Rural drama: a touch of blackmail
Friday, July 09, 2010
Tuesday evening this week, while contemplating the stars and revolving a glass in my hand, my cell phone buzzed with an incoming message (from cell number 03065006674). With its spelling marvels intact, this is what it said: "After long thinking we decided not to giv yur recording to anybody, it depends on u what u want, u know well, if we hand over thir tape to…Mian brotheran..or some religious groups, what can be hepend to you and your party. Particularly in present poletical condition, just message us, u hav only 24 hours to save your skin"
Then I remembered. A girl who introduced herself as a lady reporter (she said she had interviewed me for some forgotten paper two and a half years ago) had pestered me with late-night calls. Not that I particularly minded. As Chief Minister Raisani said of academic degrees, a degree is a degree whether fake or genuine, so too with girls (I almost said the Lord's finest creation but on second thoughts thought better of it): a girl is a girl, whether from the New York Times or your downtown rag.
(Rudyard Kipling had a slightly different take on the matter: "And a woman is only a woman, but a good Cigar is a Smoke." But this is a bit showy and doesn't really connect.)
And what did the persistent caller ask me about? This and that. Wasn't I lonely? No, I said most emphatically, I was not. And for good measure perhaps quoted the Maugham line: "Peace, perfect peace, with loved ones far away."
And how did I think the world was created? Ah, I thought, here was someone beset with a raging sense of curiosity. So I went on a bit about the Big Bang and evolution and the relativity of all religious belief. A few days later I went off on a visit to Abu Dhabi to attend a seminar on -- you may have guessed it -- Afghanistan and forgot all about the matter.
Hardly had I got back from Abu Dhabi before I started receiving the phone calls again. Bored a bit by then and not fully recovered from my Gulf trip I just ignored the calls and took them no more. Then I heard a rumour on the Chakwal grapevine that someone in Mulhal Mughlan union council (to the east of Chakwal) was trying to peddle to some of my local opponents an 'explosive' telephone conversation of mine.
I was a bit dismissive and shrugged my shoulders. The sum mentioned was Rs30 lakhs and I said lucky devil whoever got it. But what intrigued me was how a conversation, explosive or not, with someone in Islamabad had got to the confines of Chakwal. Then I remembered something else.
When the persistent caller had interviewed me two and a half years ago (which was the only time I ever set eyes on her) it was not she who was really interested in the interview but someone else, someone from Chakwal, in fact from a place near Mulhal, who said he had voted for me and worked for an Urdu newspaper. His name was Liaquat Ali Khan and he was from Dhok Mehmood Morha, Daakhli Ghazial, Union Council Mulhal Mughlan, Thana Dhuman.
Subsequent to the interview, he visited me in Chakwal twice or thrice regarding petty local matters. This happens all the time. Nameless reporters seek interviews at times with the sole purpose of gaining access. So I thought nothing of it. A couple of months back Liaquat sought my help regarding the transfer of his sister who is a teacher. I wanted to help but couldn't because of a procedural difficulty.
After receiving the SMS, and connecting Liaquat to this affair, I made enquiries and learned something startling. Liaquat was a convicted felon, sentenced in March 1996 in a dacoity case -- case no. 17 of 1995, Thana Dhuman, under sections 392/34 -- to three years rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs50,000. For possession of illegal weapons he was convicted in case no. 21 of 1995, Thana Dhuman, to a further term of two years rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs20,000.
The fog was lifting. Liaquat was the main character behind this drama and the girl was his accomplice. But something else also intrigued me. I had heard rumours about the purported deal two weeks ago. Why was I being SMS-ed now? Clearly because no one was swallowing the fiction. I continued to gaze at the stars and played around some more with my glass.
Wednesday evening I got another SMS: "Ok Mr Ayaz now we are free to make a deal with (and here a name of one of my opponents is given)….how you face lets see." (One or two incendiary things I have left out.)
A few minutes later I got another SMS, probably indicating the desperation of the callers: "Tomoro night first audio cd is given to (and here another name is mentioned). He is ready to buy thir (sic) at high rate, god bless u. Oh sorry you are god refusing." (If some idiot is prepared to give you a good rate, why bother to call me? Certainly not to salve your conscience.)
The first thing that comes to mind is the great generosity of the journalistic calling which opens its arms and bosom to a colourful variety of characters. A convicted dacoit masquerading as a journalist. A female journalist (working for an APP monthly publication) conducting interviews under false pretences. Both involved in outright blackmail. The guilds concerned -- the Islamabad Press Club, the Rawalpindi/Islamabad Union of Journalists and the PFUJ -- should look into this aspect of the matter.
Blackmail of course is not new to the profession on whose fringes all sorts of shady and dubious characters operate. But this is pretty blatant and audacious. (I am not wholly displeased because it is also good stuff for a column. We hear of gangsters all the time and we watch mafia movies with delight but actually coming across a gangster or a group of blackmailers is a bit exciting: a case of real life imitating art.)
The other thing of course is that if a late-night caller, especially a girl, asks you about the origin of the universe, reach for your pistol.
But the whole thing is also a bit insulting. This blackmailing duo, this team working hand-in-glove, Svengali with his conniving and willing instrument, obviously thought that they would get away with it. Which means one of two things: they ere either very stupid or they entertained no high opinion of me. More than the attempted blackmailing the second possibility rankles. Did they take me to be such a mug?
Blackmail can be very sophisticated and of a very high order. We've all heard of honey traps. If one is a victim of something like that at least there is something to remember, some memory to savour. But in the story I have related there is no honey, just manure. The characters involved -- the girl who, I am informed, lives in the jurisdiction of Thana Koral near Islamabad, and her Chakwal handler -- are pathetic characters. It's like being mugged by petty thieves. Where's the glory in that?
About the long-since-departed Indonesian president, Ahmed Soekarno, who lived life to the full (if you get my drift) there is a story, perhaps apocryphal, that he was once shown an incriminating tape by the CIA. Far from being flummoxed, Soekarno asked for the tape to be played again, so elated was he with his performance. And suppose the CIA had attempted to blackmail Soekarno by confronting him with his views about the beginning of all things, he would have said that they were wasting his time.
I have not been much of a traveller but I have seen a bit of the world. I can't say I have had my share of adventures because that would be immodest. Even so, when the Towers of Jericho came tumbling down, and if I was asked to post my resume, I would be able to put a few things in. But now, two and a half years into my MNAship, when I surely deserved something better, I am confronted by these low-grade clowns. This is the pits and leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
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