Interview with Khalid Muhammad   1 comment

Today’s interview is with Khalid Muhammad, author of Agency Rules: Never An Easy Day at the Office, a political thriller set in Pakistan.

 

Khalid MohammedTell us something about yourself, Khalid. 

Sure, Lela. First, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to speak with me about my writing and my debut military/espionage thriller, Agency Rules – Never an Easy Day at the Office.

In terms of my background, I was born in Pakistan, raised and educated in the United States and returned to Pakistan in 1997 to pursue emerging business opportunities. I’ve spent my time in the country comparing the on-ground Pakistan with everything that I heard in the media. What a difference! There are times when I think they make up the stories that are written about my country.

 

 

I suspect they do, Khalid, for American political reasons.

As an entrepreneur, I have been able to build a successful marketing and brand management company in Karachi that services both domestic and international clients, which has helped with supporting my family while I build my writing career.  Since publishing Agency Rules in January 2014, I have written for a number of domestic publications and a few international ones, while I work on the next two books of the Agency Rules series.

Agency Rules – Never an Easy Day at the Office is my debut novel – the first in a series of 4 – 5. I chose to put focus on the story of my home country, Pakistan, because it is the most discussed country in the world because of our terrorism problem. Interestingly, while it is the most discussed, it’s also the least understood because the media doesn’t tell the whole story. It’s what I like to call “sound byte reporting”. So, I take my readers back to the 1990s, right after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan and the Mujahideen had returned to Pakistan, radicalized and with no one to fight. They turned their sights on Pakistan and reforming the country through violence and intimidation. The story follows Kamal Khan, a precision sniper in the Pakistan Army and member of Pakistan’s most feared intelligence service, the ISI. Kamal is a fantastic protagonist because he is struggling with everything that he must do to accomplish his objectives. It will be hard for the reader to not identify with him or experience the world he is living in.

 

I’m reading the book now and finding the character of Kamal compelling and the Pakistan you describe to be quite different from the one I hear about in the news. You live in Pakistan. I could do an interview just on that — forget about the book. And we might actually do that separate from the interview. Talk about living in Pakistan.

Pakistan is a fantastic country, but no different than any other. We have gotten a bad knock in the War on Terror, even though we are a frontline state in the war, but the country is so diverse and amazing that when people visit from abroad, they are shocked that it is so different than what they have been told in the print and electronic media.

The nation has had a very difficult and interesting road since 1947, when the country came into existence. We have long struggled with the “extremism” elements both in political parties and fringe religious groups, but the Afghan War, or the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1970s, really brought it all out in the open. Prior to that, Pakistan was a progressive, liberal country. Shocking, I know!

 

What little I know of your history it isn’t shocking to me, but how did things deteriorate to where they are now?

What happened in 1977, and for many years after, was the rise of General Zia-ul-Haq, a ruthless, highly fundamentalist dictator that ruled throughout the Afghan war. General Zia took it upon himself to align with the ultra-conservative elements in Pakistan to create, what we call, the “Islamic” laws. These laws included the Hudood Ordinance, which virtually stripped women of all their rights in terms of criminal prosecution of rape and adultery, and the blasphemy law, which is well known to everyone around the world. Zia’s government was probably the darkest time in Pakistan’s history because of the way he ruled the country. Let me give you some examples.

There were public beatings in stadiums of those who had violated his Islamic laws, which I should point out had nothing to do with Islam and everything to do with his brand of morality. The media was silenced. There were literally newspapers published with big black rectangles covering stories that the government didn’t want the public to see. They actually monitored every newspaper in the country, which at the time wasn’t difficult because there were about 4 newspapers.

It was during his rule that two things happened that impact Pakistan to this day. First, Zia selected political nobodies and turned them into household names. Those people are still in politics in Pakistan, including current Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. These people promised to carry forward Zia’s mission for Pakistan after he died in a fiery helicopter crash with the then US ambassador to Pakistan, Arnold Raphel.

The second thing that he did that continues to eat Pakistan alive is the massive growth of jihadi and extremist madrassahs. During the Afghan war, these madrassahs were setup to funnel motivated fighters to Afghanistan to fight alongside the Mujahideen against the Soviets, but when the war was over, they didn’t have an enemy – so they turned their sights on Pakistan. These madrassahs have created and supported most of the terrorist elements in the country until today. This was also when the financial links between Saudi Arabia and these madrassahs were created.

During the Afghan war, for every dollar that the CIA pumped into Pakistan to support the Mujahideen, the Saudis pumped in $100. These funds were, and are, funneled straight to the radical elements in Pakistan to teach them the Wahabi form of Islam. Wahabism is an extremely fundamentalist form of Islam that believes that the religion cannot progress and that the most extreme form of Sharia law is the only acceptable law for a Muslim country. This is the law that is followed in Saudi Arabia, where no woman can drive, leave the house without her husband or father and has no rights under the state. This is what they wanted for Pakistan as well. I should say still want for Pakistan.

Today, and for the past 12 years, our military has been fighting against these radicals. Our fight has cost us close to 70,000 innocent lives in terrorist attacks and military operations. We are finally making headway but the current government could pull the plug anytime they want – but we can get into that if you want to talk more about Pakistan.

 

When did you first start writing and what was the story?

I first started my writing when I was in the 7th grade. I had a fantastic English teacher that encouraged us to write from our imaginations. I can’t remember the first story that I wrote, but I know it was crime related. At that point in time, I was living a very troubled home life and all I was reading was true crime novels that I would get from the local library.

There was a great deal of frustration and anger in my writing at that age, which has matured now into a much cleaner, sadistic writing style.

I stopped writing when I was in university because life got me busy and didn’t really touch it outside of professional papers during my career. It was after the War on Terror started and I was reading/watching what was being said about Pakistan that I started thinking about starting again.

 

I think most writers write to get something out of ourselves that perhaps lives more safely in a fictional environment. My neighbors would not like it if I ran around the neighborhood with a big sword smiting people. Alaskans are fine with everybody being armed, but they don’t much like gunfire outside of the gun range. I write so my psyche can do things that aren’t exactly socially acceptable. Can you relate to that idea?

Completely! I have an extremely sadistic side to my personality when it comes to injustice. My writing has given me an outlet to express my feelings, ideas and sometimes hatred without the repercussions of criminal cases. I come from a violent childhood that has done a good deal of damage to my internal structure and belief system. I think my writing lets me express that. My wife likes to say that my writing is a catharsis because many of the things I would like to do to people (and probably would since Pakistan is a lawless country) come out in my writing.

 

Agency Rules Never EasyWhere did you get the idea for Agency Rules?

Agency Rules is a journey for me and Pakistan. Too many people only know what they see in the media about Pakistan and that is so slanted that I don’t even recognize my country when I read the foreign press. I wanted to tell the story that people don’t know, what we have struggled with for years, the battles that we have fought ideologically, religiously and sometimes physically over the past 30 years. The Pakistan that you see in the media is not Pakistan. Agency Rules is my way of setting the record straight by introducing you to the political and military gamesmanship, the corrupt and uneducated imams and the people who are struggling under the weight of all of it just to survive.

 

Tell us about the story.

The story is centered around the years immediately after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and the impact on Pakistan. The reader gets the story from the point of view of Kamal Khan, a highly decorated sniper in the Pakistan Army who gets recruited into the elite Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. Kamal takes you behind enemy lines into a terrorist camp to show the reader how people are indoctrinated, seduced and recruited into that life. There are many facets to the story that I can’t talk about because it would give too much away, but suffice it to say, the reader gets a clear picture of everything that goes on in Pakistan and why the country has so many problems decades later.

What’s interesting about the story is that it is roughly 6 years in the making. I have read de-classified documents from US and Pakistani intelligence, dossiers on terrorists, books, watched movies and documentaries to get all my research on target with the whole series. I like to tell my readers that everything that you read in the pages of Agency Rules novels has actually happened or is happening in Pakistan. There is a level of realism to the story that I couldn’t have gotten without the sheer amount of research that I did before I started planning and writing.

Never an Easy Day at the Office is the first book of the series and the foundation of the whole story.

 

What are your future literary plans? Will there be a sequel or other books to follow? If so, what and when?

Like I said, this is the first book in the series. I envisioned this as a 4 or 5 book series when I first planned it out, but the response and demand for the book has been so great that I might continue it beyond 5 books.

The sequel to Never an Easy Day at the Office is due out in early January 2015. I will be publishing two books within weeks of each other to bring the story to modern day Pakistan. I’ve finished (I hope) writing the next book of the series and we will start marketing it towards the end of the month, probably after Christmas.

I do plan on writing a crime thriller novel at some point because that genre has always been of interest to me. But it all depends on when I get some time away from Agency Rules to work on it.

 

Book Pages:

 

Amazon:             http://www.amazon.com/Khalid-Muhammad/e/B00HVE71KU/

Goodreads:        https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7243288.Khalid_Muhammad

 

Agency Rules on the Web:

 

Website:              http://www.agencyrules.com

Twitter:               http://twitter.com/AgencyRulesPK

Facebook:          http://facebook.com/AgencyRulesPK

 

Buy Links:

 

Amazon:                             http://smarturl.it/amazon-ar

Barnes & Noble:               http://goo.gl/lNMQo0

iTunes/iBooks:                http://goo.gl/6MK31X

Kobo:                                    http://goo.gl/mUtIS8

 

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