home Major Nazir Hussain
Yusuf (Joe) Masood (from Queens, NY), is on leave from terror training, long enough to visit his ailing grandmother in Islamabad; but she has been removed to Lahore for medical treatment. He is now alone in her house where he is visited by a stranger, a man he is in no mood to trust.
Yusuf, not quite the innocent he used to be, tells him: "You've got long arms (and powerful, he doesn't say) and now that you are sitting, your ankle holster is more easily reached. Fold your hands in your lap." He sits opposite, impressed with the man's obviously hardened body stretching his blue tee shirt, and adds, "I'm an excellent shot," which is not entirely true, but he knows his revolver levels the field. The other laughs softly; while not scornful his laugh lacks heat and edges up to condescension. "At this short distance," he observes, "isn't everyone?"
Yusuf thinks, well fuck you, and doesn't respond, yet joins the man by offering a smile that harbors no mirth, for this isn't fun time. Akhmad would tell him in so many words of his own choosing: the other must first show his cards before one gives anything. Just like law school.
The man continues: "We are sophisticated men, the two of us. We both know that what is more important than marksmanship is the willingness to squeeze the trigger."
Confident his willingness has increased a thousand percent over these many weeks, Yusuf says, "Yeah, true, but I advise you to count me among the willing. Also…a curious subject, isn't it? I mean as a conversation starter?"
The man nods and replies, "Let's place that aside for the moment."
"Place it aside? My willingness to shoot you? That suggests we're coming back to it. No?"
"To shoot me? No. But I'm impressed. You're focused and very alert. You are obviously not the same young man who came to Islamabad in the spring."
You bet I'm not, he doesn't say. Yet while trained as a law student to avoid muddled thinking, Yusuf knows he is not quite the worldly guy the other makes him out to be (or flatters him with, is what crosses his mind). Of himself, he thinks he speaks too sharply, too close to an outburst displaying a lack of control when he says with a raised voice, "I'm glad you noticed that. I'm focused. And who the hell are you, and what d'you want with me?"
The man looks toward the ceiling and says, "Your neighbors may hear you."
Yusuf says, "I don't give a shit," as he feels himself examined by this man who presents such an authoritative bearing. Official, maybe military, a man in charge of something and capable of enforcing his rules, whatever they are. Well screw his rules, for he holds the ultimate authority in his hand—the five shot Russian revolver.
"I see your anger is out in front for all to see. With me it's okay," he instructs, "but in general this not a good idea. You ask what do I want. Well, everything in its proper order," he goes on as he reaches with his left hand for his pocket and Yusuf's arm rapidly extends, bringing the black-finish weapon two feet closer to him. "Whoa!" he exclaims. "My wallet." He draws his chinos up at the knees, exposing his white Nikes and revealing the holstered pistol on his right ankle. He straightens this leg, bringing the ankle closer to Yusuf and farther from himself. "Okay?"
"Okay. But don't move so fast."
"Good reflexes," the man says while he draws a card from his wallet and holds it out toward Yusuf who says:
"I don't need your compliments," as he slowly reaches with care and snatches it. The man nods with a tolerant smile and this annoys Yusuf—being tolerated. After all, he has the weapon, he's in charge. He stands and walks around behind his chair, placing himself at a greater distance so he can more safely read the text. The card says his name is Nasir Hussain, and that he is with the Pakistani diplomatic mission operating from its Islamabad embassy. Yusuf looks up and says, "This means nothing to me. People print everything on computers, even money."
"This is true." He pauses, then hands him his driver's license. Yusuf sees his photo, his name and address, sees the word PUNJAB is printed on the upper right corner; all of it authentic looking. But he says:
"I can show you my license along with something I've printed, too." Dissatisfied he shakes his head. "You seem to want to hold out…to do this in stages. You're dealing with a fucking paranoid, Mister Hussain—if that's your real name. What else?" He reaches to return the cards when Hussain says to him, "Turn over the card." He does and sees two sets of numbers and letters printed softly in pencil, easily erased.
Hussain indicates the canvas pack on the table with the nod of his head, and says, "Take out the laptop."
Yusuf suggests that Hussain do it—carefully—and to slide it across the floor to him with his other foot. He does this and Yusuf takes it to a small table and opens it.
Hussain says, "Okay, this is something anyone can do in Queens, New York. Type in: www.defence.pk."
"You know all about me? From Queens?"
Yusuf obeys and sees an official looking website boldly headlined white on black: PAKISTAN DEFENCE. Under this are impressive black and white photos of helicopter gunships and artillery pieces. Following Hussain's instructions he clicks on the word GALLERY and scrolls down to a series of mini photos. He is told to click on a particular picture and he watches it enlarge to about five by six inches in size. He sees well-armed aggressive looking Pak Special Forces men in camouflage uniforms escorting a group of civilians and military types.
"So?" he says.
"The central figure is President Pervez Musharraf, who by the way has just resigned from the coalition government under pressure—which we won't bother discussing. Recognize him?"
"Musharraf? Yeah. Yes, I do. And?"
"Look three people to his left."
"I'm looking. So what?"
"Look between the second and third, behind them."
Yusuf does so. Eyes a bit wider, he looks up and says, "It's you."
"Just part of the official crowd, but yes, it's me. Now the first row of numbers and letters on the card's back. Type them in and tell me what you see."
Again he follows instructions. "An official site. Says, The Directive For Inter-Services Intelligence."
"Better known as ISI. This is a secure site. Not for public eyes. Type in the second set. What do you see?"
"A space to type names."
"Enter mine. What do you see?"
He types. "Okay. A picture of you in uniform. I'm suitably impressed. Major Nazir Hussain, formerly a member of the Covert Action Division…and other impressive stuff. And…ahh…finally, now attached to the diplomatic mission coordinating with CIA, etcetera. The CIA? Jesus! You work with them? What's goin' on here?" His hand holding the revolver rises on auto in Hussain's direction. "How do I know they're not with you, outside?"
Hussain laughs, tells him, "No cause for alarm, Yusuf. These are merely the credentials that you insisted on seeing; which turns out to be an excellent lead-in to why I am here. The CIA."
"This makes me fucking nervous." He waves the revolver without thinking.
"You don't look nervous," Hussain says as a matter of fact.
Yusuf realizes this is true. He's not. He's on edge but he's on his feet, he has his wits, he's thinking. And against the grain of his mistrust he is flattered by Hussain's remark; believing this man of military consequence is impervious to sentiment and observes him with a shrewd objectivity; no doubt measuring him for his own purposes—this yet to be revealed part nagging Yusuf.
Regardless of his undeviating cool Hussain says, "But please," as if to a child, "lower the weapon. It remains cocked." Merely a practical matter.
But Yusuf's mind is still traveling on a one-way lane with no off ramp, when he says, "Well, they'd like to get their hands on me, damn it," gazing past Hussain's shoulders toward the door as if expecting a swat team to shatter it. But while leaving it cocked he does lower the revolver.
"Actually, that's not necessarily so. I guarantee, their preoccupations are many." While not quite a put down, he comes close: "You see more importance in this than exists. You are not uppermost with them. Rather off the radar, I'd say. They don't really know where you you've disappeared to. The rumor they've received is that you went looking for your brother—somewhere—hopeful he might not have died. Which may or may not have taken you to the tribal lands. A not unreasonable thing, if you had; I mean for an aggressive sibling to do in the minds of some, if not in the opinion of the CIA. Which is neither here nor there. They do not know you are here. I do because I'm better connected in these matters. And they depend on me for much of this kind of intelligence, which is obviously not forthcoming."
Yusuf says, "Maybe obvious to you, but not to me. I don't know you." Yet he is starting to believe this Hussain, an impressively centered, take charge type.
"It is understood."
"Good. But about you and them. Your relationship. It spooks me and I don't get it."
"Yes, of course, let me educate so we can move on. What you see is all a game of angled mirrors. Reflections of reflections. From the outside one is never quite sure of what one is looking at. The CIA and their contractors are all over Pakistan. They may be gathering intelligence on the ground, or murdering people. Or they may be providing weapons to enemy insurgents to keep the crisis level raised, to rationalize a U.S. presence. If one is uncovered, he retreats to the embassy. And whatever it is he has been doing, it is simply portrayed as executing diplomatic business.
"Here, there are public outcries and official indignation, but we in Pakistan are deep in the game. For instance, if we know of an imminent American missile strike, we in the ISI often alert the militants beforehand. We sometimes provide funding and sanctuary to the Taliban. I am secular, like you, but many in the military and in ISI are fundamentalists. In either case it often comes down to pragmatism and money."
Yusuf recalls the intercept, and waving on, of the Vice and Virtue men by the Pak military, but says nothing.
"Some days, under threat of a cutback of dollars from the U.S. we attack the Taliban and kill them. Then the U.S. military bribes the Taliban in dollars to prevent the Taliban, or bandits of every stripe, from attacking their convoys. On other days they kill each other, with the Taliban shooting down American aircraft with Rockets the U.S. gave to them to fight the Soviets. Sometimes, to please the U.S. president, we invade Taliban territory; but to please the Taliban we shoot at empty buildings. Still, the ungrateful Taliban we created and supported will often attack our government and military installations and kill hundreds.
"What this all comes down to, Yusuf, is the economy of Pakistan would collapse without U.S. dollars. The game is this: by keeping the Taliban alive we continue to receive billions in aid. Thus, when we must attack the Taliban, we pay a bribe to the Mujahid for the collateral damage, with American money. Fewer people are killed that way. American businessmen understand this. They bribe their congressmen to not shoot them down. As you can see, one can explain without seeming to make sense. I think we must get past this now. Eh?"
Yusuf feels overtaken by a tsunami of wanton corruption delivered by a man who appears entirely untouched by it all. He shakes his head and says, "This is fucking crazy. I can't believe this shit. Yeah, get past it. For instance, I don't mean to be pushy, Major; but about the connection to me and you're reason for being here?"
Without a preamble and flat out serious: "I know who kidnapped your brother. A group of five, actually." His words as delivered are cold enough in Yusuf's opinion, to chill the air.
By contrast: never mind his heart, Yusuf's entire body quickens as if heat lightening has quietly passed through him. He is quite still, his lips are parted but he doesn't speak. He refuses to become excited. His brother is dead. Fucking dead. Finally he offers a neutral, if meaningless, "Okay."
After a moment of study, Hussain crosses the leg with the ankle holster over the other, rests back and folds his arms.
While absorbed, a still watchful Yusuf dismisses the sudden move as harmless and waits.
"Three of the five were adjuncts to the two primaries. Dismiss the former and focus on the latter. One is an official spook. The other is an Agency contractor. A former Marine. A security operative on loan from a major black ops player in South Asia. A contractor called Darkwell. Familiar?"
Yusuf shakes his head.
"Not important. These two are connected to the U.S. embassy in Lahore. The Central Intelligence man, Scott McGregor, carries diplomatic immunity. The contractor, Andy Barrett, is listed as a security expert on official business for the embassy. But he also carries a few other cards, one of which identifies him as a Department of Defense contractor." He shrugs and says, "Who knows? But as with all spies they employ informants and collect intelligence, and in general double deal. Not overly offensive occupations. But Barret's primary value is in what is not visible to the naked eye. Assassinations, whether with his own hands or bribing others to do the same. The CIA spook, McGregor, a nasty piece of work, is not far behind." He waits, then says, "No comment? Does this bore you?"
While far from bored, Yusuf is impatient: "What has any of this to do with me?"
"Well, I've already told you. They tortured your brother."
"You said kidnapped."
"Forgive. I am corrected. They did both. Whether they let him die, or killed him, or let him go, they did not say."
"So you know these pricks?"
"Of course. I've worked with Scott McGregor—tangentially with Barrett."
"They fucking tortured my brother. How can you trust them? I mean, why would you?"
"Well, you misunderstand. Intelligence services never trust each other. No matter how cooperative they are in ventures beneficial to both. Never. We simply—quite often, I suppose—need each other." He utters a soft sigh as if recalling the good old days. "Our best moments with the Americans are behind us. When the Soviets were in Afghanistan we were closer. But that's distant thunder now." He waves it away with: "It's beyond complexity."
While Hussain pauses thoughtfully, Yusuf supposes it could be the same for him; that while he would never fully trust this man he might work with him for some yet unknown profit, mutually sought; a notion that rapidly fades as he considers his precarious place in the world.
The Major leans forward with his elbows on his upper thighs. His demeanor becomes uncharacteristically eager, even solicitous, as his large folded hands flap apart and display his palms, when he explains: "So the point of all this is not to torture you, as well, Yusuf. But possibly to help."
A disparaging shake of his head. "I see no possibility of help for me in what's left of my life, which has basically turned to shit."
"Well, not entirely, Yusuf. This should interest you, so stay with me. But first a question. If you could find yourself in contact with these two men, what would you do?"
Yusuf nods in silence for several seconds, smiling as if amused, before he admits, "If I had access to them six months ago I would've tried to have them arrested—silly—or tried to sue them. Or sue the government. Some dumb ass thing like that."
"Yes. Much has happened. And now?"
Yusuf raises his revolver. He points it at the ceiling and in lieu of shooting it he pumps it up and down. "We're still in fantasy land? I would kill the motherfuckers without hesitation."