Ajay is currently with the Indian Revenue Service (IRS). His background as an engineer and his two decades of work with the Indian Revenue Service, his close association with different intelligence agencies around the globe, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in Washington DC, attachment with the Indian Embassy in USA and his training at Duke University, North Carolina, USA have given him a deep understanding of world geopolitics and the intricacies of how intelligence agencies and governments at different levels operate worldwide. All of this has fed into his first novel, Resonance.
Ajay is married to Sumita and they have one son, Pranjal.
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First published in India by westland ltd 2014
First ebook edition: 2014
Copyright © by Ajay 2014
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Typeset by Ram Das Lal
Printed at RR Donnelley India, Chennai
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Early morning: March 12, 2007
will never cease in Kashmir. To liberate Kashmir and to secure
, Jihad is the only way! The Hindustānis have deprived our Muslim brethren of their just demand and treated our brothers like second-rate citizens. It is
, which has forced Hindustān to sit up and take notice of the Kashmir issue.
will gather strength because the Republican Party of George W. Bush will soon lose the coming election. American-led allied countries, France and Denmark, have run out of steam and have left Afghanistan. Very soon Italy, Germany and Canada will also abandon the US. Then, the ground will be ready for us, the Mujahideen. We will see how Hindustān will save herself from the wrath of Allah. We, His servants, will take the first steps to bomb the Baglihar Dam in Hindustān. Our destiny is not to sit back and watch our fertile land become barren. Let us release the floodgates and allow the deluge to cleanse us of the dirty marks of the
. Let the lands be inundated so that our green crops stand tall and bountiful, feeding each and every one of our Muslim brothers. Insha Allah, we will eliminate Hindustān soon."
An early morning speech by Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, Chief of the terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Post his speech, a thousand voices chorused together,
* * *
A few thousand miles away in Amman, the capital of Jordan, Sundaram Iyer, the Joint Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation, checked into the Royal Suite, on the 24th Floor of Le Royal Hotel at 3rd Circle. After relaxing in the steam room, Sundaram Iyer let his body float on the bubbling jacuzzi. After a while, he stepped out and instructed the butler to prepare a large scotch for him while he got dressed.
Hafiz Muhammad Saeed's message still hung in the air, like an ominous cloud, when in the wee hours of the morning, two agents of the Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan visited the Royal Suite and turned up the 'Do not disturb' door-hanger. Sundaram welcomed the agents and offered them drinks. The officers politely refused. The agents waited while Sundaram savoured some more of his smooth thirst-quenchers and lay down on the silk sheets. A few minutes later, one of the agents took out freezing cold water from the refrigerator, while the other hauled Sundaram off the bed in one swift movement. With half shut eyes, Sundaram dragged himself behind them. The agents hurried Sundaram through the dimly lit corridor and then bundled him into the Mercedes-Benz, waiting at the back of the hotel.
The car sped off to the Royal Jordanian Airbase. A Pakistani private chartered plane took the flight path to CJL, the Chitral airport situated in Pakistan's troubled province of Khyber Paktunkhwa. Five hours later, the plane started to descend when it neared Panjsher. It maneuvered through the beautiful valley of the Hindukush Mountain Range and floated over the runway before touching down. A SUV was waiting for its passengers. From the airport, the SUV crossed a bridge on the Kunar River, steered across a dusty road, heavily guarded by the Elite Armed Force and reached its destination -- the three massive caves that lay nestled against the thick pine forest.
An all-important meeting was soon underway.
Somashekhar Rao, an engineer from India, spread the drawing sheet on a stone dyke as Imran Shah Malik, the retired Chief of the ISI and Saeed al-Masri, the Financial Chief of al Qaeda, pored over it. When the engineer ran a simulation on a powerful MacBook Pro, Saeed al-Masri patted his back. Imran Shah Malik had a pen drive in the inner pocket of his overcoat. However, he chose not to disclose its contents and thus unveil his plan, a plan aimed at altering the history of mankind. The other Jihadists gave the engineer a bored look. The technical and engineering aspects of the plan held no interest for them. What interested them was the annihilation of millions and the destruction of thousands of square miles of verdant land beyond the flowing Indus River and turning it into a swampy wasteland forever.
More than a year later
November 2008, Lahore
Imran Shah Malik, the retired Chief of the ISI, was proud of his new six-bedroom bungalow, in the heart of Mall Road, Lahore. A beautiful sprawling garden flanked the brilliant sapphire swimming pool that glittered under the canopy of an azure sky. A high fence with concertina wire secured the perimeter of the bungalow while elite forces from the Pakistan Army stood guard.
Right from the days of Zia-ul-Haq, Operation Tupac was aimed at disintegrating India by utilizing the ISI spy network to act as an instrument of sabotage, exploiting the porous Indo-Nepalese and Indo-Bangladesh border to set up bases and thus carry out anti-India operations.
Operation Tupac was Imran Shah Malik's driving passion. A fourth objective was added to the plan when Sundaram Iyer and his team agreed to execute the Joint Action Plan. He pompously renamed it Tupac-II. All the other members except Imran Shah Malik wanted to go ahead with a trial run of Operation
Tupac-II. This preface was called Project Karachi, a Jihadist attack on Mumbai. The main purpose of the Jihadi attack on Mumbai was to tactically shift the interest of the world from Afghanistan, as well as to instill a new spirit amongst the Jihadist cadre. The cadre was getting impatient because of their failure to carry out any worthwhile work that would invite world media attention. American drone attacks had demoralized the rank and file. Post their exploit, they wanted to gauge global reaction. If all went as planned, India would bleed and the Government of Pakistan would have a lot of explaining to do. Best of all, it would open up new avenues for the Jihadists.
However, Imran Shah Malik's interest lay beyond Project Karachi. He wanted nothing less than the success of Tupac-II and in his view Project Karachi would be counterproductive to his grand plan. However, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) vetoed Imran Shah Malik and decided to go ahead with the attack.
Nausheen, Imran Shah Malik's pretty wife answered the doorbell to welcome her husband, who had come back home from Abbottabad after two days.
Imran loosened his necktie and enquired about the whereabouts of their son, Aban.
"Ever since he has come back from the United States, he is busy with his MacBook. His love is either his engineering project or this little toy. "Nausheen smiled and started to move to the kitchen. "I'll tell Aban to come downstairs and prepare tea. Would you like to have some
"Aha! Why not?"Imran smiled sheepishly and moved to his study to check the latest report. He was expecting an important call from his brother at 07:55 pm PST (Pakistan Standard Time) to get information on whether Project Karachi was to go ahead as per the LeT plan or if it would be aborted, as Imran wished so desperately.
The phone rang. "The LeT boys have landed at Colaba in Mumbai. As per plan, they will split into different groups. However, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed has made a slight change in target since his commander has held back two of his men. The new target is the Governor's House and Sena Bhawan instead of the Mumbai Police Headquarters. As for the rest, the plan stands as it is."
Imran sounded worried, "What if the Hindustāni authorities catch them?"
"No option. As per the LeT code, they will have to follow their ideology and lay down their lives for
"Absolute rubbish! I never approved such an atrocious plan. I told Hafiz not to fall into the trap of al Qaeda since Pakistan will gain nothing by this mayhem. Instead, we'll have to face flak from Western countries. Hindustān will gain an upper hand and cry foul. However, Hafiz wouldn't listen to me."
"Well, he doesn't listen to our government either."
"Does the Government of Pakistan know about it?"
"Yes. They were informed a few minutes ago."
"What is their take on it?"
"They have asked LeT to abort the plan and call back their men. But LeT says they never look back. So, the government has no option but to play dead."
Imran Shah Malik took a deep breath. "How could Hafiz Saeed not understand that he is putting Tupac-II in jeopardy? What was the need for inviting world attention when you have something so big to bargain with the Hindustāni
dogs from a vantage point?"
"When I was with Hafiz Saeed, he mentioned that Tupac-II is still embryonic. It will take a lot of time and it needs a lot of preparation. Moreover, its success is not guaranteed."
"I guaranteed everything. If it works out according to my plan, I'll bring the Hindustāni government to its knees. If they don't agree to our demand, the destruction that the world will see will reduce 9/11 to a mere footnote in the annals of history. The only thing I need to take care is to keep al Qaeda out of the loop."
"al Qaeda is very much on the scene after Saeed al-Masri attended the meeting at Chitral."
"How do you know about the meeting?"
"The al Qaeda people told me a bit about it. But I don't know the finer details."
"It was a top-secret meeting. Wait for some more time, brother. I'll tell you about it soon. I told Hafiz Saeed not to invite the al Qaeda to the Chitral meeting. But he said that such a complex plan required a great deal of logistics and international support. According to him, without al Qaeda, Tupac-II will always remain a distant dream. He seems to be playing into their hands and cannot dissociate himself from them."
"Hafiz Saeed can't take the risk of antagonizing them either. Even if he wants to get rid of al Qaeda, it's too late, brother. I think they are now completely involved."
"How can you be so sure about it?"
"My dearest brother, trust your ears. If information about a top-secret meeting has reached me, then you should know what I mean."
Imran Shah Malik stopped to consider, "Why doesn't everyone understand what al Qaeda will ultimately do to Pakistan? One day, each one of us is going to repent this error of judgment. Hafiz Saeed will then know that al Qaeda never belonged to anyone. Truly speaking, not even to the Taliban!"He continued, "Anyway, tell me if any al Qaeda member was present in the meeting at the mosque?"
Imran Shah Malik was appalled, "Hafiz Saeed always plays into al Qaeda's hands. He has allowed them to interfere in this matter too?"
"He didn't invite them. Perhaps al Qaeda wanted to watch every move of LeT. al-Masri wanted his men to be present in the mosque. So, Hafiz could not do much. No one dares to go against them."
"If you remember, I went against al Qaeda and I promise that I will do the same again and again."
"I'm worried, Imran. Don't depend on anyone, not even Hafiz Saeed. Be alert. What if al Qaeda goes after you?"
"I'm neither holding up, nor keeping cover, brother. But can someone explain why are they hiding like a sly fox in some cave? Why are they living at the mercy of our tribal leaders? Why don't they come out into the open? Are their top leaders scared of death? Why do they send their Mujahideen to fight a losing battle and then leave them in the wilderness to live like hunted animals who ultimately die horrible deaths? But if their top leaders ever come out in the open, it's my promise that I'll make them realize that how a Pakistani can sort out things in seven minutes, things the Americans could not figure out in seven years."After a pregnant pause, Imran Shah Malik whispered, "Where are you, brother?"
The man at the other end laughed. "Nemogram. Back in my den."
"You were always an enigma. I still don't know what you do and for whom you work? Tell me, are you leading some Mujahideen group?"
"As always, you are so straightforward, my dearest brother. So here is a candid reply for you. I don't work for anyone. I work alone."
"What's your mission?"
"Chase al Qaeda."
A wide smile spread across Imran's lips, "Everyone knows how desperate al Qaeda is for a nuclear bomb. And my brother, a one-man army, is chasing al Qaeda for nukes? It seems that the plot has already thickened."Imran laughed out loud, "Well, we'll talk about it when we meet. But I know what my brother can do. At day's end, he sits with Hafiz Saeed and he is back in his den before the new day dawns. After sundown, he gives me pinpointed information about what will happen in Mumbai. Yet he never tells me how he gets such vital information or who his contacts are?"Imran breathed in and continued, "Though you are younger, but looks to me that you're my older brother even though you work alone."
"I'm still the same man, who used to play with his nephew Aban. I still feel my Aban's soft touch. It has been years since I met him. Only I know how much I miss him. Give him my love."After a long silence, Imran Shah Malik heard his brother say, "You have never been to Nemogram, have you?"
"No, I haven't. But why do you ask?"
"The place has Buddhist monasteries. One may experience a divine nirvana here."
"Are you a Buddhist convert now?"
"I'm a true follower of Islam."
"Yet I respect all human beings."
"Seems like I am talking to a Sufi saint."Imran Shah Malik expressed amusement. "Only this dervish walks around, armed with an AK-47. A wizard of geopolitics, a virtuoso of all-source information and a fakir! Sounds interesting. I haven't seen you in years. I wonder what my brother looks like now."
"You will get all your answers when you come to Nemogram?"
"I'll wait for you.
Khuda Hafiz, bhai
The line went dead. Imran Shah Malik called a few more numbers and got confirmation of what he feared most. He sighed deeply. Thinking about the inevitable, he stretched out on his reclining mahogany chair and shut his eyes. Sleep evaded him as he shuttled fitfully between sleep and wakefulness.
After a little while, he answered the door when he heard a mild knock. Nausheen smiled. "Aban is waiting for you. He has got a movie ticket for 'Twilight' at DHA Cinema."
"I can't go tonight."
"But why? You know Aban will go back to America after Eid al-Adha. Shouldn't we all spend some time with him? Ever since he has come to Lahore, you have been very busy with your work. Why can't you relax in your retired life?"
"Only Allah will decide when I'll call it a day. Till then, I'll work for my country. Anyway all of us will go to the movie tomorrow."
"I know this tomorrow never comes. Why don't you understand? He is our only son and only Allah knows when he will come back again."
"I told you not to send him to America. We all know how difficult it is for Pakistani Muslims to live in America after 9/11. The Americans treat each one of us as spies and consider every Pakistani a perpetual threat to their existence. After the black September day, everything has changed. It will never be the same again for us. The Americans can't stand us and the irony is that our government can't ignore them. "
"It was you who wanted to provide the best education to Aban."
"Our engineering colleges in Pakistan are not bad. I studied in Forman Christian College in Lahore for a few months before joining the armed services. The college is proud of its alumni: former Prime Minister of Hindustān Inder Kumar Gujral, President Pervez Musharraf and the Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi. The list is long. One of Forman's faculty members Prof. Arthur Compton conducted the bulk of his research on cosmic rays here, for which he received the Nobel Prize. I was member of the Undergraduate Mathematics society and know how good they are."
Imran pointed his finger to an image hanging on the wall, "He, Swami Ram Tirtha was a Mathematics genius. I have never come across anyone better than him. He was a proud member of our undergraduate society in Forman College and trust me, our entire alumni still hold him in the highest regard."
"Aban says getting a decent job in Pakistan is not easy for civil engineers. The companies pay them poorly."
"Does he really need that much money? He is a descendant of the Nawab of Dir and heir to a vast dominion. "Imran Shah Malik looked blankly at the ceiling and slowly turned his attention back to Nausheen. "But I know him. He thinks the same way as I do. He will prefer to earn by toiling and lead a decent life rather than spend sleepless nights in a castle with his inherited wealth. Make him understand that many multinational construction companies operate in Pakistan. He can always come back to our
after his studies and find a deserving job."
"Don't you think Aban will be a better person, if he stays in a cosmopolitan milieu?"
"The Americans are no different from the rest of the human race. They too are prone to exploiting life for selfish gains. The Supreme Court of the United States declared that the Native American Tribes and their land is a sovereign nation. Right under the nose of the authorities, drug peddling, flesh trading and smuggling are rampant in these 'sovereign nations'. All this goes in the name of culture, respecting other cultures. And the very same Americans bomb our tribes without understanding the 'otherness' of our culture."After a pause, he said, "Rather, the world is one."
"Still, why force him? Let him choose his own path."
"I know my son too,
. I know that right from the beginning he wanted to study in the Ivy League. He worked hard to get admission to one of the finest programmes. So, I never interfered. Today also if he wants to complete his education at Cornell, I will never force him to come back. However, if you ask me for my opinion, then I would want my child to return after he completes his research paper. I would love to see him prosper on his native soil and live among his own people in ease and peace."