By Omar Shahid Hamid
An Indian spy is captured on Pakistani soil. During investigations, the spy reveals the presence of a mole within the establishment, thus shaking the entire intelligence community. The spy’s revelation leads to the summoning of an inter-agency counter-intelligence conference by Pakistan’s national security adviser, and a search for the mole across the globe.
This makes up the basic plot of the new book that has come from acclaimed crime thriller writer Omar Shahid Hamid. Hamid, a real-life counter-terrorism expert, known as an author who picks up news headlines and turns them into unputdownable thrillers, takes readers on a high speed drama across the murky waters of South Asian politics in his fifth novel, Betrayal.
However, while the story revolves around national security and regional politics, it is also a tale of a love spanning over two decades, making it a brilliant combination of romance and the dark world of spycraft.
Omar Shahid Hamid’s latest novel is yet another unputdownable thriller, spanning the murky waters of South Asian politics and a love over two decades
When he was the inspector general of Balochistan, Sameer Ali Khan lost his family in a terrorist attack in Quetta. He vowed to rid his country of all terrorists and ruthlessly hunted them down in Balochistan. For years, he has been haunted by the images of his wife and daughter blown to pieces in front of his eyes, and will only be at peace when the mastermind behind his family’s assassination — who has so far managed to escape Sameer’s iron hand — has been dealt with.
As a result of his efforts at controlling terrorism in the province, Sameer is appointed the country’s national security adviser (NSA) and is respected for his honesty and dedication by one and all in the high echelons of power, except, of course, a few.
Years after losing his family, Sameer meets his long-lost sweetheart, Aleena Farooq, and the love between them rekindles. She had been his first love; he had married Asma only after losing contact with Aleena. Not aware of the true circumstances of her disappearance from his life, he thought Aleena had betrayed him.
As their relationship strengthens, skeletons from the cupboard emerge in the form of Aleena’s son Zeinedine, whom she had abandoned at birth and who has now been arrested in Paris on charges of terrorism. Belonging to a rich family, Aleena had been a supermodel in France and lately, had been managing her mentor’s fashion business in the French capital and her father’s business in Karachi, frequently travelling between Paris, London and Karachi. Sameer and Aleena go to London to sort out Zeinedine’s affairs, while counter-intelligence officer Constantine “not a gora” D’Souza is there on the mole hunt.
“You know my name’s not Consendine, it’s Constantine” D’Souza is an ex-police officer now working with the counter-intelligence department. He was present at the inter-agencies’ conference and his views had impressed the NSA and the director general of counter-intelligence, Gen Shahram. Later, while going through the transcripts of some phone calls as a matter of routine, he comes across a transcript which leads him to believe it carries a hint about the mole. Gen Shahram learns of this and assigns D’Souza the task to proceed to London to hunt down the mole.
Meanwhile, Sameer resigns from his position as NSA after falling out with the prime minster — over refusing to ask his friend to stop an investigation in cases of corruption against a person very close to the prime minister — and he leaves for London before the news of his resignation is out.
How does this social lady, this Aleena Farooq, fit in with the Deaf Leopard? Where’s the connection? What’s your hypothesis?” “Sir, I believe that the lady, Aleena Farooq, may be working for foreign intelligence agencies. She’s French. She’s in contact with individuals we believe to be French intelligence officers and, in a phone conversation, she mentioned the Deaf Leopard. She has re-entered the National Security Adviser’s life at the same time as our ongoing investigations. It seems to be too much of a coincidence...” — Excerpt from the book
D’Souza sees Sameer and Aleena separately meet V.S. Krishnamurthy, head of Indian external intelligence, at an art gallery in London, but — unbeknownst to D’Souza — both are meeting the Indian for their own purposes.
Aleena is concerned about getting her son released, and French security personnel have put her in touch with Krishnamurthy to work out a way — except that he is now trying to blackmail her. Sameer is meeting Krishnamurthy to discuss a plan to trade off the held spy, since the Indian officer is unaware of his resignation as NSA.
But D’Souza is under a different impression and, when he sees Aleena leave her residence in the middle of the night, he follows her, only to see her depositing Sameer’s mobile phone on a park bench. In an attempt to retrieve the phone, D’Souza is mercilessly beaten by those for whom it was left there. He is summoned back to Karachi as soon as he regains consciousness — after three days — where, in a meeting with Sameer, he discovers some astonishing facts.
On his return from London, Sameer again loses contact with Aleena and, on D’Souza’s mentioning her in connection with the Indian head of intelligence, begins to question whether she really loved him, or had again betrayed him and used him only to get her son back.
Hamid masterfully interweaves the two stories and, at the same time, gives the readers a glimpse of the societal attitudes and pressures that govern not only social lives in our country, but also the the turn of fortunes after one’s reputation has been tarnished — such as what happened with Sameer after his father had committed suicide and old and even supposedly trusted family friends abandoned his family, cutting off all ties with the Khans.
The intricacies of political manoeuvrings and the vested interests of those in power and those aspiring to get into the power corridors — which are part and parcel of politics — can also be seen as the story develops. Those close to the highest authorities try to gain benefits or exert their influence to get cases of corruption and misuse of power against them squashed and clean their slate, even if they have to step on someone’s toes. Those who matter often act with the aim to help the ruling party win the next elections and retain the status quo.
Though the characters are quite identifiable with real-life personalities in Hamid’s previous books, especially the first three, in Betrayal they are very much cloaked; it is perhaps because of the nature of the subject being dealt with that the characters remain less specific. Politics in the region, whether at the national, regional or global level, is not a subject where things can be presented as black and white.
Was D’Souza’s operation really successful and the person he suspected really the mole? Who really is the mole? And what happens to Sameer? Did Sameer betray his country? Did Aleena betray Sameer? What became of the spy? Was he retained, or traded off as India wished? I will not divulge the twists here as I have no intention of spoiling the suspense. But as you read through the book, be prepared for some shocks.
The reviewer is a freelance journalist and tweets @naqviriz
Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, July 18th, 2021