Hello, Lucy. It’s a pleasure to sit down with you.
You were born in Pakistan, but raised in the US and had your education there too. Do you think that allowed for you to be more or less informed about the situation in Pakistan?
Honestly, I think that makes me better informed for a number of reasons.
First, I didn’t study in Pakistan, so I didn’t read the history of the country from politically or religiously biased textbooks. Pakistan’s educational system regularly has its textbooks re-written so that history is portrayed more “favorably” towards the government that is in power. Other than the massive expense of reprinting textbooks, can you imagine learning multiple histories for a country without ever knowing the truth?
Since I grew up outside the country, I had access to a wide range of books about Pakistan, written by Western authors who had no connection to the country, that gave me a better understanding of history. For example, I don’t hold the political view that democracy is good for Pakistan for the simple reason that every democrat has abused Pakistan and then taken exile outside the country to avoid being prosecuted for their crimes. The 1990s, where Agency Rules is set, doesn’t even get into the failed governments that were dismissed for massive corruption and abuse of power, who sought (and got) sanctuary in the US and UK.
Second, I actually know what democracy is supposed to be. In Pakistan, democracy starts and ends with the ballot box. There is no public accountability of the elected members because they don’t meet their constituents. When a person is elected to public office in Pakistan, they build a wall around themselves with police and aides that keep the people away from them. It is not unheard of for a newly elected member of government to have a police entourage of 15 vehicles, not to mention the round-the-clock police security around their homes. Rather than having offices in their constituencies to hear the grievances of the voters, they are forced to travel to provincial capitals, get hotel rooms and pay bribes to aides, just to get five minutes of the “honorable” member’s time. More often than not, the “honorable member” makes some excuse about why they can’t help them and the voter goes home, poorer financially and morally beaten.
Third, I don’t suffer from the problem that every Pakistani has – letting emotion cloud my judgment. In Pakistan, there is no such thing as a civil discussion. There will be yelling, name calling and sometimes fights over how to resolve basic issues because people are loyal to a political party rather than the country itself. I don’t think that way. There are easy ways and difficult ways to solving every problem that Pakistan suffers from, but they require people to give up their political loyalties and stand for the national interest. No one wants to do that. And Pakistan continues to suffer with the basic problems of electricity, health care, education and policing for the past 67 years.
Extending on my first question. Do you think the war on drugs/terrorism has helped Pakistan?
Depends on what you mean by help. For those of us who are pro-Pakistan, the war on terrorism, while difficult and bloody, will save Pakistan in the end. There are parts of our country that believe that the war on terrorism is America’s war, which is just a joke. That is done more to gain sympathies from the conservative, religious voters. In a war where we have lost 70,000 Pakistanis, it’s just as much our war as it is anyone else’s.
Terrorism, as you will read in Agency Rules, started in the 1990s after the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan. The terrorism then was limited in scale meaning that the objectives were different. Post-Soviet withdrawal, many of the mujahideen that fought in Afghanistan returned to Pakistan and the madrassahs where they had been trained. With no formal enemy, they turned their attention to continuing the “Islamization” of Pakistan that was started by General Zia-ul-Haq. This Islamization was widespread and very detrimental to Pakistan because it created new laws that victimized women who were abused, raped or killed, not to mention the whole crop of madrassahs that had popped up all over the country to train mujahids for Afghanistan.
These madrassahs began to support a teaching of Islam known as Wahabism, which is practiced is Saudi Arabia. Wahabism is an extremely strict teaching of Islam that is not practiced anywhere other than Saudi Arabia, but is now being taught in numerous countries because of Saudi “investment” into spreading it around the Muslim world. These madrassahs are now the training ground for terrorism and al-Qaeda.
During the military government of General Musharraf, we saw great in-roads made into the fight against the terrorists, but since Pakistan has returned to democracy, we went from fighting the terrorists to negotiating with them. Actually, negotiating is the wrong word. Since the Nawaz Sharif government has come into power, we have basically given in to their demands, including stopping the military that was weeks away from wiping them off the planet. Nawaz Sharif has long held a special place in his heart for the religious fundamentalists, since his political career was launched by General Zia-ul-Haq, so it is no surprise to those of us who know history that he is “negotiating” with them.
So, to answer your question, it was good for Pakistan until 2011, when this government came into power and decided that it was better to get in bed with the terrorists than fight them for Pakistan.
Can you tell us a bit about the whole situation there, and how it affects you?
I find it quite interesting at times. On one side, we have the Western powers that demand Pakistan be democratically ruled, but have no interest in whether democrats they force on Pakistan are actually doing anything for the people. They are more than happy to provide loans and aid to the country’s most corrupt, knowing full well that the money will end up in Swiss or Cayman Island accounts, thus increasing the burden on Pakistan to repay loans that never helped the people or the country.
On the other side, we have the terrorists supported by Afghanistan, according to a story in the New York Times last year, and Saudi Arabia that are wreaking havoc inside the nation. There are also rumors coming out of the US media that some of the terrorism may be CIA sponsored via a training facility known as Penny Lane near Guantanamo Bay (http://www.veteranstoday.com/2013/11/26/did-the-cia-give-birth-to-the-ttp-at-penny-lane/). Pakistan really is the center of any great spy story, which is why I think Agency Rules will shake some people when they read it. I don’t hide the facts that led to the build-up of where we are today and I don’t think people around the world have any idea what is really going on in Pakistan, other than the 30 second sound bytes they get on their evening news.
Living in Pakistan is hell at times, but I would never leave because it’s home. Just because the house is on fire, doesn’t mean that I leave it to burn. As a Pakistani, I have a responsibility to help put the fire out, whether it be through my writing, speaking engagements or becoming a candidate in the political system. Pakistanis can’t continue to run from the country thinking that someone else will sort it out for them, which has been the case for decades. We need to stay here and fight for what is ours, otherwise it won’t be ours anymore.
Moving on to a lighter subject, is there any food or beverage that is a constant factor in either your books or life?
In life, it’s pizza, burgers and Pepsi. These were the basic staples of life for me when I was in the US and I have kept them since my return about 17 years ago. Granted, I can’t get a deep-dish Chicago style pizza in Karachi, but I make a mean burger at home.
In my book, food is secondary. Since it is Pakistan, I have kept the local cuisine wrapped in the story. The bulk of the story is set in Peshawar, which is famous for its meat dishes from Chicken Karahi to chapli kebab. The Pukhtoons, Pathans as some might know them, love to eat meat.
What is your favourite dish and can you give me the recipe?
My favorite dishes are mutton chops and chapli kebab. Both are quite easy to make, but mutton chops take some patience.
To make chapli kebab, you need a kilo of ground beef, 1 chopped onion, 1 chopped tomato, some dried pomegranate seeds, a pinch of parsley, dill and paprika. You can add red and green chili to your own taste. Mix it all together in a large mixing bowl and make a patty about the size of your hand. Now, here’s the hard part.
You can’t flat fry a chapli kebab in a fry pan. It has to sit flat on a layer of ghee (lard). Where we get chapli kebab in the market, they are fried in a large round pan that is tilted at a 35˚ angle, to give you that layer. Take a very good helping of ghee (available at your favorite Indian store) and drop it into the pan. Make sure you let it melt completely and get very hot. Take the chapli kebab that you made, place it onto the pan where there is no oil and slide it gently into the oil. You don’t flip it over, just take a large spatula and flip the oil like you would for a sunny side up egg. When it’s nicely browned, it’s done. Serve with naan and a mint chutney.
What is the title of the book you would like to talk about, and can you give us a small taster of it?
Agency Rules takes the reader through the timeline from the 1990s to today and the war on terror in Pakistan. Agency Rules – Never an Easy Day at the Office, is the first installment of the series and starts the story in the 1990s, with a young Kamal Khan. Kamal is a sniper by training and gets admission to the ISI Academy to become an intelligence officer in the feared Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). His first mission is to infiltrate a madrassa that intelligence says is connected with jihadi activities. And that’s where the story begins.
It’s a wild ride and a brutally honest look at Pakistan before the war on terror, from the citizens to the politicians and everyone in between. This is the first in the series of four, so it sets the foundation for where the story will take the reader in the second book, due out in December.
Did you have difficulty coming up with the title?
Actually, I didn’t. I have been thinking about this book for a while now. I wrote a novella with the same name, but never published it, even though I had a publisher interested. I wasn’t happy with the overall feel of the novella so I re-wrote the whole thing as a novel and then planned out the series.
Is there anything you don’t like about being an author? And what do you think is the advantage of being one?
I quite enjoy being an author. It allows me to let my imagination go crazy and let the group of voices in my head come out on paper. There were times when they drove me crazy, now they just drive me to write.
The advantage is being able to tell a story that no one else can. People will write about Pakistan until their arms fall off, but they will never get it all, nor will they get it right. There are hundreds of dynamics, thousands of players and millions of threads to this country’s story, you can’t just pull one and think, “this is the right one.” You have be one of us to write about us. Otherwise, it’s second hand information, headlines from the newspaper and personal observations. That’s not Pakistan’s story … it’s yours.
What do you do marketing wise and what do you think generates the most attention to your books?
I spent a lot of time on digital media from twitter and Facebook to my author website. Granted, since I am a marketer by profession, I have a good grasp on how to use the channels to deliver results, but I can’t get people to buy a book unless they understand the premise. I think that is why I write so much and do interviews about the book, people need to understand that this isn’t an India-Pakistan or Pakistan-US story. This is Pakistan from cover to cover. We don’t leave the country once and we never get a pat on the back. It’s the beginning of a war.
The most successful part of my marketing has been the reviews that readers have written. I can tell you how great the book is, why you should read it and the understanding that you will gain from it, but that doesn’t come anywhere near the impact of a reader saying – “must read.” The book has gotten great reviews from almost everyone that has read it, and continues to shock people that are reading it for the first time.
Can you tell me something none has ever heard before from you? Hehehe, I just love those little dirty secrets, real or make believe. 🙂
Murder is easy, so is the guilt. The hard part is hiding the body.
Eeeps! Khalid, that sounds ominous. 🙂 Thank you for being here and taking the time to explain all of this about your home country.
Thanks for having me for this interview. It was a pleasure to speak to your readers about Agency Rules and Pakistan. Hopefully, I have been able to generate some interest for you all to pick it up.
It certainly got me interested. Who of you readers have an idea about this region and has found themselves wrong after reading a book, or article?