overtake at all. For years he had trained himself to
ignore emotions and disdain longing. Yet as he sat behind the wheel
of the car and stared out into the bright morning, he could feel his
heart began to swell within his breast.
Village Camp Tober Khan, a small haven where he had spent his
youth with his family as refugee, yet he never forgot the ambiance.
The village was an insignia to Afghans as their long-lasting shelter in
Pakistan. Once they were refugees in war against USSR, now they are
Pakistanis yet Afghans in their heart.
It had been fifteen years.
The line of vehicles began to move more quickly now, for most
of them were pickups and old cars beside the convoy's heavy wheelers
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and they would be quickly waved through at the checkpoint. The


traffic halted only whenever a suspected vehicle, identified by it
registration number was stopped and searched by the police. Most of
the villager's vehicles were inspected, their drivers and passengers
humiliated, no matter how polite and tactful the process.
Now that he was actually on the ground in Pakistan, wearing the
face of a respectable army officer, Razmak has to take some further
precautions. He maintained a large khaki casual, like army officers
do at sport time on the unit ground wearing sunglasses of the type
worn by helicopter pilots. The lenses wilted sufficiently to hide his
scar. Upon arrival in Islamabad he had quickly destroyed his
Pakistani Passport. Then he gambled out a bank ATM machine,
selected a proper citizen closer to his age who carelessly dropped his
wallet into an open shoulder bag and followed the man into a
crowded shopping Markaz where he wickedly pick pocketed the
precious ID cards like a professional thief.
He reached the checkpoint, four young armed policemen
surrounded the car, an officer no older than a college freshman
pointed at Razmak and motioned for him to stop on the left side.
Razmak slowed expecting to be questioned and search, but then
someone yelled, Theek ey! Theek ey! and by the added flurry of
waving arms he realized that he could drive on. He touched his hand
to his forehead in a thankful manner like a salute and pressed the
accelerator.
For some reasons, Razmak decided not to penetrate immediately
to the heart of the village. He felt the anticipation of someone being
reunited with an old acquaintance, he turned right off main school
building in the outskirt of village and cut over to a small semi-metal
road to Jamia mosque of the village.
The traffic was thin there, just the occasional car or pickup
common to all Afghan families. Razmak had to concentrate hard to
keep from driving off the road for his gaze was fascinated to the old
stone houses, shops and mosques that spilled up and over the small
hills to his right.
Boys in dirty dress chased soccer balls through the open areas in
between the shops. Razmak suddenly felt a stab of something in his
heart, an emotion that took him by surprise. Though he had
dreamed for years in exile for returning to the womb of his best days
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of youth, yet he thought he belonged to these people. He has spent


his youth fighting for them, killing for them yet they seem to have
done nothing to better them.
The image of himself as a returning hero brought on a renewed
surge of love for his fellow Afghans. This was where he belonged,
among his compatriots, side by side, liberating Afghans from the
grip of foreigners. Alone in the car with no one to witness his
weakness, he almost allowed the tears to well up and fall from his
eyes.
He parked the car in front of a Musafar khana, for to drive an
Islamabad registration car deeper into the town might draw undue
attention. He walked out of the square carrying only a slung camera
and headed east to the marketplace. Before he reached the small
shops and stalls, he cut south down a long stone big stairs and he
stepped out to the Kabuli street, he had to think for a minute, but
then he remembered and walked east along the road until it merged
with Gulanbagh.
Without even realizing it, Razmak was walking very quickly now,
his heartbeat growing faster his throat contracting in anticipation.
Would it still be there, the small stone house that had seemed like a
castle to him? Would the green nylon strings where his mother had
hung her wash still tied with the wooden electric poles in the front
yard? Would the sheep cage still be in the left side, its tarpaulin roof
still there, where Gulo had once jumped from the roof and broken
his arm? But what about the smells, would the air around his house
still be thick with the spiced lamb and yellow Kabuli Palau dishes his
sisters concocted?
And what of love, could a memory of love for his little brother
still permeate the atmosphere and then what of hatred? Was his
bitterness toward his father burned like a sign from Allah above his
doorpost?
There it was! He had found it! Yet he stopped short to just stand a
moment and look, he realized that he was not alone. He turned to see
a group of about eight Afghan boys, none of them older then twelve.
They also drew to a halt as he did, but their feet continued to move in
the dusty street. Some of them wore turbans. They all clutched stones
and small bottles in their hands and their murmuring voices were
unpleasant. The largest boy stepped forward.
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Ta sook ey? He demanded to know him in Pashto.


Razmak instinctively looked down at himself. He almost had to
laugh, for his disguise was working too well. In commando casual
with a camera on his shoulder and sunglasses, of course they thought
he was an intruder.
Suddenly the front door of Razmak's house opened and young
man in his early twenties stepped out. He was muscular beneath a
white sport shirt and when he saw Razmak and the boys his
expression revealed remote pleasure.
All at once misidentification was no longer humorous. What
could Razmak do, address them in fluent Pashto. The territories were
crawling with agents and informers. One could be observing him at
this very moment. What could he say to the young man and the
boys? I am the great Razmak Bilal, come to liberate you and this was once
my home and I only wish to touch it.
Alaka, chesh guadey, Kafir, (Man, what do you want, you
faithless?) the gang leader shouted at him in Pashto and assuming
that Razmak lack of response was fear, he stepped forward and spat
in Razmak's face.
Razmak reacted instinctively. He lunged for the boy with a growl
but he stopped himself in mid-action as he realized what he was
doing. In another moment, he would have to defend himself, he
would have to kill.
He turned and ran. The boys chased after him throwing stones
and empty bottles and cursing in Pashto. He slipped and fell as a
rock bounced off his back, the camera strap broke and the Canon
smashed against a rock.
Razmak got up and sprinted down to Kabuli street, stones
rocketing off the walls around him, bottles smashing, a few on his
back, across the street. He turned right and ran along a street that
curved back to Musafar-khana. The boys began to fall back as they
ran out of their ammunition for they had to stop and to collect more
stones yet they still followed him as he took the stairs to the
marketplace.
The momentum of the chase carried the pack of boys to the lip
of the square. But the Policemen on petrol had been serving in Camp
Tober Khan for a long time. They saw Razmak, the pursuing boys,
and acted quickly to quell the potential fight. Four of the young
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policemen immediately turned and charged for the northern


entrance and the boys flipped around and ran away.
Razmak leaned back against a parked bus, chock-full he bent
over and spat into the dust trying to catch his breath. When he
straightened up, a young policeman was offering him an open
canteen. He smiled at Razmak.
You should be more careful, the policeman said in Urdu. You
can't just wander around here. He shook his head and clucked his
tongue. Pakistani is not safe in his own country anymore.
Razmak looked around quickly and spotted a taxi. A Pathan
driver resting his elbow on the roof of the shabby taxi might be
praying for a passenger. It was too dangerous for him to remain out
in the streets. His broadcast from Kogon should have been running
for three days now and he had to have faith it has produced the
desired results.
This time he had the driver drop him only hundred meters from
his destination. Carrying an empty gym bag from the trunk of his
rental, he got out and began walking in the wrong direction, and as
soon as the taxi was gone, he doubled back and hurried along the
narrow street. Kirdi Shah was a small section of Camp Tober Khan
that relied on the skills of small ironsmiths, carpenters and others
skilled labourers. The air was filled with the craving smell of spin and
toor rosht, a famous lamp meat dish and tandoori nans coming from
the nearby restaurant still waiting for its customers. He found the
little wood shop easily as he had spent the afternoon of his
childhood at Jawar Khan's lathe. He did not fully expect that the old
man still lived but he was sure that Jawar would have passed on his
skills and his commitments to whomever inherited his business.
He knocked on the old shabby wooden door. From inside, the
slow crack of the mallet stopped and after a few moments the door
creaked open.
The old face was lined with hundred deep wrinkles, and the
beard and moustache white as goose feather and one eye half closed
and clouded with cataracts, yet there was no mistaking Jawar Khan's
once fierce and regal visage.
The old man stared at his strange visitor, looking him up and
down, eyeing his outfit and apparently deciding that he was a tourist
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or wholesale dealer.
Asalamualiakum, Jawar Khan's voice was as harsh as he could
make it. What can I help you?
Can I come inside Khan Baba? Razmak spoke in Pashto.
Jawar Khan pulled the door and let him inside.
Once inside, Razmak closed the door and leaned back against it.
Saa haal de Khan Baba? Razmak spoke again in Pashto.
The old man froze in his tracks. He did not move slightly, even
his breathing stopped. No one greeted him in that way nearly fifteen
years. Certainly no one had called him father using that particular
endearment.
Slowly the old man turned to face the stranger. He squinted
through his one good eye.
How are you, Baba? Razmak asked again. He reached up and
removed his sunglasses.
The old man had never seen this man before, but there was
something about his voice, and the words he choose. It was more
than likely that this might be trick, an agent of the secret agency sent
to entrap him. However, he would give nothing away. He edged a bit
closer and stared up into the stranger's eyes. The eyes were windows
to the soul. You could peel a man from his face, but you could not
change the truth in his eyes.
Ta souk ey? Jawar asked furiously.
If I say my name you will not believe me, said Razmak. But I
will tell you this that on the loop of your belt, you kept a silver watch.
The watch stopped working many years before but inside the cover
you had a picture of your daughter, Zara. Had I not left Camp Tober
Khan, perhaps I might have married her.
Razmak watched as the old man's eyes widened slightly. In the
drawer of your lathe table you kept a simple key. He pointed to a
small standing lamp in the corner of the shop. In the back of the
frame hung on the wall behind lamp there is a hole and inside the
hole you kept a box. In the box you saved wages for me.
The old man breath began to quicken and he fought the blood
that was draining from his cheeks. These things can be learned,
Jawar Khan spoke in quivering voice.
Yes, Razmak agreed. They are only facts, secrets between father
and son however can't be learned.
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Razmak lifted his shirt, pointing to a scar near his bellybutton.


Even this could have been created by a surgeon; whereas we know
that it happened when I did not heed your warnings and a pulled a
drill through a crucifix and you carried me in your arms all the way
to the Camp Hospital.
Jawar Khan's legs began to shake as he tried to battle the torrent
of memories. Even this, Yes Baba, even this could be learned but
can love is earned? Could anyone but you and I know how I loved my
brother Gulo? Can hate be learned? Could anyone on earth but you
know how I prayed each day for my father, though I hated his every
breath?
Razmak, my son? The old man cried.
Yes Baba.
Razmak? Jawar Khan staggered forward.
It is I, Khan Baba.
They fell into each other's arms, the old man's muscles nearly
crushing the breath from Razmak's body and he cried and kissed his
godson on his strange face.
You are home, Jawar Khan old eyes filled with water. I knew
you would come. Joy softened old man face wrinkles and his eyes
flooded.
BabaShhh, Razmak whispered and then laughed and joined
Jawar in his pleasure and he was hard-pressed to keep the old man
from running out into the streets with his news. In his own house,
Razmak was a stranger but here at the feet of his godfather he was a
conquering hero.
After a few bowl of hot Kehwa and an hour of recollection of
good past, the old man was finally to calm himself. Razmak alluded
to the many hours they would soon spend together for it would take
a week of nights to relay all of the adventures of fifteen years, but that
would have to wait. Razmak was working and he did not have much
time.
Jawar proudly confirmed that he had recently been visited by
'three wise men.' Razmak was pleased and he politely asked Baba for
the midday prayer at Jamia mosque. The mosque was at the village
centre and it would take Jawar some time.
Jawar Khan complied with proud pleasure. Your treasure is in
the hole, he said as he patted Razmak's cheek and made to leave.
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Baba, Razmak begged.


You know it, you did not say it, Jawar nodded and assured him.
I'll tell no one, I know it and today I am a happy mute.
Razmak locked the door from inside. It was already growing
warm in the shop. He stripped to his waist, carefully set Jawar's
current wood project aside and cleared the lathe bench until he had
moved it two meters to one side.
There was a small trapdoor in the floor, he pulled it open and
lowered himself into a black hole. He pulled small torch from his
pocket and lit it to see what he needed. His hands emerged from the
earthen foxhole placing a musician's case, plumber's tool box and
three huge water melons on the shop floor.
He lifted himself out and carried the objects over to the lathe
table and began his mastery hands into function. The mechanical
efforts did not take very long. When a man was weapon-trained by
professionals, his hands quickly become their own masters. His
fingers worked from a motor memory unconnected to intellect,
following a pattern that had been burned in their nerves by
repetition.
When he was done, he held a fully assembled Russian Rocketpropelled Grenade- 7D in his outstretched hands. It was a collapsible
antitank rocket launcher, a modification of the original RPG7,
retailored for the use of paratrooper forces.
Major Yaakov had arranged for Razmak to recover a high calibre
pistol from an agent in Peshawar. However Razmak was determined
to steer well clear of any potential trap that might be sprung by his
master. Though he had pretended to comply, he knew already on the
train in Kogon that he would never attempt to get close in for a pistol
shot. The RPG 7D would serve his purpose much better.
He checked the action as best he could. He unscrewed the two
halves of the launcher and placed them along with the rockets into
his gym bag. Still he was not a man to left things to chance, and he
knew that he would have to test fire the RPG at the earliest chance.
He replaced back the gutted melons, the musician empty case
and plumber box into the hole, closed the cover and pulled the rug
back into place. The he pulled the lathe table back into its place.
He pulled on his shirt, put on the glasses and thought that he
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should not let the Ancient man live, yet he also knew that he could
harm his godfather. He decided that he still needs the old man
though he wanted to be gone before Jawar reappeared. He hauled the
strap of his heavy bag on his shoulder. He realized that he could not
return to his rental car, for the police at the square might choose to
search him. Well, that was alright. The car made for the perfect dead
lead.
He examined his watch, the time squinting at the date. He had
less than 50 hours before the President would appear at the Parade
for the ceremony. And he still had much unfinished business to
conclude before that.
Sher Ali was still out there and Sardar Jagat Singh as well and the
Abagull.
Gulo's vengeance would be waiting for them.
______

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Chapter 15

Caf Almena
Chapter 16
Three days before
Sahel was now sure that he was going to military prison.
Sajid the young security guard from the office sombrely led the
way down the stairs from Sahel's apartment. Zawri had been smart to
send a familiar face; otherwise Sahel might have blown his head off
right through the door. Two 'gorillas 'from internal security
department covered the rear. The giants did not say anything and
they did not have to. Sahel could feel their imminent power.
Yesterday he had been suspended almost a de facto dismissal
from the service. Today he has been summoned to Headquarters and
the appearance of an armed escort did not promise well. Given his
participation in a renegade counterintelligence operation, he hardly
expected to receive a commendation. The Pakistani intelligence
system encouraged bold thoughts but implementation demanded
blessing of the superiors, but if you were bucking your superiors you
have to prove your action pure and brilliant and face the
misconduct.
Colonel Zawri compromised on everything short of blind
obedience.
Sahel was not shocked by the latest turn of events. He had half
expected it and he told Amber not to worry too much about him. He
then said goodbye, handed her his Browning and two full magazines
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and instructed her to shoot anyone who tried to enter the apartment.
But Sahel you know I have to go back to work, she had
protested waving the pistol with carelessness that made Sahel wince.
You are pregnant and you're not feeling well, he coached.
Your boss is a doctor, he'll understand it.
Half the damn country is pregnant, she continued to argue.
Please, Ambi please. Sahel voice somehow had a tone that
caused her sadly acceptance.
The silent plainclothes guards walked out into the bright
sunlight of Complex's parking lot as they headed toward a row of
cars, Sahel tried to break the mood.
So he is giving you something interesting, Sajid?
This is more like a punishment Sahel, said the young security
man. Believe me.
Sahel gave up the short discussion.
Colonel's private car was waiting with the engine running. It was
a long black old accord, driven by a war crony which was a sceptical
selection. All of men easily fit into the car though Dilshad was
taking up much of the backseat.
Ah! Dilshad clapped his hands as Sahel fell in beside him.
Prisoner Number Two.
You too Dilshad, Sahel smiled surprisingly as he tried to adjust
his stiff knee, So you're Number One, I suppose?
We are in the same leaky boat, Dilshad slapped him on the leg.
Save the Shakespeare for Zawri.
The car pulled out of the lot and headed up to the Headquarters.
You're in a bright mood today, Sahel grinned.
Well, it's a beautiful day, Dilshad replied and then he squeezed
Sahel's thigh, signalling his captain to keep quiet.
They rode rest of the way in silence. Dilshad smoked a cigarette,
the snuffed it out in a rear door ashtray. However, he then picked the
butt again and crushed it in his fingers and dropped the debris on
the floor of the car. One of the gorillas shot him a look. Dilshad just
smiled at him.
They arrived at the door of the Zawri office. Qadri pulled it over
wearing the expression of a firing squad commander. Two gorillas
took up the posts in the hallway, while Sajid excused himself after
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giving Sahel a shy apologetic look.


Colonel AK Zawri was standing in front of his large window, his
hands collapsed behind his back, his head angled downward as if he
were watching the side walk traffic on the road. His white shirt was
wrinkled and sweat stained, and the hair at the back of his head was
untidy and compacted to his skull. It looked that he has not taken
shower since ages. He did not turn when Sahel and Dilshad entered
the office.
His secretary was sitting at her dictation post next to his desk.
She looked up at the summoned officers and said, They are here
sir, as Qadri closed the door.
You may go now, Rabia, said the Colonel.
The girl was happy to be dismissed from her boss's high voltage
environment and she gathered her note book quickly and left the
room.
You too Qadri, the Colonel added.
The Aryan looking captain seemed not to have heard correctly,
for he just stood there without moving.
Yes Qadri, Zawri reiterated. That's what I said.
Qadri hurried out reluctantly after Rabia.
When the three men were alone, Zawri turned from the window.
His usual tanned and handsome features looked tired. His eyes were
bloodshot.
Did you think, I wouldn't find out? the Colonel asked quietly.
His voice has none of the blow of his frequent anger.
Sahel kept quiet waiting for a clue from Dilshad. But Dilshad
just lit up another cigarette and Sahel put his hands in his pockets.
There is no such thing as compartmentalizing from me, Zawri
said. From each other, yes. But not from me.
The Colonel walked over to his desk. With his fingers he touched
some papers, yet he did not seem to be really reading anything. Sahel
thought him somewhat sobered, drained of his usual bitter words.
Despite his own motives, Sahel suddenly felt somewhat ashamed like
an errant child standing before a disappointed father.
He was amazed at how quickly their effort had been blown. Who
had leaked it? Khaki? Impossible. Shaista? No, she is hard too. Tariq?
He is Dilshad's man. The NSS man would more likely double with
anyone than compromise to Zawri.
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Jahangir was certainly unknown person, yet Dilshad would not


bring him in unless he was absolutely confident. Anita was most
likely candidate. She could be easily frightened.
Don't bother looking for scapegoats. The Colonel seemed to
be reading Sahel's mind. You can't run a 'Pan ki Dukan' right under
my nose. He used a mocking term for running own business. It's
like your own son betraying you. You can smell it. There was
actually some hurt in his voice.
Sahel and Dilshad still said nothing. They were both somewhat
shocked by Zawri's tone of resignation and surrender. They had
expected an explosion, a screaming match and they were ready to
shout right back yet they were unprepared for this.
Zawri moved behind his desk and sat down. He poured himself
orange juice. One of his telephones rang and he looked at it and it
stopped. Rabia was smart enough to know when to interrupt.
The Kenya team has nothing, he said.
Sahel held his breath. Colonel Zawri was openly admitting an
operational failure. He wished he was recording the event, for he
hardly believed his ears.
Neither does Dar es Salam. Zawri finished the juice. He picked
up a pencil and tapped it on his desk without looking up. The
Colonel looked up at Sahel and he held its captain's gaze for a long
moment as he twisted the pencil. He could not come out and admit
that perhaps Sahel's Razmak theory had some merit.
Zawri then rose from his chair, he put his hands behind his back
again and he spoke as he paced slowly before the window.
I must ask you gentlemen about an additional matter and I
expect a truthful answer. He turned and faced his officers. An
officer posted at President House, Major Azeem Khalidi has been
reported as missing by his wife and co-workers. He failed to show up
to work today. I don't suppose you two know anything about this.
Sahel felt his heart began to race. He used every psychological
trick he had ever learnt to focus all of his energies on keeping his
blood pressure down and his skin cool. Getting Azeem Khalidi to a
safe house had been no small effort for him and Dilshad. They had
raced along the highway just to keep Khalidi from jumping from the
car. They had ultimately convinced the major that he was not being
hijacked by terrorists. Finally Sahel's rapid references of places,
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names army exercises and fellow soldiers from their mutual badges
served as proof to Khalidi that his escorts were bonafide in the
interest of his life and State.
What was that name? Dilshad asked with blatant innocence.
Azeem Khalidi. Zawri stared at the paid suspiciously, but they
have been trained to lie and he really did not expect to read anything
in their faces.
Does he have a girlfriend, Sahel asked.
Zawri waved the question off. So you know nothing about it,
he stated.
Sahel and Dilshad looked each other and shrugged. They wanted
Zawri to order all out search for Khalidi, but the idea had to be his
own. Dilshad did want him to ask for search.
Theirs is a standard intelligence drill for these things, Sir, he
said.
Sahel took his cue. He sounds like a sensitive asset. It could be
CTT snatch operation or even foreign element.
Zawri seemed not to hear. He walked back to his desk, sat down
and picked up an internal phone.
Get me liaison, he said. Then on hearing someone, This is
Zawri. That Azeem search I told you to set up? Now you have my go.
Contact all the necessary quarters and police and NSS people. Make
it country wide and get it moving quickly. He hung up.
Sahel let out his breath. He was tired of standing. He had not
slept much this morning and his knee ached. He limped over to the
couch, sat down and lit a cigarette.
I'll make an arrangement with you two, Zawri suddenly said.
As you well know, this is not the first time that I may have ordered
an operation to be conducted 'off premises.'
Zawri was hinting that he might allow Sahel and Dilshad to
continue their work. They listened, waiting for the other shoe to
drop.
It will also not to be the first time in the history of intelligence
work that an agent has been 'suspended.' He angled his head at
Sahel. Only to be asked to continue his task as a freelance.
Sahel smoked in silence.
I have the authority to bless your operation, Zawri said in low
voice. Or stop it, if I wish. If you can show me now, that you are
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being productive, I will reconsider it.


Dilshad turned and walked to the window. Sahel watched him
wishing he could read the Major's thoughts. Zawri's challenge was
really directed at Dilshad for the two ranking officers had equal
experience and length of service, while Sahel was too junior whose
career hung up in the air now. Dilshad would have to react carefully
now as Zawri could well be bluffing, entrapping the men into
revealing insubordination. Dilshad made a move that consigned
Sahel to the role of messenger.
Sahel, Dilshad ordered. Get NSS on the line and have them
patch you in to Major Farhat.
Sahel got up. Zawri gestured at a white telephone and Sahel asked
NSB's operator for NSS Headquarters. When he had Farhat on the
line, he waited for Dilshad's next instructions.
Ask him to check all red-flagged foreign passports from the past
three days.
Sahel relayed the message, and then he told Farhat that they were
in Zawri's office. He asked for the return call as early as possible.
The airport's immigration services in all the international
departures and arrivals in the country had mainframe server online
connected with the central directorate of immigration with daily
work backup data of foreign and native travellers so that passports
which had some alerts with the intelligence data available with the
immigration are segregated as 'Red-flagged' and reported to another
office who constantly make sure to check these passport's originality
and movements across countrywide.
After a few minutes, the phone rang. Zawri took the call himself,
which made Sahel's spine go stiff. The Colonel's conversation with
Farhat was all business. Mostly Zawri listened then he hung up and
recited the information.
Two passports are suspected, though cleared by machine at
arrival counters yet previous departure of such travellers did not
appear in the data. Zawri thoughtfully looked at both of them.
And one of them has been reported lost a couple of weeks ago in
London. I've asked Farhat to work on this passport and let me know
the outcome. Zawri leaned back on the seat.
You gentlemen must have work to do, he said as if Sahel and
Dilshad were lagging about. As you may be somewhat vulnerable, I
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will assign two baby sitters to you.


Sahel thought that Colonel just wanted to keep tabs on them. He
tried to wriggle out of it.
Sir, I'd much, rather you put them on Bano Abagull. As he said
it, the words confirmed his nagging fear for Bano's survival.
Unlike you, Zawri mocked, Bano can take care of herself.
Dilshad grabbed Sahel's arms and stopped him to frustrate the
whole deal. And both walked to the door.
And Gentlemen, Colonel said before they could exit. If you
find something, I'll take the credit, he assured them. And if you
don't, I'll have right to screw you up.
_______
Sahel and Dilshad conversing in Punjabi dialect which deeply
annoyed Sahel's babysitters and one of the giants actually spoke
Punjabi well, but the officers' exchange was purely in Siraiki slang
and encrypted references making it all about as incomprehension as
stones sound in the empty can. There was nothing the bodyguards
could do about it.
They moved along the corridor on floor two and then down the
stairwell to the main entrance. Dilshad squeezed Sahel's shoulder.
I'll be here, he said.
Sahel turned and bowed to his escorts. Take me home,
gentlemen.
They rode back to Sahel's apartment in a black Mitsubishi, the
two young toughs in the front seats, identical sunglasses, and big
arms hanging out the windows like college students in a carnival
bumper car. Sahel sat at the back and lit a cigarette. He only asked
one question.
Haven't seen you two before, you from Islamabad?
Jhelum, said the driver.
Sahel did not go upstairs. He wanted to, but he was not going to
pop in, see Amber for a minute, and then leave her again. He had the
keys to his Margalla in his pocket.
I'll take my own car now.
The babysitters jumped out of the Mitsubishi to join him. He
turned on them.
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Now folks, he said impatiently. We are not going to travel as


an entourage, like nervous internees.
But we are supposed to stay with you.
He stepped a bit closer, shaking his head and lowering his voice.
I am an ambush. A Target. He was improvising yet as he said it the
truth. He was exactly that, which was why Zawri wanted him
operating again. How do you expect me to function with you two
holding my hands?
We are supposed to stay with you.
So stay with me, Sahel got into the Margalla and started the
engine.
Just not too close.
The toughs made to run to their car.
Where to? The driver called to Sahel.
G-11, Sahel pulled his car out of the lot and within a couple of
minutes he vanished in the traffic leaving far behind the guards.
There was no sign of follow up. He sped over the first intersection
and turned to right to Caf Almena.
________
The Cafe Almena was situated on the Murree Road in the east of
Islamabad on the southern side of Islamabad Golf Club. The irony
of the shady avenue's name has never registered before, because Sahel
had not been in the cafe for many years. He had been recruited by
NSB, while he was still a paratrooper. Young Sahel in uniform.
They had met there several times while he was being vetted. So he
was back at the Almena. The cafe seemed much smaller now, though
it had around twenty tables arranged in cool darkness near a long
mirrored side bar, and there were twelve more tables on the sidewalk
beneath shiny red and while umbrellas. In his memory as with all
such things, it had grown into nostalgic good old days.
Roshna came in off the street. Her hair was open beneath a
woollen cap. She was very tan wearing a bell dark jeans and maroon
long shirt carrying a greyish leather shoulder bag.
Roshna pulled a chair close to Sahel and sat down. She looked
around and smiled, lifting her right hand up to call the waiter.
Two cappuccinos, she ordered and looked on Sahel
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approvingly and Sahel smiled in return. She grabbed her bag close
and pulled a pack of Rothman and showed it to Sahel. Sahel
wondered when she had started smoking and looked on her
quizzically.
It's for you Sahel, she smiled while She opened it and pulled
one and placed in her mouth. Sahel was watching her surprisingly
while she lit and gave it to Sahel.
Thank you very much, madam, Sahel took the cigarette and
smiled. Aren't you becoming somehow emotional?
She reached out to touch his hand, then hesitated and put her
fingers on the table. She looked at the white tap around two of his
knuckles.
What's that? she asked.
I'm still visiting Shimla House.
So getting prepared again, She laughed.
It was going dark. She pulled her chair facing the door more
close to Sahel. They both watched people passing on the sidewalk,
old grey fringed men, young mothers with prams. Some kids
running for just nothing. Natural exercise reserved in them.
This nostalgic return is very sentimental, Sahel. Isn't it? She
said like a wife suddenly discovering a bouquet of flowers.
I didn't know after how long you have been here? Sahel said
gazing in her eyes. I thought I owned the place. Me alone.
That's what we all thought about this place. Sahel smiled but he
was thinking about Karachi. Her skin in the moonlight, her cheeks
against his and her breath, all was another world now.
Let's walk, he said. He put some money on the table, and they
went out into the cool breezed evening, the fluffy breeze from the
Rawal Lake was like music in the back ground. They began to walk
toward southward on the sidewalk. The atmosphere was quiet and
highway was almost deserted by this time. Lake's cool breeze was
politely touching the nose and ears tips and whispering passed
movements. Both Sahel and Roshna hands into hands were striding
silently.
I'm leaving soon. Roshna's voice came from distant.
Good, he said. He knew it must be a mission. Hopefully it
would take her very far away for a long time, safely into a lesser
danger.
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Bano, you know, Cobra is here.


What do you mean here? she almost whispered. Cobra was a
code name for Razmak Bilal within these two field agents. No one
else had the idea of Cobra.
Yes, here, Sahel said.
Roshna said nothing for a few moments. They reached at the end
of the street. Bano seemed quite upset.
Let's back, she said and they both turned. Sahel told her
everything, some of it in Urdu, Punjabi, and English. When he got to
the part of Captain Tanveer Ahmad and Sri Lanka, she took his hand
and squeezed it and she did not let go. The telling made his heart
beat faster, bringing the truth up, looking at its danger in the passing
lights of city night. Their coupled palms were slick with sweat. At last
they were back at Almena.
It is him, she said finally having juggled all the pieces of Sahel's
story. But I am not so sure he's inside.
He is inside, Sahel said.
It is not hard evidence, Sahel. Penetrations happen every day.
No one has a description to go with the passport.
It's him, I'm telling you.
Why? Her voice rose a bit. Anger or maybe panic. Why does it
have to be him?
Sahel stopped walking and turned to her, left her hand and
looked direct into her eyes. We are all gone Bano. Everyone outside
is dead now, Faizi, Barat Khan, and Baba Feroz. Shabana is under
lockup wherever she is. Now it's just you, me and Sardar. We are all
here. Where else would he want to be?
But why, Sahel? The man is a professional. Why would he want
it?
He looked down at her, the eyes so wide and beautiful. He
suddenly hated it all, his service, and his superiors. She should have
been married, carefree and enjoying her life and youth. She should
have been happy somewhere.
I don't know, Roshna. Sahel was looking at the far end of the
highway. He didn't want to face Roshna. He had become
sentimental. How had you come over here? Are you staying night
over here or would go back?
I was dropped by one of the Dilshad's man and still I don't
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know my departure back to Lahore. They wanted me to have briefing


before I proceed. So it may be tomorrow and after that I'm free to go
back. Roshna sad voice echoed in his ears.
Bano, he tried to say something. Bano, but he could not find
words to say goodbye her.
Let's go back. I'll drop you. Suddenly Sahel composed his
emotions. He did not want to see Bano frightened anymore. And
hands into hands they strode toward Sahel's car. Sahel opened the
front passenger door for her and she sat silently in the seat. Sahel
banged the door and turned to the driver's side. He ignited the
engine. A roar and then smooth sound of the engine foiling the pin
drop silence in the car. Sahel felt himself surrounded by his ghost
passengers. He had gut feeling that meeting with Bano would not be
lasting anymore.
He saw her then, as she would look soon. He tried with all his
might to remember her face. He was almost thankful that she came
to see him. His one hand on the wheel and other on the gear lever
when he felt a soft and trembled hand sat on his left hand on the
lever. It was warm and sweaty.
Sahel, are we going to die? tears began to well up in her eyes.
What difference does it make? What difference?
Yes what difference? she was almost sobbing.
Vibrator's sibilant sound hissed in the Sahel's trouser. Sahel
quickly pulled his cellular phone out of his pocket and saw the
identification. Oh, not this time. He let the bell rang. He looked at
Bano and then hesitantly responded the phone. He held the
instrument in the air so that Bano could also hear the voice.
Boss, Sahel answered.
I've been trying you there for an hour, it was Dilshad. You'd
better get back here now.
Right. Sahel switched of the line.
Sahel had never seen her cry, her restraint a horrible curse cast by
her dead parents. Yet now her tears welled, they ran over across her
pink cheeks.
He wanted to come to her, to hold her again, to be lost. But it was
past. He was thinking again. He had lied a thousand times, but
perhaps the only good thing left to him to be true with Amber, the
one good thing at least.
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I want you to go under, he said. His voice was hoarse. He


corrected himself in seat.
I can't. She straightened her legs. I'm leaving soon.
Go on in, he said desperately, Until this is over.
She tilted close to Sahel. The wisps of her hair sticking to her
cheeks, she moved more close and kissed him on the cheek and got
out of the car.
Hey, get in, He yelled from the window. Come on, I am going
to drop you.
She did not replied, just turned, stopped for a moment and
waved her hand in goodbye gesture and vanished behind the flowers
hedgerow.
______

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Back to Capital
Chapter 17
Next Day afternoon
He left the Jawar's house and looked for a caf. It was a careful
selection; he finally settled in the corner on the carpet lay for the
customers, pulled a big red pillow behind his back and settled
leaning on the pillow. He rested his bag alongside and looked
around for someone to attend. A man was watching him standing
behind the kettle stand. Lot of kettles with boiling water sat on the
red burned embers containing black tea ready to serve to the
customers. A big portrait of King Zahir Shah of Afghanistan was
hanging on the wall. Razmak smiled. Owner seemed to have imperial
mind. Razmak waved his hand to him and he hurriedly approached
Razmak.
Razmak being the only customer at this hour spoke with the
owner in Pashto. When he was reasonably sure about the man, he
suddenly offered him five hundred rupees note to go and fetch the
taxi for him. However he did not forget to order him black tea in the
meantime.
The proprietor served him with the black tea, a kettle in the small
round tray with some crystalloid small pieces of sugar and glass of
water and left the hotel waving him to wait until he comes back.
Within fifteen minutes, the man returned along with the car. It
was white Corolla, a bit old model yet seemed maintained.
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With the RPG in the bag Razmak settle in the front seat and
slowly scanned the driver's appearance. He wanted to be sure that he
would not make some stupidity while going back to Islamabad. He
was satisfied and asked him to move. Rozi Khan, as the driver told
his name, was a young man and wearing shabby shirt over a loosely
fitted trouser. He was the perfect choice for him.
Have you been Islamabad ever? Razmak just started gossip to
weigh Rozi Khan.
Almost daily, sometime twice, Rozi replied quizzically.
Good, then you might know some good guest house around.
Razmak asked.
Yes, many, Rozi Khan was typically shrewd young man like
Pakistani taxi drivers. It depends how much you can afford to pay.
He was smiling.
That's great. Razmak showed his interest. So you also might
know someone for rent a car for two days without driver. I want to
fetch documents from embassy and you know they don't allow
drivers unless a good identity. Razmak now came to the point. I'll
pay enough.
You got it; I know one guest house here. His manager is my
friend and very cooperative person. Rozi excitedly revealed his
friendship.
And what about the car?
You can always keep this one, mine. Rozi Khan in a sense was
looking forward to a good customer with plenty of money out of
this deal.
Do you have its documents? Razmak wanted to be sure to avoid
any trouble.
Yes, it's in my uncle's name, said Rozi. But you don't worry;
he is a dead man now. I'm his only heir.
That was a dead lead. Razmak thought and pulled out a few
thousand rupee bills and handed over to Rozi Khan. Keep this for
an advance. He knew that he is not going to stay anywhere, yet he
wanted the car desperately and now he got it.
Rozi Khan took the bills and put them into his shirt's pocket
quickly. Both were satisfied.
They had already left Camp Tober Khan behind and now
crossing the intersection of GT Road on their way back to Islamabad.
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Morning traffic congestion was rising at this hour. Razmak already


had noticed a long queue of NATO empty trawlers and oil tankers
going back to their destinations. Another short queue of passenger's
buses and cars on the check post were hurling themselves for their
clearance. Razmak thought the plan to be perfect a work of political
catastrophe and aesthetic vengeance. Prior to his appearance on the
roof of Scion Hotel Tower on 6th September, he had to go before for
Bano Abagull. As for Sher Ali and Sardar JS, they have to know it
before they are dead.
Escape? It was not likely. However, it was matter of only half an
hour drive. He has to get back soon. How long could he hide in the
Jawar Khan's house. He decided that he could survive it for a very
long time once he reached back to Camp Tober Khan. He could hide
there for a long time with Baba's blessing. Only eating and drinking
and watching TV and no visitor.
One year, he decided. I can live with Baba for whole one year.
He raised his head. His face was clean, his cheeks healthy with
the scar of thin rubbery flesh. His hair was not perfect but it was free
of dust and the curls glistened. There was no paper towel anywhere,
so he extended his hand beneath the seat and found a rolled cloth.
He pulled that piece of cloth from there as he knew the common
habits of Pakistani taxi drivers who normally keep some cloth for
cleaning their cab. He rubbed his face and hairs with perceptibly a
clean corner of that cloth and smiled watching himself in the rear
view mirror of the car.
Earlier he had two options, one designed by the ES to enter into
the niche of army officer around the Target bearing this face as he
was briefed by them. Another was to operate himself with his own
game plan. The former was too cluttered and bore too many risks at
the earlier stage which Razmak had no convincing edge to go with.
He was always a man of his own style and was used to operate alone
without any additional risks which made his successes meaningful.
Sir, aren't you Major Azeem Khalidi. The voice came from the
window.
Razmak froze. They had already reached the check post and one
young police officer leaning over the window looking inside the car.
Razmak got out of the Corolla and stood straight relaxed with a
look of pleasure to be recognised as Khalidi.
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Hope everything going fine here, Razmak asked the officer.


Yes Sir, Officer seemed impressed. Sir, hope you are okay.
Why? I'm fine. Don't you see me?
Sir, the whole goddamn force looking for you, said the officer,
obviously pleased now that he had made his catch of the day.
Razmak's mind began to race through his options, like a
computer speed-probing a data bank. What did this mean? Why
would they searching for Khalidi? He hadn't touched the officer yet.
Had Major Boris Yaakov blown him for some reason? That made no
sense at all. Yaakov's primary mission was still untouched. Play it
out. See what happens.
Razmak shook his head in annoyance. Can't a man meet his
fianc in peace in this country?
The officer laughed. Sir, can I do something for you?
No thanks, I'm in hurry, said Razmak in a commanding tone.
Sir, this is my visiting card with my contacts. Officer quickly
pulled his valet from the back pocket of his trouser and gave a
visiting card to Razmak in a Pakistani fashion. I'll come to see you
someday.
How long you been here, Razmak kept the tone of a
commanding officer yet with style. Are you satisfied here?
Sir, I want to be posted at my village, the officer almost begged.
He never knew that such a fortune will knock his door unexpectedly.
Okay, I'll ask some of my friend to accommodate you. Razmak
shook hand with him.
Now get the way clear quickly. Razmak ordered and got back
into the car.
The officer hurriedly escorted the Corolla and yelled at the man
sat on the big steel barricade to lift up for clearance of this car.
Now quickly get out of this, Rozi.Razmak said to the driver.
Someone was on to him, already.
As they drove, he reworked his plan, laying out options,
dismissing some, predicting reactions, countering them. In his mind
he had lay out a timetable hour by hour sparing no seconds, placing
actions into slit yet budgeting with space to manoeuvre.
________

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Satgari
Chapter 18
Four Hours Later
The warm dark brown painted steel guardrail on the pathway of
the Jacob compound has turned cold with the chill of the
evening. The yellow and red bougainvillea flowers had aesthetically
climbed around the old pillars was reflecting drops of the dew like
pearls under the compound's white spotlight. The compound was
almost deserted and the NSB security guards in dim light beneath
the shed were moving like some ghosts in front of the flames and
smoke of the firewood they had lit to warm their bodies. The
rhythmic sound of the Squad's steps broke the silence of the
compound.
They walked across the compound, heading southwest from the
SpecOp building. They crossed the education department toward
the Police Station prison in the far corner of the compound. The big
parking lot was nearly empty except a few cars probably for long
parking held in this hour and lamps installed threw yellow light on
them.
Sahel shivered as he walked. The stiff breeze that rustled cedar
leaves bringing hints of an early autumn chill. Dilshad stripped off
his leather jacket and draped it over Sahel's shoulders. Sahel did not
resist, concentrating on the pile of papers in his hands, squinting to
see them as Dilshad briefed him while giving to him.
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This one is from the Directorate General permitting temporary


transfer of the prisoner. Dilshad pointed the white paper beneath
Sahel's thumb. And this one is a request letter from the NSB stating
that the prisoner will only be moved across the compound for
interrogation. So you have better not lose him.
It looks like Zawri's signature. He said but when no reply came
forward he said. Is it?
Boss is no longer concerned with our methodology, Dilshad
said, escaping the issue of forgery. He needs results.
Sahel groaned as his toe caught a crack on the pathway. Tariq
reached out for his elbow and kept him from going down.
Be careful young man, Shaista laughingly whispered. Try not
to break the other leg for a day or so. She coughed from behind
him.
The squad moved across the high cedars, whispering to each
other beneath the great shadow of the education building in the
moonlight.
Falkshair Khan was now sitting in a solitary cell below the
holding pens of the police prison. He could not know that Sahel
Farhaj was about to encounter him, and Sahel was not even wholly
convinced that Falkshair would cooperate with him.
There is something more, said Dilshad. Tell Sahel about the
intercepts, Shaista.
The old woman was already struggling with her cough and was
almost breathless.
Last night I asked our friend Farhat for the Capital's dailies,
she said. She was coughing, a hand on her chest and the other one
still holding a half burned cigarette.
What dailies? Sahel asked. You mean the local newspapers.
No, my young fool. She had to stop for a moment while she
coughed up. I mean the regular intercepts.
What kind of intercepts? Sahel was familiar with the standard
intelligence work but most of his force was not domestic and he had
been out for it for some time.
As per law NSS has a program. It is random intercepts of
landlines. Every night a midnight shift transcribes the tapes onto
computer and then you can run a quick search for names, times,
codes... you know.
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Well, finally they have come to our century. Sahel said. Shaista
had been doing this work since years but it has been a primitive
operation.
We had asked for last week's files, Shaista continued, and put
in a search for our own code names related for Razmak by our
domestic and international agencies.
Then? said Sahel.
Shaista wiped her jaws and then continued on. Only one thing
came up. Four days back a local Pashtu speaking person got an early
Christmas greeting on his phone. There was no conversation, just
one side spoke and hung up. She reached into her pocket and
pulled out a paper slip. Here is the name and he is not Christian.
Sahel put the slip into his shirt's pocket without reading it.
One of our teams is on the way to watch this house, said
Dilshad.
But why NSS, can't we do it ourselves? Tariq somehow had
some professional jealousy.
Because they are legally authorised, said Dilshad. But they
can't move further beyond their authorisation.
So you want them to do half the work, but not to take any credit
afterwards. Sahel felt sorry about them.
And one more thing, Sahel, said Dilshad. The team was
nearing the police station prison now, so they slowed their pace and
lowered their voices even further.
Now I want you to bargain with Falkshair, said Dilshad.
If only, I could.
You can, you can make him an offer.
Can I?
You can deal.
Sahel thought for a moment. For the first time, someone had
something to offer Falkshair, something that could persuade him to
talk. Yet Sahel did not want to make false promises. In order to make
him believe he had to believe his own words. Falkshair was too smart
to buy his false commitments.
Anything within reasonable part, I'll back you. Dilshad was
confident.
Thanks.
I know, you have left your pistol with Amber.
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Sahel lifted his shirt and the leather jacket. A HK P30 glittered in
the pole's light, A donation.
So it's true what they say. Dilshad patted his shoulder. You are
a charity case.
Sahel smiled as he began to pace again. He realized that he was
proceeding alone, when Dilshad stopped him with a hiss.
Just one more thing.
Sahel turned. His team stood in the darkness, watching him and
measuring him. They seemed a sad family with no choice but to pin
their hopes on Sahel.
Farhat has set Falkshair up for you pretty well, Dilshad
whispered, making him all clear that now the Sahel is the only
person who can help you. Farhat had two men with him while he was
brought down from Shore-Eye.
Sahel nodded assessing his own psychological tactics.
Good Bye and best of luck, Dilshad said.
Good luck, said Tariq.
Shaista coughed and waved her hand.
Sahel turned and headed for the police station.
_______
The motorway was well lit, but once they left motorway from Chakri
interchange towards Talagang road there were only the yellow lamps
of Sahel's Margalla. Sahel's did not want Falkshair to know their
destination. He had something else in his mind until they reach
more close to Chakwal.
It was cold inside the car and both men were crouched down
inside their leather jackets. For a long time, neither men spoke. Sahel
had informed Falkshair quite simply that he would shoot him if he
tried to escape. The warning was somewhat unnecessary as the
Falkshair wrists were cuffed by short connecting chain. He could not
grab the steering wheel nor could do much damage with his feet.
Falkshair was sure that the man would stop somewhere and torture
him. He assumed that Sahel was a NSS man who had a reputation for
creative interrogation.
They had been driving since Islamabad more than an hour and
Sahel had worked hard to keep his peace. He wanted Falkshair to
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think and to feel the open road, a small amount of liberty to see his
own cities and people. He wanted Falkshair to sense the warm
proximity of his own. Sahel kept the radio off, the heater silent and
windows slightly opened as not to dilute the discomfort and to let
the dreams of his village fill the car.
I know what you are thinking, Sahel finally spoke in Urdu.
Falkshair said nothing. He continued watching the darkened
shapes of unbending mountains. I know you speak Urdu, but if you
prefer I can talk in Pashtu. Sahel said in Pashtu.
Falkshair still said nothing though he turned his head away to
watch a by passer small tractor trolley with a load of villagers
probably coming back from the evening wedding ceremony as both
bride and groom were sitting together with young girls around them
singing and drumming.
I know what you are thinking, Sahel repeated patiently.
What I'm thinking? Falkshair almost murmured.
You are thinking just what I would be thinking in your place,
A moment of silence, And what is that? said Falkshair.
That I am taking you to some safe house where we'll torture you
and that I might shoot you and then throw you somewhere in the
hills before dawn.
Silence was still prevailing. Sahel glanced sideways and surprised
to see the patience of Falkshair. Then he looked Falkshair as was he
anticipating some answer.
Safe house is funny word for this part of country. He finally
spoke.
Yes, it's the wrong word. Sahel said. But still none of those
things will happen.
Then what will happen? Falkshair had been dealing with these
people for a long time. He had no reason to believe.
I am taking you home, Falkshair. Sahel disclosed finally.
As he said it, he felt a sudden change in the atmosphere. He saw
Falkshair's body more stiffened, his head reaching back just slightly.
For him it was a joke of the century as Sahel could read his face.
To Satgari, your village, your home and to your people, Sahel
was reading his face. Falkshair's eyes first became dark and then
slightly glistened with longing. This time, it's just a visit. Sahel
leaned back on the seat and then he fired the best shot. But I can
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make it permanent.
Their eyes met and locked. Falkshair shifted in his seat. He
looked at his hands cuffed and said. I am listening.
First of all, I'm not NSS man, Sahel said. Yet I am also not a
simple analyst as I had said to you earlier in Shore-Eye. Sahel did
not want to rush it. He reached to his jacket's pocket and pulled out
pack of Rothman which reminded him of Roshna. Keeping the pack
on his lap he pulled a cigarette and lit with the car lighter and offered
to Falkshair who politely denied the offer.
How can you get me off? Falkshair whispered.
We have just received a piece of vital information. It pertains to
Ambassador's killing. Sahel did not disclose the case as they all
knew it by code name ISD 3355.
As it was customary with major government prosecution
agencies especially Pakistani police when they go for registering a
case they probably include every name they think might be involved
and then under the course of investigations they start dropping one
by one even a few on their own behest. So in ISD 3355 Razmak Bilal
was not only held accused, as a matter of fact most of his aides were
taken into account including Falkshair. However, the conviction
that had sent him up for life was one of the mass murders at a bomb
blast in Rawalpindi.
We have convicted you in mass murders but actually you are
still waiting conviction in Ambassador killing case which now
through that piece of vital information which we have received only
Razmak Bilal is involved in it and not you. I know you were not
involved in Ambassador Case but you delivered the bomb in
Rawalpindi case. Am I correct?
Falkshair Froze. He imagined the tape recorders in the car, the
microphones, and the gadgets might be recording all of his
confessions before he reaches Satgari.
Falkshair kept silent.
Well, said Sahel. Our two top most agencies are convinced
that you could not have done it. Sahel waited for a moment then
continued. As you couldn't have been in Islamabad for at least two
weeks before the incident, they confirmed that you were in Kabul
managing your family members return back home whom you had
sent them there.
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Am I correct? Sahel said.


The handcuffs trembled. Falkshair laced his fingers together
gripping them to keep his hand from shaking. He was hearing the
defence that he could have never used but it was all true. He had not
been even included in the initial planning of Ambassador Case
We know this is true whether you admit or not. Sahel pressed
on.
Sahel stopped talking and as the road took sharp turn over small
hilly zigzag. He concentrated, reviewing what he had just said to
Falkshair. He wanted him to think now.
Cigarette please, Falkshair croaked.
Sahel lit a fresh one and placed in his mouth. Falkshair drew in
deeply and blew out a long stream of smoke.
So, Falkshair said. He was not admitting anything yet the
question he posed had a great deal. Are you Prosecuting Attorney in
this case?
I can get you off from here, Falkshair.
How can you? I don't believe it.
Listen carefully Falkshair, It's not me alone. It's my department.
I'm only a messenger.
Which Department?
It doesn't matter. Sahel tried to convince him. We are
country's top most security agency. I can make this deal.
Falkshair thought for a moment. He could talk and something
good might happen even if nothing happened, he could be sent back
to Shore-Eye. How much did it really matter? After all just as the man
said, he was only Razmak's aide.
What do you want? Falkshair asked.
Help, said Sahel.
What is the price?
Your freedom.
It was now very clear; Falkshair thought and made up his mind
to speak.
What do you want to hear? Falkshair facial expressions
softened first time.
Razmak Bilal is among us. Sahel explained straightforwardly.
He is somewhere in the country and he is running a mission. At least
part of his mission is to kill a few men of our agency besides a few
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others.
To kill your men? Falkshair was not buying it. So this is only to
save your people?
And others too. Sahel replied.
But why?
I don't know exactly.
I don't believe it, my friend. Falkshair said. Unless you give
me something how could I be able to give you back?
Once I had tried to arrest him, but we had a set back and
returned home failed. Sahel tried to give him small piece of the
information.
In Kabul back in 2003, I suppose? Falkshair picked up the
cigarette pack with cuffed hands and pulled one and placed in the
mouth. Sahel pushed the cigarette lighter for him and when it was
ejected, he lit it. He took a drag and leaned back on the seat,
Hum...now I understand.
Now it was Sahel's turn to be silent. He was torn inside. He knew
it that to gain something he had to give him some of the
information. Yet every bone of him was aching at the idea of
exposing an operation to the enemy.
Was it Kabul City Centre in March 2003? Falkshair asked
again.
Yes. Sahel said.
Sahel turned the car sharply to the right on the side road leading
to Satgari village. In a while they would come to another highway
which would be taking them directly to Satgari almost a few
kilometres away now, a house of his aged parents, sisters and brothers
and relatives.
Do you really know why Razmak wants you and your men?
Falkshair whispered.
No, said Sahel.
Then listen carefully, Falkshair Khan straightened up in the
seat. He took a long drag of cigarette and paused for a moment. I'm
going to assume that you are an intelligence Officer, not just a man
of agency as you pretend. If you will do the same for me, then we can
dispense with flimsy denials for the sake of the play.
Sahel remained silent just nodding his head once. He was
gripping the wheel hard, waiting. He thought he could be facing a
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great truth, maybe.


Falkshair continued.
All right, you say you were trying to arrest Razmak in Kabul
City Centre, whereas Razmak don't think so. He paused for a while
and then continued. He says you were after him to kill. Anyway I
assume that you are correct as you said. Even if this much is true as
you said, you are a special team member from NSB.
Sahel kept quiet and hard on driving wheel. He didn't even give a
gesture or expression in agreement. He was simply silent.
If it's true that you are man from NSB, then you already know a
great deal about Razmak Bilal. However what you don't know is the
most important part. The part that might get you killed.
Sahel realized that Falkshair was still bargaining and building his
own case. He certainly had the right to do so, so Sahel kept silent,
letting this man tell it in his own way.
Razmak made confused all intelligence agencies of your
country and some of the western for many years. We knew that some
of the agencies called him Flying Cobra. He has all the cobra instincts
in him. He eats other snakes and build a cell for her female to feed
her and keep her eggs grow in the nest and could never be caught
easily. The victim of his bite is never survived. Falkshair paused for
a while. And my friend, he has never failed in his missions. He
ended most of the small terrorists' cells and got respect in the
community. We are proud of him. He is sighted in your country and
did his mission in Kabul.
Sahel just listened. No comments at all.
He was photographed at Nairobi by CIA in the evening and
same evening he was interviewed at Kabul by one of your journalist
who swore that Razmak was in Kabul since many days. That's why
he was named as Flying Cobra. Most of your country's journalists
have had him in contact and made headlines.
Having set the stage, Falkshair smoked for a moment. Sahel felt
strange pressure built in his chest. He knew it was coming yet he
didn't know what was it?
Did you know that Razmak had a brother? Falkshair asked.
Sahel wanted to say something, but he didn't do so. His throat
was thick and his breath laboured. Yes, it was in the record that
Razmak has had one brother, who had died in the refugee camp
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somewhere in Afghanistan.
Gulo was his name, Falkshair continued. In 1989, Razmak
took his brother with him to Uzbekistan when he left his father after
killing afghan soldier to prove himself against his father Basher Abu
Razmak Bilal, who at that time was elevated as minister in
Najibullah's Government. A last Russians backed President of
Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. But he was afraid that his
father's men might find him someday and harm his beloved brother
Gulo. He was enough clever even then. He made 'Gulo' died. There
is a false grave near Kogon.
Sahel was a bit lost now, though temporarily relieved that
Falkshair was anyway making a background for last sentence.
So a brother, said murmured.
Yes, a Gulo was alive of course. Razmak had sent him to
London. In the nineties after Razmak's first successful blast in
Rawalpindi, he began to gain a reputation in the community.
Democratic Northern Alliance had started funding money to him.
DNA also gave him security covers when asked. He gained power and
fed Gulo for all his necessities. Falkshair said. Are you following
me?
Sahel nodded silently.
We were all amazed, all of us. Gulo was four years younger than
Razmak, but it did not show at all. They could have been twins. He
was not a fighter, Gulo. He was just a sweet, handsome rather simple
young man, a bit even literary mind. Book reading was his passion
like his father. Falkshair's voice changed. He had fallen in the
nostalgic memories with sorrow. At first Razmak resisted the idea of
this trick, but we convinced him for that. We set up a system of
guarding Gulo that seemed foolproof. Razmak kept him happy. He
gave him everything he needed. Gulo was living like a prince. All he
had to do to show his face on occasion, on the right place and the
right time.
Sahel's throat was dry now and he felt thirsty. He was trying to
concentrate on the driving, yet his palms were now slick with sweat,
the wheel slipping. He rubbed his right palm with the seat cover and
pulled a small bottle of water from beneath the seat and gulped it in
one go.
But Gulo was hard to control. Razmak really loved him, let him
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get away with such facilities, and spoiled him. We were all careless.
Falkshair's voice suddenly weakened. The confession of a guilty
guard, rather than a convicted terrorist, was made. It got away from
us in Kabul City Centre. He bent his head to his cuffed hand and
rubbed his eyes by his thumbs. Muhammad Zahir was just a cover
name. Falkshair said as he leaned back on the seat.
Whosoever, you are my friend. May Allah help you? It was Gulo
who was killed in Kabul City Centre by you people.
Sahel suddenly slammed the brakes and car skidded, the rear
wheels slipped in the dusty shoulder. He straightened it up, hard grip
on the wheel and stopped the car. He sat there for a while, frozen,
trying to catch his breath. Yes, of course, why he hadn't thought this all. It
had to be something like that. Razmak was a professional, a stone
killer. Only something so personal has driven him to such hostility.
What a fool he had been. Sahel understood it now clearly that Gulo's
death though in a result of Uzbek's firing, has driven Razmak's
vengeance against NSB and its team members. It was a conspiracy
succeeded by ES.
Sahel's remorse at Zahir's killing was always there, yet he never
knew that the victim was his enemy's brother. Sahel also understood
now that why the identification was misread by them. He felt a
strange pain in his heart that he loved his brother, a sorrow that
joined with Razmak Bilal. For together they have been responsible
for his brother's death. Razmak Bilal was himself driven by guilt, a
truth that he could probably never flush from his soul no matter the
rivers of Pakistani's blood he flooded on their soil.
After a while, Sahel began to drive again slowly now as he did
not trust himself. He drove the car amid shadows of deadly silence.
Then he broke it and asked Falkshair in his shaky voice.
Then what happened after that?
Well I know that you people had some difficulties, said
Falkshair. One of you was captured by Afghan Police.
Yes.
Were you wounded there? Falkshair looked down at Sahel's leg.
He had noted the limp.
A chase team shot on us.
Uzbeks. We used them sometimes, courtesy of ES. But I'm sure
that you know that.
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Yes, if they were your men, then who shot up on Gulo from the
building.
From the building? We never knew that, said Falkshair. What
we had investigated later revealed that your people killed Zahir
Bilal.
You know us well, said Sahel. Razmak knows our limitation.
We are not authorised to kill someone under Law of our country while
carrying out our operations unless a fire against us. We were
following Razmak since many weeks from Middle East and we
wanted him to arrest live so that we could assert and prove our claims
in the western and local media. Dead Razmak was of no use for us.
They were never our men and you know it very well too. We never use
these types of weapons. In that accident a few other by-passers were
also wounded I suppose. We are trained and professional combat
soldiers and we do surgical operations without hurting anybody else
if we wish to. And in this case we were operating silently since long.
How could we turn this arrest into a fiasco? And if we had succeeded,
you people might have witnessed Razmak's disappearance for years,
until we disclose it publically. Sahel paused for a moment.
This time it was Falkshair's turn to be shocked. His face turned
pale. Like Razmak and his cell, he too was convinced that NSB's
cover team has shot Gulo from the building. Falkshair was a close
aide to Razmak and he knew Razmak's vengeance after this killing
although he had lost contact with Razmak but he knew Razmak
since many years. They were all convinced that they wanted to kill
Razmak so they had another team in the building to avoid their own
direct indulgence in killing. Now the picture was clearer for
Falkshair himself. He suddenly realized and felt regrets for their
wrong judgement.
What happened to Razmak after that? Sahel asked Falkshair.
The Russians picked him up.
For what?
Training. Falkshair narration had now changed, a man with
complete sorrow.
What kind of training?
I don't know, said Falkshair. I was not there after that and had
no contact with him. They probably wanted him for something, a
mission, I don't know. The Russians planted all kind of stories about
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him. He's dead, he is in Africa, and he's in Libya. But they had him.
So, they have been using you, said Sahel. All of you in the
name of Islam.
Unh! Falkshair moaned; his handcuffs rattled. And I suppose,
you are not used? The Americans admire you, just because you are
their alley? They give you billions because you are pretty? Every
single American weapon tested by them in Afghanistan since 2001 in
battle and not a drop of blood other than Pashtoons they spilled. Do
you think they love you? Falkshair would have spat, but he
remembered where he was and swallowed the bile.
Now it was turn for both of them to maintain the silence yet
Falkshair didn't stop. So we are, all of us fools, said Falkshair. His
voice protested.
Perhaps.
They drove on in silence for a while. Up ahead, the mud walls of
low village houses began to appear falling away from both sides of
the road. The village of Satgari had too many orchards around.
Go straight, said Falkshair. I'm at the end of the village. The
joy that should have been in his voice was simply not there.
Why Razmak did not take you to Moscow? Sahel asked. Were
not you his close aide, his second in command.
I was his second, his first, his best, said Falkshair. I was loyal
to him like his dog. I don't know why he left me. Maybe it was
because of Gulo. Maybe the Russians didn't like me.
Now the Falkshair was evading. Maybe it was his honour or
pride. Yet Sahel knew the truth, a source of great pain that Razmak
had refused to allow the Russians to import Falkshair to Moscow. As a
chief of Razmak's security team, Falkshair had been responsible for
Gulo's security as well. But he had failed, choosing instead to focus
on that fateful day on ensuring Razmak's escape from Kabul to
Uzbekistan. However, instead of expressing gratitude for that
Razmak vented a rage that he usually reserved for enemies. And for
the sake of 'Cause' he chose and accepted a life sentence in Pakistan
where his family had already come back for the future of their
children.
You could have insisted him? said Sahel.
I did.
Then?
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He refused and asked me to stay back for the sake of Cause.


Falkshair had pain in his voice. And don't think, I was a fool, I
cannot be led like a dog anymore. Your people got me, so now you
have me. Sahel did not respond. And you keep sure, Falkshair
continued. RES did not spend a year on Razmak, so he could come
over here and finish you off. Don't be in some misunderstanding.
The Russians have their own reasons; their own agenda and they
don't give a shit about Razmak, or you, or me or any bunch of
pathetic lover of Bolshevik cause anymore. Razmak has a mission,
something else. A man like Razmak, it must be something that
would throw us all into another flurry of terror. I assure, it must be
something horrific.
The road ended, turning from black top to powdered earth. Sahel
stopped the car facing a large house of high walls. There was cement
porch outside the big gate. A few plants hung along the long wall
thirsty for winter rains. A brown dog sat on the cement floor in front
of the gate. He barked once at the Margalla weakly and sat down
again. Falkshair sat on his seat staring Sahel. Sahel looked at him for
a moment.
I am going to take off the cuffs off, Falkshair, he said. But,
please remember, I am not a very good shooter.
The image of wild bullets flying around his old parents and
family were not lost on Falkshair. He turned his wrists and lifted
them as he nodded.
_______
For more than two hours Sahel sat in one almost dark corner of the
family's common room. There was no chair, only a carpet with soft
red velvet pillows lining the floor along the walls and single large low
wooden polished table. There was no light, maybe some load
shedding or some other reason. A small lantern threw flickering
shadows across the walls. None of this was an indication of poverty.
In villages, in the wealthiest house, it would have been the same.
The house belonged to his old father who had been on bed since
many years paralysed. Sudden return of Falkshair at home had made
him like King. His mother and sisters cried, both his small kids
around five and six years were standing silent keeping their mother's
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leg in hesitation. They might have heard of their father yet it seemed
they didn't recognise him. They might be shying to embrace their
father. His grown up cousins have come from the next house
instantly while hearing some voices chatter in happiness from the
Veranda of the Falkshair's house. Sahel watched all them
transformed, laughing and pushing away each other to sit beside the
Falkshair. He was the only son of this family.
The word spread quickly and when too many strangers and
neighbours began to knock at front door. Sahel rose and went to
Falkshair and whispered something in his ear. Falkshair nodded and
gave a command in Pashto and everybody withdrew. The Sahel
waved to Falkshair. He rose and said good bye to everybody. When
they both moved along, Sahel kept his right hand in his trouser, his
fingers on the trigger of the pistol. He did not think that Falkshair
would break and run but he knew some of the other inhabitant
might be watching with their enigmatic intentions.
Sahel drove around two kilometres well out of sight of the
village, before he stopped the car and cuffed Falkshair again. They
were out on the highway driving fast when he spoke again.
Whatever Razmak's mission, Sahel asked, it can't be good for
the country.
How could it be worse? Falkshair laughed.
We are all fighting against the enemies of our country after all.
Sahel provoked Falkshair.
But he wants to do something in its own way, Falkshair seemed
optimistic.
Do you think your Razmak Bilal is going to do something for
the sake of the country, Sahel said.
He is no longer my Razmak Bilal, said Falkshair. It was clearly
a decision he had made in solitary, though perhaps his mother's tears
had allowed him to voice it.
Sahel told Falkshair nearly everything without revealing
operational details. Falkshair listened, his eyes glittering, for some of
the details were familiar. He had helped plant many of Razmak's
sleepers in various parts of the country. And although he was not
privy to all the details or the final objective of any of Razmak's
future missions, he could join together parts of the puzzle.
I can help you, but what assurance do I have? Falkshair asked.
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You only have my words. Sahel shrugged.


As a Pakistani Soldier.
You know it; I have the credibility to say that. Sahel smiled.
What's your name?
Instinctively Sahel thought for a lie, a cover name. It was
automatic the cornerstone of an agent's training. He recalled the
voice of his first instructor, yet against all the rules without a clue to
why, he responded like a simple human being.
Sahel Farhaj, he said.
Tell me, do you have a wife?
Yes. Amber's face appeared in his eyes.
And do you have a child?
We are expecting soon, Sahel's eyes somewhat shined.
That would be a son, Falkshair smilingly predicted. And
swear on the life of your son.
Sahel hesitated for a while. Now they were past it all, far from the
game of wits and battles, treachery and vengeance. They were no
longer blood enemies trying to help one another.
If I live, said Sahel, I swear on the life of my son that I'll get
your sentence commuted.
I'll help you whatever you need from me, said Falkshair. But
one thing more I could give you now.
What's it?
Some of my man had earlier told me that Razmak had some
mission yet to accomplish code name Ace of Spade. I don't know the
exact details of Ace of Spade yet it's some sort of assassination of
someone big. He leaned back on his seat as he watched the city of
power and rule appears before his eyes leaving Sahel with a shocking
breakthrough.
_________

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Chapter 19
Late night at 5th of September
The hammering of the brass lion's-head knocker was violent and
nonstop, yet it didn't cause Major Dilshad Hussain to go crouching
through the darkened rooms of his house in Askari Villas. He was
not ready to play commando in his own house. But he has to answer
the door with a pistol.
He threw on the lights and came swinging drowsily through the
TV lounge, his leather slippers crashing on the cold tiles, one hand
holding his cotton pyjama's strings over his hairy belly, the other
hand holding a Colt .45 automatic in a flimsy manner. He called
Nazir his batman through the Kitchen's window but got no
response. Dilshad knew he had been so bad in his sleep so he gave up
calling him. He cursed as he reached the big wooden door. He was
not worried about disturbing the neighbours. Dilshad had owned
this big villa and it stood distinguished in a row of Askari Villas
because of birds and animals his wife used to pet. Since they had no
child, Sughra having a background of village life had developed her
interest in birds and animals and the added benefit was that Dilshad
enjoyed fresh eggs and milk from his home dairy.
Sughra had already been awakened by the noise. The banging
had stopped. Who the hell is it? Dilshad growled and yelled again
for Nazir.
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Sir, this is Sahel.


Dilshad turned the knob and half opened the door. Sahel
entered into the room hurriedly by pushing back the door with his
shoulder. The breathless captain quickly recovered as he stopped
short and turned to Dilshad.
Dilshad, Sahel rasped as if he had just run a kilometre. It
worked.
Take it easy, Sahel.
It worked.
Where is Falkshair?
He is back. Sahel waved the question off with his hand. His
face was flushed and he reached down to rub his knee in his cell.
You took him yourself, asked Dilshad.
For God's sake, yes I took him myself.
Good, Dilshad pointed Sahel toward a large couch
unconsciously using the barrel of his .45. Now sit and calm down,
and tell me.
Sahel walked over to the couch but he could not sit. He was
about to explode.
Kon Aya hey? Sughra came into the room, rubbing her eyes to
the light and smoothing her hair with a hand. She was wearing a
craggy blue printed Shalwar Qameez. She looked like a villager
women yet her features proclaimed once she was pretty enough to be
Dilshad's wife.
Sahel needs a cup of coffee, Sughra. Dilshad's tone was
apologetic, sometime his co-workers never heard. Would you mind
please?
Yes, of course, she said and as she walked past the two men she
reached up and patted Sahel on his head. Poor boy.
Now, Dilshad lumbered over to Sahel and pushed him down
onto the couch. Sit. He placed the .45 on the glass top of coffee
table carefully not to make a scratch. Tell me, now, he fell into a
large armchair.
Two coffee mugs appeared in front of them in a tray. Both took
the mugs gulped big sip and put the mugs on the coffee table.
Thank you, Dilshad looked up at Sughra.
No mention. I'm going back to bed. She waved and
disappeared. She was no stranger to midnight callers.
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I took him all the way home, Sahel said. He was already
talking, he started before we got there, but I think his mother was the
last straw.
Good, said Dilshad.
Dilshad, Sahel looked at him carefully. He did not want to
miss his reaction to compare it with his own. The man killed at City
Centre was his brother.
Dilshad's eyebrows mounted. Falkshair's brother?
Razmak's brother. The Uzbeks killed Razmak Bilal's brother.
It took a moment and then Dilshad's expression changed, the
realization turned his face white. He lifted his face and leaned back
into the chair yet he did not shout just whispered, Oh, my God.
Sahel kept quiet. He just waited and watched Dilshad's brain
working.
Muhammad Zahir? Dilshad was barely audible as he looked
Sahel.
Yes, but not Muhammad Zahir. It was Zahir Bilal with a nick
name of Gulo.
Dilshad stood out of the chair. He paced holding his Pyjama
with one hand, his face with the other. Is that true? he asked
himself, scoring records in his memory, trying to put it together.
Was there as Zahir Bilal or Gulo in his file.
Just a dead one, said Sahel. But he was not dead until Uzbeks
killed him. And unfortunately Razmak and his cell think we did it.
What?
Yes, Dilshad, said Sahel. In fact this is the point where from
the antagonism turns against us. They think we killed Gulo, whereas
Uzbeks played double edge sword. They killed Gulo at that point
when we tried to arrest him mistakenly instead of Razmak and on
the other hand they made believe Razmak by supporting him in that
fiasco that we had killed Gulo and achieved their objective.
Dilshad paced some more still reviewing history, comparing
events and reaching for conclusions. Finally he faced Sahel from
across the table.
Yes, he said. It makes sense. It explains everything.
Yes, said Sahel.
But it could be a bluff?
No.
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Dilshad moved back to the chair and sat. He looked at Sahel


anxiously like a puzzle master waiting for the answer.
What else, he told you?
Now Sahel got up from the chair and began to pace, He drained
the remaining coffee. Forget about the brother now and consider
the rest. Razmak had been in Russia. They probably had his face
changed, set him for the penetration.
Yes, the penetration? Its big question? said Dilshad.
Yes, said Sahel and kept on paced. He lit a cigarette and
concentrated. He was very tired and just functioning on his reserves.
Falkshair does not know everything. They had good
compartmentalization. But he can guess Razmak had something in
his mind and might be using his old mules or sleepers for Ace of
Spade, a piece of Razmak's old network.
And what they are doing? Dilshad asked.
He was not sure, exactly but that could be some parts of
weapon.
A bomb? Dilshad voice dropped into a whisper.
I don't know.
A nuke?
Sahel stopped and frowned at the Major. You have been reading
too much fiction I suppose.
I never read fiction. Dilshad snapped.
Not a bomb necessarily, said Sahel. Probably some personal
weapon or a launcher of some sort.
So then what's the target? Dilshad got up from chair again. He
turned the face and tried to knot the drawstrings of his trouser. He
began to utter, What's the target? What's the target? May be a
vehicle, aeroplane, or some facility, he was talking to himself.
What the hell's the target? he began to massage his bald head.
You have already said something. Sahel interrupted.
What have I said?
A vehicle or an aeroplane.
That means nothing.
Unless someone is inside.
Who is inside?
Dilshad, Sahel said. Falkshair thinks that someone big?
Assassination of someone Big?
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Dilshad stopped moving. So Ace of Spade may be a mission for


assassination of someone big? He looked at Sahel. Then he shouted.
Sughra!
From somewhere above a pair of heavy feet hit the floor and a
voice sounded Kia Hey?
Get me my cloths! Dilshad yelled again as he marched toward a
telephone that sat on a corner wooden table.
The instrument was strangely modern for Dilshad's taste.
Tadiran scrambler. He quickly dialed the number to the night desk
of the National Security Services.
Get me Major Farhat, he snapped. Dilshad listened for a
moment and again said Ok, then find him and patch me in. This is
Major Dilshad Hussain from NSB. Be quick.
Dilshad hung up the phone. He turned to Sahel and waved for a
cigarette. Sahel lit a cigarette for him and handed over to Dilshad
who puffed it deeply. Are you sure Sahel about this?
Of course, not, said Sahel but this what Falkshair said and I
told you.
He could be bluffing you.
Very possible, but I don't think so.
The telephone banged. Dilshad picked it up quickly as someone
came on the line. The voice was very clear unlike normal scramblers.
Farhat, said Dilshad. Sahel has broken the prisoner yes, yes I
said you Sahel. No, he has not damaged him. Dilshad rolled his
eyes. Now listen, we have an emergency over here.
Dilshad quickly explained the operation about Ace of Spade and
what other Sahel had told him about the unknown weapon and
target. After a brief conversation both agreed that Razmak target is
not less than a top man. Farhat told Dilshad Foreign Minister is in
London for meeting with English Prime Minister. The Prime
Minister is in conference somewhere in Europe with World
Economic Forum. Only the President is over here and tomorrow is
6th September. He is going to inaugurate the ceremony at Jinnah
Avenue at 10 AM. They talked for another minute and finally agreed
to go to full alert. He terminated the conversation so he could begin
issuing orders and Dilshad hung up.
Farhat says we have to assume that the target is President, said
Dilshad. Sughra came down holding two hangers in one hand, his
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trouser and shirt and pair of shoes and socks. All perfectly ironed,
Dilshad smiled at her briefly and then began to dress. As he spoke,
his wife stood there with a flat expression on her face. He is pretty
sure that he can get the man to postpone all his activities for next full
week except for one, tomorrow morning.
Why not this one? Sahel demanded. He felt an overwhelming
surge of panic with anger. They have done everything they could,
solved the puzzle, broken the codes proved their points and got every
bit of information he could from Falkshair personally. What else
they want from us? It was as if he was tied to the responsibility for
Razmak Bilal's actions and no one would allow him to rest. He
wanted desperately to sit back now and watch while the big boys took
over. Yet even the president did not allow it. The crazy might
doesn't have to be there, he exploded. He can send anybody there,
Chairman JSC or his wife or someone other. For God's sake, He can
just stay at home for once.
Dilshad forcefully tightened the belt of his trouser on his waist
and then bent to tie the laces of his shoes and straightened up with a
sigh. He smiled at Sughra and said to Sahel No he can't. This time
he has invited several top diplomats to witness the Defense Day.
Oh my God, Sahel slapped himself on the forehead.
The secure line banged. Dilshad picked it up. Yes speak.
He listened for a while. It's Tariq, he looked at Sahel. Ok I'll
be there in fifteen minutes and hung up.
What now? Sahel asked.
I don't know, said Dilshad. But he was very excited and when
Tariq gets excited, you never know what comes out. He smiled and
lifted his pistol from the glass table and stuffed the holster into his
hip. Let's go.
No wait, I can't go. Sahel suddenly had on a look of indecision.
Amber, she must be going crazy.
Dilshad stopped at the door. Call her, he said.
Call her? Sahel snapped. There is total maniac outburst over
here in the town and I call her.
Dilshad thought for a moment. Then he went back to the secure
line and called in to Headquarter. He got into security details and
ordered two armed gunner over to Sahel's residence immediately.
She has my gun. Sahel said.
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And make sure that someone she knows tell her about security
guards. Ask Anita to call her about guards. He issued the
instructions on the phone and hung up. He made to leave, but Sahel
seemed frozen to the floor. His face was drawn and suddenly sad.
Now what? Dilshad asked.
I have to talk to her.
Dilshad looked at him and then he turned to Sughra and said
I'll wait in the car.
Sughra touched Sahel on his arm and took him into her bed
room to private phone while Dilshad went out from the front door.
Sahel looked at the phone. He reached for it hesitated for a
moment and then picked it up and dialled the number.
Honey, it me, he whispered in the phone as she picked up the
line. She was crying and worried about him. He tried his best to
soothe her with guilt as he was feeling. He promised her soon this
would be over and they would together take their vacations and rest.
She said nothing.
He told her about the two security men and she would be safe
there and they would watch and take care of you.
And who would be taking care of you? she asked.
There was no answer to this question, at least none that would
share her fears.
________
The midnight security shift was on duty at SpecOp Jacob
compound. Dilshad parked the car carefully in a corner. The day
time guards had been replaced by some new stiff backed recruits who
examined every detail of their ID cards and checked in a swap
machine and it took Sahel and Dilshad too long to get through the
main entrance. As they reached the second floor Sahel was surprised
to see Sajid manning the post. The young man was sullen, hands
folded on the desktop, eyes dark with fatigue.
What happened? Sahel asked as he flushed his ID. I thought
you were promoted?
I was, said Sajid with disgust, until you lost those two idiots
last time.
But you were even there.
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That's what the commander said. I should have been there.


But he didn't send you.
Sajid smiled weakly. Are you talking about logic, Sahel? Or
about Colonel Zawri?
Sahel patted the poor young man on his shoulder. Sorry Sajid.
It seems like as long as you're here. I'm buried.
Believe me I am trying to quit, Sahel said as if talking about his
cigarette habit.
I suppose the commander wants to see us, Dilshad asked.
He is not here, neither is Qadri or anyone else at this moment.
A motion from down the darkened hallway caught Sahel's eye
and he looked up. Tariq was standing outside of Communications
waving them on madly.
Sahel and Dilshad passed through the post hurrying along to see
Tariq. Except for the clacking of the telex and printers the floor was
empty and silent. They reached to Tariq and he motioned them to
follow disappearing into the empty personnel office like some
playful animated character in a fairy tale.
What the hell's going on Tariq? Dilshad demanded as soon as
he entered in the empty room.
We have him, Tariq whispered it out quickly unable to stand to
it.
Sahel stood dead still, just looking at the analyst as the young
man shifted excitedly from one foot to the other.
What's that? Dilshad said as if he had not heard anything.
We have him! We have picked up Razmak Bilal!
Where? Sahel said in a gasp. He did not believe it. How? he
wanted to hear more Where is he? He grabbed the Tariq's arm even
realizing it.
They got him in Islamabad tonight on the street. Tariq was
talking very quickly now, afraid that Sahel might force him if he
didn't get it out fast enough. Zawri set it out with Qadri. They used
Roshna Saleem as bait and they got him.
Where? Dilshad grabbed Tariq's arm.
Now at PC they have started the interrogation. Tariq squeezed
his eyes and said.
All at once he stopped babbling. He opened his eyes, his arm
hurt and he was alone. The door swung on its hinges while Dilshad
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and Sahel pounding their footfalls down the hallway. Tariq backed
up and throw himself in a chair. I've got to find another job now.
He sighed.
_______
Pak Complex was never dark. It was Central Headquarters of the NSB
yet among forces and agencies it was called as PC. It had several
offices including NSB and NSS central offices. There were always
vehicles and personnel passing through the main concrete entrance
with huge Iron Gate. It had always reminded Sahel lot of a big Film
Studio of decades earlier as the atmosphere changed radically from
block to block. There were buildings of every size shape and period,
stone, concrete, mosque tombs, British style barracks, wooden huts
and towering steel and glass communication towers. Military
vehicles from every service clotted the narrow streets inside and
civilian cars with the green plates nestled up on the sidewalks. Men
and women hurried to and fro, wearing army, air force and navel
uniforms. There were bustling canteens on every other corner. All
the high officials had their camp-offices here, including the Prime
Minister, Defence Minister, Chairman JSCs and COAS. All the
major intelligence agencies had acquired various buildings for their
committee meetings, action planning, and security screening and
high profile investigations in the various basements.
It took Dilshad and Sahel less than twenty minutes to speed
down from Jacob Compound. Once through PC, they drove directly
down the hill taking a right at the end that held the NSB facility.
They parked the car next to a small mosque and a low building that
NSB usually used for interviewing and polygraph tests of new
recruits and the occasional suspect spies.
Major Dilshad Hussain, Dilshad said and flashed his ID at an
armed sergeant blocking entrance to a pair of double doors.
Captain Sahel Farhaj, Sahel flashed his own ID across
Dilshad's shoulder. The sergeant swapped the IDs one after one in a
small machine held at the table that buzzed a beep sound and
opened one of the doors. He nodded his head in a salute manner and
pulled himself back and allowed them to enter. They entered a big
briefing room. It was lit like an evening in clouds as a small bulb was
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hanging over in the middle. No one sat in the chairs, as all of those
present were crowded together near the two-way panel erected
through the interrogation chamber.
Colonel AK Zawri stood in the middle of the group towering
above the rest of the men. He had one foot above a chair, but his
excitement was obvious from his gestures of the body. The other men
about six in all were field rank officers from his department. They
were all wearing civilian clothes except for one who was a short
muscular general who was DCS of NSB. Qadri was also there pacing
back and forth coming to tiptoes to see over everyone's head and
then back at his boots smiling to himself in utter self confidence.
As Sahel and Dilshad walked forward, Sahel griped Dilshad's
arm. He squeezed hard to steady him. Sahel felt his heart rising into
his throat. He did not care who had captured Razmak and his fury
over the Roshna Saleem's safety was all but gone now for none of it
would matter if what he was about to see were real. At last it would be
over. Over forever.
The small interrogation chamber was lit like a bright day. At its
centre a steel chair was welded to the floor. Two young men stood
well back from the chair, with their arms folded on the chests. In the
chair sat a man cuffed his arms with the armrests and his ankles
shackled with the steel legs, the T-shirt was torn open from his chest.
The prisoner was silent. He was tall thought even he sat. His posture
was erect. He was well dressed in a jean and shirt with an overall
which was torn at his shoulder. Sahel squinted. Yes, there was a scar a
curved red beneath his left eye. Yet the actual eye colour it was hard
to make out.
There was a small speaker on the wall of the briefing room and
suddenly Zawri's voice came into it.
I ask you finally, what's your name? But the prisoner remained
silent. He did not even move. Then something clicked in Sahel's
mind. Yes the prisoner had all the obvious physical marks, the
correct colour and face and his hair, but he had a single glaring
expression on his face that Razmak would never ever had displayed.
This man looked frightened. And those eyes.
No, he is not. He started out of the room knocking over a chair.
Sahel, Dilshad called out behind him.
He is not. He turned left and found the recessed door to the
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hanging over in the middle. No one sat in the chairs, as all of


those present were crowded together near the two-way panel erected
through the interrogation chamber.
Colonel AK Zawri stood in the middle of the group towering
above the rest of the men. He had one foot above a chair, but his
excitement was obvious from his gestures of the body. The other men
about six in all were field rank officers from his department. They
were all wearing civilian clothes except for one who was a short
muscular general who was DCS of NSB. Qadri was also there pacing
back and forth coming to tiptoes to see over everyone's head and
then back at his boots smiling to himself in utter self confidence.
As Sahel and Dilshad walked forward, Sahel griped Dilshad's
arm. He squeezed hard to steady him. Sahel felt his heart rising into
his throat. He did not care who had captured Razmak and his fury
over the Roshna Saleem's safety was all but gone now for none of it
would matter if what he was about to see were real. At last it would be
over. Over forever.
The small interrogation chamber was lit like a bright day. At its
centre a steel chair was welded to the floor. Two young men stood
well back from the chair, with their arms folded on the chests. In the
chair sat a man cuffed his arms with the armrests and his ankles
shackled with the steel legs, the T-shirt was torn open from his chest.
The prisoner was silent. He was tall thought even he sat. His posture
was erect. He was well dressed in a jean and shirt with an overall
which was torn at his shoulder. Sahel squinted. Yes, there was a scar a
curved red beneath his left eye. Yet the actual eye colour it was hard
to make out.
There was a small speaker on the wall of the briefing room and
suddenly Zawri's voice came into it.
I ask you finally, what's your name? But the prisoner remained
silent. He did not even move. Then something clicked in Sahel's
mind. Yes the prisoner had all the obvious physical marks, the
correct colour and face and his hair, but he had a single glaring
expression on his face that Razmak would never ever had displayed.
This man looked frightened. And those eyes.
No, he is not. He started out of the room knocking over a chair.
Sahel, Dilshad called out behind him.
He is not. He turned left and found the recessed door to the
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interrogation chamber. He flipped the handle down and walked in,


ignoring Zawri's startled reaction as he paced forward straight for the
prisoner's chair. Before anyone could react, he reached to the back
of prisoner and grabbed his hair with his right hand and pulled his
face back upward as if prisoner's staring on the ceiling. The grip was
so hard that prisoner once screamed out. One of the guard and Zawri
yelled simultaneously.
What the hell you are doing. Sahel didn't heed to them. He
looked directly into prisoner's eyes for a while. He then suddenly left
the prisoner's hair, motioned his both hands in a clapped manner
and hit his palms at prisoner's fringes with full strength. Prisoner
screamed again and pair of lenses came out of his eyes and fell onto
the floor in front of the Zawri's footsteps.
It's not him. Sahel straightened up waving his arms to break
free. Look now. Sahel stared directly into Zawri's eyes.
Zawri took the pair of lenses from the floor silently. Everybody
was stunned in the chamber.
And the scar is plastic spirit-gum, Sahel said and paced back
from prisoner's chair.
Dilshad reached into the pileup and grabbed Sahel's arm. Sahel
immediately charged over to the prisoner's again and this time no
one stopped him. The man was slumped in the chair now and
breathing hard, his eyes had turned into blood. Sahel reached for his
face again. The prisoner pulled his face back. He was real scared like a
grabbed mouse in a cage.
Now tell me, who are you? Sahel asked him in low voice.
I'm not Razmak Bilal, prisoner gasped his breath and gained
some confidence.
Sahel turned his head to the crowd and asked. Where is
Roshna?
No one in the room spoke. They all stood there staring at Sahel
like dumbfounded schoolboys caught at the mischief by their
teacher. No one answered him.
Qadri turned away. The prisoner looked up at him and smile.
A sound like a keening father sprang from Sahel's throat. He
launched himself toward the door splitting the crowd racing from
the building with Dilshad and an entire entourage of agents finding
for their car keys in their pockets as they shouted worthless orders to
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each other.
_______
Roshna Saleem was dead.
By the time Sahel reached her place where HQ was keeping her in
Islamabad, Zawri had already radioed his orders to National Security
Services to investigate. The NSS men were waiting in a small bunch
on the landing in front of the open door and he could tell by their
faces.
Dilshad stopped tried to stop Sahel from going in, but he could
not obstruct him looking his red face.
The apartment was a mess. Turned centre table legs up, broken
glasses. The cushions were thrown from the sofas. One of door to the
bedroom was off at its hinges; a mirror was broken through by face
or fist. She had not been an easy kill. A corpse was covered on the bed
leaving her only naked small feet pointed at the ceiling. He felt two
hands on his shoulders. He felt weakness halted him.
Let me do it, Dilshad whispered. He walked past him into the
bedroom. Sahel struggled to hold him together, his body quivering
from head to foot as he watched Dilshad to see her face.
Among the gathered mourners, only Sahel knew that she always
kept a short commando blade tucked between her mattresses. At least
she had wounded her murderer.
They were almost in the hallway when Sahel suddenly stopped.
He rushed back in the apartment. Dilshad followed, concerned
about him. But Sahel did not go the bedroom. He looked around
and found the telephone set fallen in a corner with its cradle apart.
He picked up the cradle and tried to hear, yet it was silent.
He rested the cradle onto the set and then again picked it up,
there came a dial tone. With his shaking hands he hardly tried to
remember his own number.
It rang and rang again. He waited for Amber to pick up. He
dialled again and waited for complete eight ringing tone to come.
There was no answer.
________

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At Scion
Chapter 20
Defence Day 6th September
Jinnah Avenue was certainly a grand Avenue of Islamabad. It
started from F-10 southern part as per Islamabad's city plan and
ended at National Assembly building another grand house of
representatives from across the country. Plenty of governmental
buildings were scattered at around its end. From a view vision of a
photographer it might have an excellent scene once someone stops
ahead of its last intersection at Blue Area. Many high rise buildings
signify corporate sector and banking and commercial shopping
plazas.
The 6th September. The day has its own significance when a
ceremony of Defence day is celebrated and exhibited to boost the
morale of the forces and citizens at Jinnah Avenue. There were
representations from all over the country, forces arms display,
provincial cultural floats, and student's activities and so on. Music
and Milli Naghme from the top most pop singers and March past of
forces always had an eye catching phenomenon. Thousands of
people used to witness the celebrations in person and millions on TV
relay while President and other top most military officials take salute
from the forces. A stage has been set on the north-eastern part at the
tail of the road where hundreds of chairs set for the foreign delegates
and diplomats as well.
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There were similar celebrations set in every major city of


Pakistan. It was run and subsidized by the Pakistani Soldiers, their
Units and Civilian authorities together to make it dignified gala of
the day in remembrance of the Defence day of 1965.
Colonel AK Zawri could well have held his briefing at PC.
However, he argued well that none of these facilities and open
ceremonial activities was completely secure. His mission was ultra
secret and there would be no way to prohibit the curious observer.
He needed a complete faultless plan to watch the crowd of high rise
buildings around the festive area.
Throughout the late night, staff cars had been entering the long
drive off the Jinnah Avenue quietly discharging their passengers then
parking in the lot next to the large stone pyramid behind the stage set
for the President to address the nation. At each entrance and exit
NSS men in civilian dress barred access for the unwanted personnel.
From eight in the morning the invited guest including men and
women of various services were supposed to have their seats carefully
selected to witness the National Salute and Presidential Address at
around 10 pm in the morning. Most of the agencies men arrived in
civilian clothes and took their carefully allocated seats among the
families and diplomats.
Sahel had managed to snatch a few hours' sleep in one of the
vacated suites at PC. With his brain racing as it was he certainly have
no desire for drowse but his body had finally rebelled and Dilshad
had practically took him into the building for a few hours sleep.
Now two full mugs of coffee and an egg sandwich he stood with
Dilshad just behind the presidential stage set.
Dilshad and Sahel smoke their cigarettes, watching the officers,
diplomats, families as they entered the sitting place on the both sides
of the stage like extended wings of the aeroplane.
Now on the other end, for Sahel it was the first public
appearance for the sake of the country especially on the defence day
if something goes wrong that would have been a disaster for NSB and
other fellow agencies who sacrifice their every bit of strength to
uphold the dignity of the forces and the country.
Zawri, though wrong at every turn about Razmak Bilal and his
objectives, has now altered his mind. He had now dropped the entire
operation on Sahel's lap. Numbed as he was by recent events, Sahel
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felt the weight of the responsibility, yet he was unscathed by the


cruelty of Zawri's imposing of the assignment. They were all of them
either dead or under round-the-clock protective custody.
Do you think she is really safe? said Sahel as he squinted down
the long decorated lawns just opposite the stage across the road
where citizens have already occupied their places to witness the show.
He watched Major Shahzad coming through the security gate
installed at the far end of the stage followed by Tariq who hurried
after him like a reluctant pet.
Of course, she is safe, Dilshad replied. Zawri is too sensitive
now, he probably cannot afford anything else than to capture
Razmak dead or alive.
That's comforting. Sahel said.
Crazed with worry, Sahel and Dilshad had raced from PC back
to Sahel's apartment. Upon their arrival, they nearly had to fight
with the NSS people who did not allow them to enter the apartment.
Some quick explanations revealed that Zawri upon realizing his
terrible mistake regarding Roshna and Razmak decoy, had
dispatched a team directly from NSS to pick up Amber from Sahel's
apartment to a far flung discreet safe house. They have also
succeeded Dilshad's wife to pick up. However the agents assigned to
this risky mission had refused to disclose the place where they were
keeping the women, much to Dilshad's delight.
Nevertheless, Sahel was not crazy about the arrangement; Zawri
too had refused to reveal Amber's whereabouts, but at least that
retention of professional ethics gave some comforts that she is truly
out of danger now.
Major Shahzad walked up to Sahel and Dilshad. He took his dry
pipe from his mouth and placed a hand on Sahel's shoulder.
I'm very sorry, Sahel, he said.
Sahel waited a moment until he was sure that he could speak. I
should have made her home in, Shahzad.
No one ever made Roshna do anything she didn't want to do,
said Dilshad.
You are not fortune teller, Sahel, said Shahzad.
Some educated guesses and some harmful mistakes, said Tariq.
Sahel looked up the tall man.
Where is Shaista? asked Dilshad.
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Working with some intercepts, said Shahzad. How about


Farhat?
He is already here?
Shahzad looked around, back at the entrance. I think we are the
last ones. We waited outside. I didn't see Qadri?
And you won't see him Insha'Allah anymore, said Dilshad. He
is probably on his way to Middle East.
Sahel did not join in the satisfaction over Qadri's demise. He
doubted that Zawri had been so kind as to just ship the captain to a
field assignment in ME. It was much too pathetic to induce any joy.
Qadri had simply echoed the Kabul Fiasco almost step by step
believing he was strident at Razmak. He had inherited the curse for
nothing.
Dilshad looked at the watch and said. Let's go up on the stage.
Just one thing, Dilshad, Sahel looked at him. Did Shaista do
something on Ace of Spade?
I didn't ask her yet. She is still in the Hut and working on it,
said Dilshad.
Okay when we go inside then I'll see to it. Sahel said.
_______
There were about twenty officers inside the stage area. Rather than
gathering down front, they were scattered across the rows of seats on
the both sides of the stage down a few steps. At the back of the head
table two air force lieutenants were up on chairs pinning a large flexi
billboard clothe bearing three photos of a young army officer, a
female air force GD pilot and stout naval officer in full dress
uniforms in salute posture. In the left side of the front row chairs on
the head table, General Qasim, the Chief of NSB was bending over a
long table and examining some materials as he spoke to Zawri. Both
of them were wearing their dress uniforms. In any other time the
presence of the General would have caused the junior officers to sit
bolt upright on their hands, stiff-back and silent. Here taking the
advantage of Defence Day every men and women chattered on.
Shahzad and Tariq had found their chairs on the end of the row.
Sahel and Dilshad walked down the rows. Sahel was scanning each
and every face carefully. He recognised the chief of the Islamabad
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Police, then the Farhat and senior ISI officer known only as
'Paragon.' Many of the men and women also looked familiar within
the agencies.
So this is where we are now, Sahel was relieved to be able to escape
from the horrors of history, to lose himself once more in the game at
hand.
Dilshad waved to Sahel for the short briefing to the agency men.
Sahel stopped at a small group of fellow agencies men standing
around the stage and who were chatting carelessly yet their hawked
eyes were never ignorant of visitor's even small gesture and were
waiting for Sahel's short briefing.
Hey, Sahel, one of the group thumbed up on him as Sahel
reached to them. Do you really think, Razmak is really going to go
for the President?
Sahel looked at him, smiled and waited for a moment. He
probably wants me and Dilshad as well, but we think that's
secondary now.
And what type of weapon Razmak carrying? Another asked.
I don't know yet this unidentified weapon we guess may be
larger than a small arm and smaller than a tank. Sahel thoughtfully
said.
How do you sure that he is specifically going to come over here
for the President? Another asked in a frantic manner.
Because we have come to the conclusion that Razmak will have
only one opportunity left during the next two weeks to reach to the
President. Farhat replied who had just entered the circle.
And that's today.
Yes, said Sahel gesturing at the bug-eyes Airborne Colonel.
That's why we are here. The President will arrive by helicopter
directly from his residence. He has agreed to wear a ballistic vest.
Good, that'll help, someone commented.
Get him to cancel for God's sake! someone yelled.
You get him cancel, Farhat retorted loudly. Now listen all of
you. Our job is to provide security for whoever needs it, not to send
the government into bunkers.
All right, Sahel continued. Let me tell you one thing more.
Before we go on for search, let's have a look at Razmak's face. He
nodded at Farhat who picked up a small walkie-talkie from someone
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standing near to him and issued an order.


They waited for a minute or so when three men appeared from
behind the stage and all heads turned as Major Azeem Khalidi came
in, escorted by two NSS guards. He had spent the last few days locked
up in a Safe House under the security of Dilshad's loyal guards. He
looked tired, his uniform rumpled, yet he was clean-shaven and
exhibited no annoyance. After all upon his 'kidnapping' Dilshad
and Sahel had fully briefed him and he had quickly realized the
importance of being kept underground.
Colonel AK Zawri on the other hand was shocked to his groin
and instantly furious. However he quickly realized that he could not
reveal publically his having been duped. He turned straight in his
chair when he saw Major Azeem Khalidi came in and stared at
Dilshad and Sahel.
Sahel waved Khalidi to join them. The Major walked to them
letting Sahel to take his elbow.
So, my friends, said Sahel. This is the face that Razmak has
now.
But he knows that we know. Someone's mind worked quickly.
That's right, said Sahel.
So he will try to change it again, someone else called it out.
Oh, not, another said.
Why don't we just shot Khalidi, one of the Farhat's NSS man
suggested, Just to avoid confusion.
Khalidi smiled and shot him the finger.
Okay, Sahel waved his hands. You are beginning to think like
Razmak and that's what we all have to. Let's go the work, but let's try
to do it with some structure, all right, any more question?
Well, he knows there is a massive manhunt for him, someone
said.
So he has to try and standoff, using a long short of some kind.
Another spoke.
He had not used such type of weapon on the past operations.
Sahel said.
There is always a first time.
Could be a Rocket? The suggestion was idealistic but seemed
practical. Sahel thought for a moment and then turned to Dilshad
and looked up on his face to see his expression on this suggestion.
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Dilshad didn't show any interest.


Thank you gentlemen, that's all from us, said Sahel to all of
them around and picked the elbow of Dilshad and paced toward the
security hut behind the stage in the far flung corner of the parking.
Parking was restricted to the VIPs only as on the other end of the
grassy plain, a makeshift Helipad was drawn, big H on the grass with
white paint. It was the idea of Dilshad to erect a small operational
room close to the stage and temporary Helipad in order to keep
liaison within the agencies including NSB and NSS. All necessary
communication was provided on the instructions of Zawri. General
Qasim was also present there just to oversee the operational
activities. The security hut was coded as Base-I.
Sahel and Dilshad sat down at the end of the long wooden table.
They were joined by Tariq, Farhat, Shahzad and the Airborne
Colonel. A navel captain also participated as Company Commander
of Navel Commandos. There was going a last minutes meeting to
finalize the action plan before the arrival of the President. The nine
men pored over maps and photographs made check list and deleted
most of the items then begin again. In the far corner Shaista sat on
small table with a laptop on it and was working something on the
cipher and decode. Sahel directly went to her and whispered in her
ears something. She showed several notepads writings and
translations so far she had managed to reach on the conclusion
about Ace of Spade.
Finally General Qasim mounted at the table. He clapped his
hands together until everyone resumed their seats. Sahel hurriedly
came back and resumed his seat. Zawri made to join his commander,
but Qasim waved him back in his seat.
All right gentlemen, said the tall grey haired General. I have
listened to most of yours arguments and suggestions. I believe we
have distilled this operation as best we can. The security plan in
detail has already briefed to you all. We have to move now quickly so
we will assume the following with certainly room for brilliant
improvisation, I should hope. I'll summarise.
One: most of us agree that this will be a ground-to-ground
attempt. Two: Given the security cordon, the most likely attempt
may appear the front during President's address or hoisting of
National Flag or National Salute. It is here that most of our forces
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should be concentrated. Three: We all concur that Razmak Bilal now


realizes that his Khalidi gambit is blown, so he must attempt to
penetrate us disguised at the exact opposite of our security. The
General paused, yet no one raised an objection. This was not out of
respect. They simply agreed with him. And the finally, four: He
turned to Sahel. Unfortunately for you, Captain, it appears that you
have become the world's best expert on Razmak Bilal. I announce
you to command the moment. Take a minute, if you must issue the
Order of the Day. The General stepped back and sat on the chair.
Sahel didn't need a minute. He had already decided.
All Right Officers, he commanded. These are my orders with
a new development made on the Ace of Spade...
________
From the dark mountain sky above Islamabad the morning came
on slowly. To most Islamabadians, the morning brought a cool
welcome relief from the harsh suffocated nights of summer.
High above the peak of the seventeen storeys Scion Hotel the
tower of cellular phone antenna mounted on a slab of concrete base
was covered with the colourful bounties for the defence day
celebrations. All the parapets almost three feet high from the roof
were decorated too with posters of different colours displaying
soldier's pictures and flags of Pakistan.
A Garret watch room was locked early this night for the security
purposes. There was a soldier working on the roof with his big steel
trunk full of posters, flags and bounties and he would finish his
work before the presidential address as he had planned to finish it as
soon as possible. He brushed his sweat from the face by his arm and
looked down.
At this eastern edge of the roof the wall dropped fifty meters
straight down to the still darkened compound of the Hotel. The wall
was all made of green tented glass and from the opposite side of the
road, beautiful high rise Scion Hotel was reflecting as an insignia of
the European class.
At the foot of the hotel wall, soldiers and policemen in full battle
gear had been placed at ten meters intervals. Most of the lonesome
security men were fairly alert, yet they were all looked bored.
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Two Policemen appeared in the Hotel's service elevator. One of


them was an senior officer and other was sub-inspector. The officer
was listening something on the walkie talkie. They were bound for
the roof to take up their positions. They stepped on the roof and
looked around. A uniformed soldier was working and fixing flags on
the small part of the garret facing the stage set for the celebration on
the ground just opposite cross the road.
The soldier turned his face and looked on the security men yet
his hands still working with the small iron wire he is fastening with
the nail.
Hey, comrade, one of the policeman yelled on him. You need
to vacate this roof by now.
Yes sir, said the man. I've already finished. Just a final touch
left to the big flag.
Okay, do it and disappear, The officer commanded as always
in Pakistani fashion police used to say when they are supposed to
exert their authority.
The soldier walked holding steel wire in his hand towards the
other side. He paced past the policemen and suddenly grabbed the
neck of one of the policeman and quickly rolled the steel wire
around his neck. The other policeman not expecting such an attack
pulled back his gun from the shoulder quickly yet the man didn't
give him ample time. He holding the neck with steel wire around it
jumped on his feet and kicked the other on his chest to kiss the floor.
Under a quick action of Krav-Maga, the soldier cut the carotid artery
in one jerk leaving the body on the floor with the blood spread all
around and reached to the other who was still in shock of the attack
and lifting him from the floor. The man passed another full kick on
his face and the policeman went in snooze.
Razmak Bilal took the deep sigh and straightened up on his feet.
He dragged both the bodies toward the garret and laid one's head on
the lap of the other policeman like he was resting on the lap. He
hung one of the mini-automatic guns at his shoulder and then went
back to the trunk.
Razmak really had no time now. He opened the trunk and
emptied it from the tools he was carrying as soldier and then pulled a
large cloth and there was a complete rocket launcher laid in its
bottom. He saw it and smiled.
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He took out the launcher from the trunk and looked around for
a suitable place to set it on the stand he was carrying in another bag
at his shoulder. He pulled the iron stand and fixed it. Finally he
removed the two halves of the RPG, screwed them together and laid
the weapon back inside the bag. Inserting and arming the rocket
would take now only a few minutes.
He poked his head above from the parapet of the roof. To his left
down across the road the stage was magnificent. Ahead the wide
brick parking was almost filled with official cars. At the far side on
the six lane road marching band was ready to proceed the moment
the President would be seated at the stage. Behind the marching band
the glittering long floats of all the provinces were ready to follow the
march past.
_______
Sahel tried to think, his brain aching with the strain. All around him
there was chaos. Engines at parking hammed, people applauded,
rifle butts slammed the salutes and boots hammered off the floor.
Yet nothing was happening.
He spun around, his eyes searching the high parapets of the
surrounding buildings, straining to see beyond the shapes and
shadows. It could not be that he was wrong that it would happen here
at all. If his concept was deadly stupidity and Razmak surprised him
again accomplished his mission, Sahel could not live with it. He
began to squeeze his fingers in his hair praying for glimpse of
anything suspected and he then suddenly a thought flashed across
his mind and he jerked on his feet.
He had to think, at every turn he had been one step behind
Razmak Bilal. Now he had to think like Razmak. If ever he had to
become Razmak. He had to out-think himself.
And then he got it. He was wrong. The idea that the president was
safe as long as he lived was wrong. No, Razmak wanted Sahel to
witness to this final coup, just as he had suffered through the deaths
of his comrades. This would be Razmak's most vengeful blow. The
simple killing of his brother's murderer could wait, maybe until
tomorrow, maybe for five more years.
He waved Tariq standing idol at the far corner of the stage. Tariq
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looked at him and paced toward him.


Anything? Tariq asked as he reached close to Sahel.
Who are looking those buildings? Sahel pointed his finger on
the Scion Hotel and adjacent buildings across the road.
Tiger Company, I mean NSS, said Tariq.
Sahel thought for a moment and paced quickly to the exit. He
heard a voice, the crackle of a radio from inside the Base-I. A piece of
sentence by General Qasim.
This is Base-I, Post forty four is not responding. Lion one to
check this, over.
Roger, someone replied.
Sahel spun back to Dilshad, his mouth open to shout. Dilshad
was not there.
Sahel ran, pulling the walkie-talkie from his waist belt. Tiger
Five, Tiger Five, he hissed. This is dagger, come in. The policeman
on the Scion Hotel did not answer.
Sahel was running blind, breathless before he even started,
unable to call to NSS men as he passed them, his knee blazing as he
crossed the empty road and sprinted up towards the Scion Hotel's
main entrance.
A voice came in his radio Dagger, I see you at the entrance of
post forty four, what's wrong. This was Dilshad.
Post forty four not responding. I'm going up. Make sure post
forty four is safely surrounded by Tigers, over.
I'm already at post forty four, just entering.
Ok, stay there, I'm coming. Sahel replied and hung up the
radio to his belt.
Sahel crossed the grand lobby of the hotel where guests and some
of the European couples were enjoying their morning coffee and
orange juices. He looked around quickly and saw two NSS men
standing at the far end of the lobby. He waved to them and turned to
the service elevator. The NSS men came hurriedly to him as he
jumped into the elevator holding the door to pause for a moment.
Now onward, don't let anybody inside the elevator, I'm
Dagger.
We know you sir, one of them replied. Should we accompany
you?
No thanks, ask Lion to catch me on radio. Sahel pointed the
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finger to his walkie- talkie and pushed the top floor button.
At the top, the slim door to the roof was open. He poked his head
outside. There was nothing at the roof. He looked for Dilshad,
hiding his body inside. No sign. He whistled the coded tune that
only knew Dilshad. He heard the sharp cough to his left and came
out of the elevator corridor. He was standing on the roof. He looked
at his left. Dilshad sat there breathing slowly his head back against
the wall one hand over his belly. A river of blood ran over his fingers
and into his crotch. It was already seeping out from under his trouser
across the floor. His suntanned face was as white as a white rose.
He lifted his left hand from beside the leg, slowly as Sahel neared.
Dilshad gripped his captain's arm with his last vestige of power. He
opened his mouth and Sahel bent his face to him.
He is much faster than you Sahel, Dilshad whispered. He is
here up on the garret roof but you must beat him. You must.
Sahel tried to speak. He could not. There was no time for it. He
pulled his arm away and looked around. He looked down at Dilshad
again and dragged him across the wall of garret and made him sat
alongside two corpses of the policemen. Sahel then lifted his right
foot and placed it on the Dilshad's shoulder. Dilshad quickly raised
his hand and wrapped his fingers around Sahel's ankle to steady him.
In one swift moment, Sahel launched himself upward slamming
his stomach down onto the top of the garret roof. He held on to his
pistol, scrabbling with his free hand as he swung his legs rolled over
and came to his feet.
Razmak Bilal was waiting. He stood only two meters away; his
back to the low edge of the roof at far end of it, the sun crafted his
shadow on the floor. He was wearing the dress uniform of
paratrooper. The triple bronze bars and silver parachute wing
shimmered on his breast. A Khaki cap cocked over his head as if he
had been borne to wear it.
Next to Razmak feet lay the wrinkled form of any an empty gym
bag. Next to that resting on the edge of the parapet a small steel target
view adjustable stand with silent black tube of a rocket-propelled
launcher gleamed. The ugly warhead was loaded, the cap of the
charge removed, the hammer pulled down, ready for the strike down
directly at the stage.
Even so it was hard for Sahel to make the mental leap. Razmak
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looked so much like Pakistani, his costume perfect, his black army
boots placed easily apart so hard to imagine that this was the man
who had starred in all of Sahel's nightmares, so calm, so relaxed.
Except that he pointing that snatched automatic gun from the
policeman directly at Sahel's chest.
Sahel was frozen in his half bow, his mouth suddenly dry as
sand, his breath like waves of sea, and the pulse pounding in his
throat. He stared at the shadowed face, immobile, his eyes blazing
like a furnace. Sahel moved slowly up. His eyes on the Razmak's face,
he lowered his pistol toward the roof, wanting to try it anyway,
knowing that he'd be blown off the lower roof into Dilshad's lap if
his hand even trembled.
He straightened up now without the weapon turning a bit, facing
full to the front, his limbs shivering cursing with blood. From
somewhere far below he heard the band playing its favourite tune.
He visualized the arrival of the President on the stage. They would
never make it. He heard another sound the drone of a distant voice,
slightly metallic the speech echoing in the great show.
Unbelievingly, he felt his body moving forward, rebelling against
a mind that tried to compel him to stop. Yet Razmak's watched him
quietly.
Do not worry, Captain Sahel Farhaj, the voice said in perfect
controlled Urdu. You will only have to witness the assassination of
your President. And then I will end it for you, as you ended it for my
brother. Now you drop your gun on the floor.
Sahel had no way except to comply the orders. He lowered his
hand and sat his pistol slowly on the floor.
The automatic gun begun to move slowly, its line changing just
slightly, he was going to shoot Sahel, not kill him yet, just enough to
immobilize him. While then he would step to the stand and use the
RPG, blowing them all back into a terrible pledge of tribal revenge.
He was going to shoot Sahel in the legs. Yes, in the legs.
You killed Gulo, Sahel was amazed that he could find his own
voice, harsh and hoarse as it was with terror. You killed your own
brother. He moved his right foot forward almost dragging it. You
used him like a tethered goat and I was merely an instrument to
bring you at the law and you know it very well, Mr Hayat Gul.
He hit the mark. Razmak lifted his head, his eyes narrowing and
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the rage crawling over his face. For that crucial millisecond, he raised
the gun to fire at Sahel's chest, and the Sahel made the only move he
could, the only technique he had ever managed to do half-well in
Krav-Maga.
He lunged with his left foot, snapped his right hand forward up
over catching the gun and side stepping as it exploded next to his
face. He yelled as he struck out with his right fist, but Razmak
snapped his head over and the punch went wild. He felt a sharp blow
to his knee but still he held on to the gun, yet in that split second he
knew that he would never complete the move, could never turn the
weapon on Razmak and use it. An open hand chopped down into
his face as he twisted to the left with all his might, swinging his right
hand over toward the automatic, slamming into it, wrenching it
from Razmak's grip as he followed through and hurled it high and
away into the air.
For the friction of second pause, they stood empty handed eyes
into eyes. But it was no match. Sahel did the unthinkable.
As Razmak's eyes blinked in disbelief, Sahel yelled Amber's
name, launched himself forward in the air, and gripped his
archenemy in an embrace of hatred that took them both over the
edge of the parapet to fall the length of a long hollow scream down
the seventeen storeys onto the Scion Hotel forecourt far below...
_______

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