Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Mukul Deva: A surgical strike

Indian thriller-writer Mukul Deva analyses global terrorism in his no holds barred, hard-hitting tetralogy with unflinching precision

A former Major in the Indian army, Mukul Deva was in Delhi when a deadly bomb ripped apart the Sarojini Nagar Market in the capital city. Many innocent lives were lost. This incident enraged Mukul so much that he decided to do something about it.

After serving the army for 15 years, Mukul had taken premature retirement to follow his passion: writing. Mukul had already set up a private consultancy firm and had written a few books on corporate training. But his dream of becoming an accomplished author of hard-hitting and gut-wrenching novels was yet to come true.

Only it became far bigger than he had imagined.

Mukul’s response to the Sarojini Nagar Market blasts found expression in his debut novel, Lashkar. From Lashkar to Salim Must Die to Blowback (releasing worldwide this January), Mukul set out on a quest to explore the dynamics of global terrorism that has become the bane of our time. The fourth title (Tanzim), completing this tetralogy on terrorism, is scheduled to come out next year.

Lashkar was released in 2008 and it became an instant bestseller in India. Salim Must Die was released last year and it also struck a chord with the readers. In a recent book launch in Singapore, Mukul pointed out, with the pride of prescience, that the terrorists who attacked Mumbai in 2008 charted the same route (Karachi to Mumbai) that Mukul had mapped out in his novel. Also, Mukul had pre-empted the Indian government by creating a National Intelligence Command (NIC) in his novel’s pages before the Manmohan Singh government actually created one to deal with terror threats.

The seeds of terror

salimLashkar begins with the blast in Delhi’s SN market and traces the origin of the blasts from the terror camps in Pakistan. Through his characters, Mukul shows that terrorism that comes from Pakistan is a proxy war between the two neighbors who have never trusted each other completely.

India and Pakistan were created in 1947, and from day one, the blood brothers turned on each other. Pakistan complained of being given a moth-eaten state, its eastern (now Bangladesh) and western parts separated by the monstrously huge terrain of India. Pakistan considers the state of Kashmir (J&K) as an occupied territory, a territory that rightfully belongs to the Muslim-majority country. At the UN, Nehru had promised a plebiscite for Kashmiris to decide whether they wanted union with India or Pakistan. That never happened. The two countries went to war on this issue—thrice. According to human rights activist and author Arundhati Roy, Kashmir is the most densely militarized zone in the world.

Last year, she wrote in an essay in Outlook magazine (“Azadi”):“For the past sixty days or so, since about the end of June, the people of Kashmir have been free. Free in the most profound sense. They have shrugged off the terror of living their lives in the gun-sights of half-a-million heavily-armed soldiers in the most densely militarised zone in the world.”

But that is not all. In the 1960s and early 70s, according to the Pakistani narrative, India helped Mukti Vahini, the group that finally made East Pakistan secede from Pakistan. A moth eaten Pakistan, whose heart (Kashmir) and limbs (East Pakistan) were chopped off by a ‘treacherous’ India wounded the young nation’s ego and psyche for good. Pakistan has used this Indian perfidy and perceived monstrosity (of India) as a justification to wage a constant war—a holy war—against India. India needs to be taught a lesson—that is what seems to be driving the terror machines across the border.

That’s also why, after the Afghan Mujahidins defeated the USSR in Afghanistan with USA’s help (money, training, and moral support), Pakistan diverted the zealots to the next holy cause of Islam—extricating Kashmir from the grip of a ‘Kafir’ Hindustan. The result was that Kashmir bled for decades and though much of the militancy is under control now, the human and military cost of India-Pakistan rivalry is egregiously expensive.

However, this cost means nothing to the Pakistani terror merchants—as long as the Americans keep sending their dollars to them. Mukul says at one point: “Almost every nation was aware that the Pakistani General’s claim that he had curbed all terrorist activity in his country was a blatant lie. The whole world knew about it yet refused to acknowledge it. The Americans went about applauding the General and praising him for his help in hunting down the Al Qaida.” A certain Pakistani General comes to mind while reading this.

Terrorism and its discontents

In Lashkar, through a character called Iqbal, Mukul shows how innocent and impressionistic young Muslims are recruited for the cause of the so called Holy Jihad. Iqbal comes from a lower middle class Muslim household in Lucknow and is recruited in a Pakistani terror network. Through Iqbal’s eyes, Mukul authentically shows us the terror camps in Pakistan and how the trainers, the merchants of terror, brainwash the young minds with the gibberish of holy war.

Through Iqbal’s character, Mukul uncovers the real agenda of the Pakistani terror establishment. From being a perpetrator of terror, Iqbal becomes a force of redemption. The turning point comes when Iqbal’s eyes open up to what terror can do to innocent lives. “I am sure that even a fool like you knows that jihad means to strive…to strive for purity within oneself and goodness in society,” a changed Iqbal says to a fellow terrorist at one point in the novel.

Iqbal's metamorphosis occurs because he learns many unsavory truths about the Jihad: “You think they are doing it for us?...They just don’t have the balls for a fair fight. They have lost every damn war with India, that is why they have inflicted this endless, aimless Jihad on India. They are trying to bleed India by forcing it to fight this constant low-intensity war.”

Mukul has kept the plot simple with a handful of main characters. On the one hand is Iqbal’s story that brings in the perspective of a reformed terrorist. On the other, there is Pakistani ISI’s Ex-Brigadier Murad Salim who devises terror plans on a global level. To counter the Pak attack is the Force 22 of India, helmed by the sharp and capable Colonel Rajan Anbu and his team. These characters move the plot which is meticulously and precisely woven with frenetic action in India, Pakistan and beyond.

The Indo-Pak conflict, seen in terms of Pak-exported terrorism and India’s counter-attacks, segues into a broader international Islamic jihad in the second volume, Salim Must Die. The action spreads from China to America and Europe and terrorism takes myriad shapes: from chemical weapons attacks to the use of mini-nuclear bombs (funnily called Chhote Miyan). The details are fascinating.

Mukul’s two volumes are so blisteringly fast paced that one forgets how well-researched the narrative is. He takes the reader on a thrilling ride and shares frank insights with him on terrorism. Not just Pakistan, this realistic writer also takes the USA and the Anglo-American oil conglomerates to task. Mukul proves that the so called war on terror is not about terror but oil: America consumes about 24 percent of the global oil production but it posses less than 2.8 percent of the reserves. Nearly 70 percent of world’s oil and natural gas reserves are in the Middle East-Central Asia region (Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran are the top 3 oil-rich countries). “It is primarily because of this that in mid-1995, the US administration released a National Security document stating that the objective of the war on Iraq was to protect the United States’ uninterrupted and secure access to oil,” says the head of NIC in Salim Must Die. The book is full of such insights.

For those who follow the current affairs would love this series of military thrillers—the first of its kind in Indian English fiction—and would ask for more. It is only appropriate if his readers describe Mukul as the Tom Clancy of India. This reader can't wait to read the next volume in the series.