Over the winter break, I had the chance to meet an upcoming Pakistani author, Khalid Muhammad, who wrote Agency Rules – Never an Easy Day at the Office. He agreed to record an interview over a casual cup of tea, which I am uploading here.
I was very excited about this interview because I strongly believe that Pakistan needs more middle-class voices to make themselves heard, and Khalid represents what our own media, our intellectuals and our politicians don’t: the silent majority. He is also the first author published by Dead Drop Books, a new publishing house in Karachi catering to popular fiction novels – a rarity in the country’s publishing landscape, which is overrun with academic and political/historical books. Agency Rules is a great spy thriller, among Pakistan’s first English language spy thrillers, and is the first of a series of novels featuring Kamal Khan as the main protagonist.
We covered a few sensitive topics about terrorism, our emerging clergy, and the sad state of local authors who aren’t supported by our larger bookstores. But our conversation, in places, also made me laugh.
Please excuse the stumbling start I made. This was my first recorded interview and astonishingly difficult to do. I thought I was just camera-shy, but it turns out, I’m scared of any kind of public speaking!
About Agency Rules:
Agency Rules is the story of Kamal Khan’s rise through the ranks of Pakistan’s ISI. Set in the late nineties, it’s a look at Pakistan’s troubles with rising extremism pre-September/11 and the War on Terrorism.
The story starts in Karachi, where Kamal, a lowly sniper, is deployed in an operation to put a dent in the rampant criminal gang elements plaguing the city. It’s a short step from there to The Jungle, where he trains to become an ISI officer. Against the backdrop of Pakistan’s dysfunctional politics, Kamal’s first assignment is to his home town of Peshawar, where he meets Kaleem at a construction site.
Kaleem is Kamal’s ticket into a shady world of arms dealers and assassins masquerading as religious leaders—men we might recognise from today’s political landscape. In Agency Rules, these men are equally potent, equally destructive, and Kamal’s greatest threat. He meets Imam Shahid, ostensibly a generous philanthropist who saves Kaleem from an abusive father. In reality, Imam Shahid is just the first rung of a terrorist network that has sinister connections to foreign agencies and the Afghan mujahideen. Stepping beyond the parameters of his assignment, Kamal goes deep undercover to expose a looming threat to Pakistan’s existence.
Woven into this story is a shadowy arm that seems to reach the very upper echelons of power in Pakistan and around the world. Using blackmail and intimidation, a hidden organisation is playing chess on a global level, moving their pawns to topple governments and manipulate markets to their advantage.