Shimla House and Tehran: Naeem Baig’s novel Kogon Plan chapters 5 and 6

Shimla House
Naeem Baig's Novel Kogon Plan

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 his closest comrade in arms, and even without sex it was an un-breachable 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’s 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 unwelcome 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 was 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 at 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 he 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 rear wall bearing “No Smoking Anywhere on this Facility” by order of Colonel Abrar. The next thing he noticed was a young second lieutenant who sat at his desk directly beneath the sign. He was reading something from a file and smoking.
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 in 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 as a 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 had 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.
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’s 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 could 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 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 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 escape 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

______

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 walking-cane 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 lie in the bed until late morning would disappear.
It was as if Razmak was 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 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 bone-break 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 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 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 ended only a couple of months ago, and already the Afghans were offering the elder Bilal a seat in the newly formed 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 were over and there was nothing now left to battle against own people and the peaceful coexistence was the only solution. Basher Bilal was a 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 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, and 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 are still angry.”
“How long can I wait, Baba? How long must I wait while they call my father a traitor and me the 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 the balance 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 such relief, yet he didn’t further question 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 loved his daughters, for they reminded 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 a 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 with 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 stared 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 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 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. Within 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 Afghan doors 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. Razmak on the other hand, was a 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 Afghan 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 the 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 the 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 there since 1950.
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 a 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 the 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 the 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?
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 woke 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 auto-strides, 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 naturally becoming more near to the true land of his own country.
He did not know how he reached 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 on 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 was 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.
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 extra-ordinary 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 ever decided 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 on his seat. An old woman with 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 a 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 taking the bus. 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 G-6. 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 couldn’t go to Islamabad, Rafi decided, 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 alluded to the private part of one’s mother.
Rafi turned his head nearly smiling because the expression of frustration reflected 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 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 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 the 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 at 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 staring.
Razmak removed a slip of paper from his pocket. He showed it to Rafi. In Urdu the script were the words “Aunt Shehzadi, 29 Arman Tower, Bagh-e-Feyz.
“You’re in the 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 a 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 preparation 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 got 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?
“We will get off here, and you will catch another bus for Shahrah-e-Almahdi, which will drop you at Arman Tower bus stop in Bagh-e-Feyz.
“Good,” Razmak paused for a while allowing the 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 the bus together. The rain was falling 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 a 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 an 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 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 look more like 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 had 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.
“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 quieten 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 with 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 quickly and for some reasons the proprietor began to 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 had 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 a 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.

_______

Continued…

About نعیم بیگ 144 Articles
ممتاز افسانہ نگار، ناول نگار اور دانش ور، نعیم بیگ، مارچ ۱۹۵۲ء میں لاہور میں پیدا ہوئے۔ گُوجراں والا اور لاہور کے کالجوں میں زیرِ تعلیم رہنے کے بعد بلوچستان یونی ورسٹی سے گریجویشن اور قانون کی ڈگری حاصل کی۔ ۱۹۷۵ میں بینکاری کے شعبہ میں قدم رکھا۔ لاہور سے وائس پریذیڈنٹ اور ڈپٹی جنرل مینیجر کے عہدے سے مستعفی ہوئے۔ بعد ازاں انہوں نے ایک طویل عرصہ بیرون ملک گزارا، جہاں بینکاری اور انجینئرنگ مینجمنٹ کے شعبوں میں بین الاقوامی کمپنیوں کے ساتھ کام کرتے رہے۔ نعیم بیگ کو ہمیشہ ادب سے گہرا لگاؤ رہا اور وہ جزو وقتی لکھاری کے طور پر ہَمہ وقت مختلف اخبارات اور جرائد میں اردو اور انگریزی میں مضامین لکھتے رہے۔ نعیم بیگ کئی ایک عالمی ادارے بَہ شمول، عالمی رائٹرز گِلڈ اور ہیومن رائٹس واچ کے ممبر ہیں۔

1 Comment

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