Part XII

07:30 Hours
28 Oct 2010
Point 711 Border Post
Uri, J&K;

Sub Gurung Thapa was proving to be an enthusiastic host for the two journalists. He had assumed the responsibility of a hospitable host right from the moment the chopper carrying Varsha Dutt and her cameraman Sidhesh Pathik had landed. Maj Ajay Singh had received the visitors himself, but then had handed over the reign to Gurung. He in turn was only too glad to have the opportunity of getting his photos clicked and having an attentive audience. It wasn’t everyday that reporters from national TV channels came visiting for interviews. After handing them much needed cups of hot coffee, he took the journalists on a guided tour of the small base, explaining everything about their daily routine. Varsha kept asking questions and nodding vigorously to his explanations while Sidhesh kept recording everything in his camera, not uttering a word. He had learnt to keep quiet when working alongside journalists with inflated egos and love for attention. He just paid full attention to the camera, leaving the journo to his/her own and it had worked for him quite well.

They were in middle of the guided tour when Gurung was called upon by Maj Ajay. The morning patrol had discovered breaches in fence nearby their post that needed immediate repairs. He had to leave the journalists under supervision of somebody else, while he accompanied the repair team Major Ajay was leading the team who wanted a first hand look himself. As her itinerary included a visit to actual LoC (Line of Control), Dutt had no great difficulty persuading Maj Ajay to let her accompany the repair team.

Actual site of the breach was less than a Km away from the post, but mountainous terrain and muddy trails prolonged their journey to 30 minutes. Breach was in a small clearing inside a lightly wooded area. There was a gentle slope just beside the Indian fence, broken by small hill like protrusions on the mountain on the Pakistani side. Pakistani presence was marked by two small bunkers on two such hills, about 800 metres apart from each other. One bunker which was on a slightly higher elevation provided a superior view of the surroundings, while the second one provided a cover to its flank from the right side. For any Pakistani infiltrator, it was an ideal place to cross over due to easier terrain, tree cover and firing cover by Pakistanis manning the bunkers.

Varsha Butt was struggling to keep up with the soldiers marching towards the breach. She had not expected her visit to fence to be an exhausting affair. So far it had consisted solely of her trying not to get left behind on the muddy and rocky trails. Her expensive Swiss made snow shoes and warm suit were covered with mud and in spite of 4 layers of clothing, cold wind was chilling her to the bone. The small 6 man team led by Maj Ajay would have been more considerate if the tensions were not so high. But they were under tremendous strain themselves and couldn’t afford such niceties. Sub. Gurung was cameraman of the team and he was responsible for recording all the damage to the fence and material required to repair it. Sidhesh had taken an instant liking for the cheerful Gorkha soldier and he was teaching him tricks of the photography. So, she was left with no one but herself to talk with. This she did with much gusto, grumbling to herself. Sidhesh once caught her talking to herself and considered slowing down for her. But he was enjoying Gurung’s anecdotes too much to do so.

The party reached the site of the breach and at once went down to business. Major Ajay assigned 3 soldiers to keep watch and 2 for repair of the fence. Gurung switched on his camcorder and started recording. The damage was not much, but a single man could pass through the breach with little difficulty. Varsha cornered Maj Ajay as soon as he was finished assigning duties and started another interview right there. Maj Ajay answered her questions as patiently he could while half of his mind was focused on the work being done by his men. He was also wary of an ambush by the Pakis and wanted the whole business to be over as soon as possible. His men reported that they’ll need 15 minutes to finish up the job. Varsha Dutt now wanted to rattle out her impressions of the visit with the fence and Paki border posts beyond that in the background besides her. Although it was dangerous, Ajay had no choice but to acquiesce to her demands.

She at once positioned herself at an advantageous point, where Sidhesh could capture a Paki border post and the fence at the same time while keeping her in focus. Sidhesh gave the ready signal and began recording, while she started her speech.
“So, here we are the Line of Control, where Indian soldiers stare at their Pakistani counterparts day after day, night after night. This line is dotted by thousands of posts on both sides where lakhs of able bodied men who could be employed more productively elsewhere, spend their lives keeping their so called “enemy” in their gun-sights all the time.” All the soldiers within earshot cringed in disgust. Oblivious to them, she rattled on, “We spend billions of rupees just to maintain status quo while billions of people go hungry everyday. Is this the right way to…”

Her speech was interrupted by a screeching sound coming from across the border. She stopped in mid-sentence and turned around looking for the source of the sound in confusion. Maj Ajay and his men knew the sound of Paki Type-81 mortar very well and immediately swung into action. Maj Ajay rushed towards the two journalists and started dragging them towards cover behind some large rocks. First mortar landed about 80 metres from their location as they were taking cover. Almost at once, Pakis from bunker on left opened up machine gun fire, pinning them down behind the rocks,

Although the soldiers were used to be under fire, it was not true for the journalists who were scared as hell. Varsha screamed at once. “What the hell is this ? Why are they firing on us ?”
“It must be an ambush. They deliberately damaged the fence, knowing very well that we’ll send our men to repair it and will be sitting ducks in process.” Ajay replied over the din of gun fire.
They ducked again instinctively when another mortar round came whooshing by and landed less than 40 metres from them.

“Pakis from the 2nd post are firing these mortars sir. We are not in their direct line of sight, so they can’t fire their machine guns on us. But we need to get out of this area as soon as possible.” Gurung shouted.

“This post in front must be providing them with our exact location. Chandra and Murugan, take up positions and provide us with covering fire while rest of us make a dash towards the tree cover. We’ll cover you when we reach there. Gurung, you escort Varsha and Sidhesh. Run towards the trees the moment Chandra and Murugan start their covering fire.”

Just then another mortar landed very near to the group showering them with dust and rubble. It was too much for Varsha, who at once jumped up from behind the rocks and started running, exposing herself to enemy fire. Gurung at once realised the danger she was in and jumped on her, pinning her to the ground. He then dragged her back to the cover behind rocks as she kept thrashing hysterically.

“You F**** moron. You will get me killed here ! Look at me. Why did you tackle me. All my clothes are now covered with mud. These clothes cost more than your annual salary and you’ve spoiled them. You’ll suffer for this you idiot.” She screeched.

“Calm down madam. He just saved your life. You can’t talk to him like that.” Maj Ajay intervened

“You need to shut up Major. You don’t realise who you are talking to. I left my comfortable studio to make a documentary on you dumbasses and this is how you treat me ? This is not acceptable. I’ll make sure that you all suffer for this.”

Gurung interrupted her charade, “Sir, the men are in position. Ready to leave at your order.”

“Very good. Chandra, Murugan, start firing. Rest of the men, follow me” Maj Ajay ordered in a calm voice..

“She coming too, sir ?” Gurung asked, gesturing towards Varsha who now lay prone behind the rocks.

“Yes. Drag her if you have too . Just ignore whatever she says.”

Murugan and Chandra had taken up positions behind 2 large rocks and started firing on the Paki machine gun with their INSAS. Even though, distance was large for an assault rifle, their accurate fire silenced Paki machine gun for a while. It was the opening that Maj Ajay was waiting for. He ordered the team to rush out at once. Paki gunners saw them trying to escape and opened up fire again. But the team reached safe positions before Pakis had the chance to adjust their aim and fire accurately. Maj Ajay then ordered men alongside him to provide covering fire for Chandra and Murugan who rejoined the team safely. After checking whether everybody was OK, Ajay assigned 2 of his men to escort the two journalists to a safer place, while he called for reinforcements and fire on the Paki posts from adjacent Indian posts.

He didn’t know it yet, but Pakis had just started unprovoked firing on 11 other locations along LoC in J&K.; Ceasefire along the border was no longer in force

Part X

Remains of General Beg’s battered convoy sped out of the bungalow premises towards the reinforcements. Aslam at once came running towards Beg’s car and saluted when General himself opened the door and got out to take a look at the reinforcements.

“ Major, you arrived just in time to save our asses. These buggers killed half of my men in minutes and still have my family. They are no ordinary terrorists. “ Beg said somewhat shakily.

“ We can take out these rats easily sir. Just give us the order. “

“ Don’t be a fool. These men might be holding my family inside the house. I can’t risk their lives.“ Beg snapped. “Find out what their demands are. Only then I’ll decide on future course of action”

“Yes sir.”

Aslam was back 15 minutes later with the new that his men had discovered that telephone lines to the house were cut from the junction box in guard house. Within minutes, Beg received news that the lines were reattached. He himself dialed his landline number and waited anxiously as the telephone inside his house rang. He was nearly startled when someone inside the house picked up the phone. Beg started shouting at once, “Hello, hello!! Who is there ? Nussarat ? Is that you ? “

A heavy male voice replied mockingly, “Ah General Beg .You have a really long life. We were just about to call you.”

“Who the hell are you and what do you want ? Where is my family? They’d better be alright, otherwise you’ll regret that you were ever born.” Beg was beside himself.

Man on the other side laughed and said, “ Relax General. Your family is completely safe with us. We don’t wish any harm to them or even you. “

“Then why have you taken them hostage and why did you killed my bodyguards ?”

“ That was really unfortunate general. Believe me, if we had any choice, none of this bloodshed would have happened. Our plan was to meet you inside and persuade you to act according to our wishes in a reasonable and mutually beneficial way. Only if your boy was not so naughty so as to warn you, you’d know of our benign intentions firsthand.”

“Shut the hell up and tell me who are you and what do you want.” Beg bellowed into the phone.

“Well, who we are is not important General. But, what we want from you is infinitely more important. We just want you to give up one thing that you should’ve relinquished long ago “

“What is that? “

“Your post of Chief of Army Staff .“ The voice replied in a very casual manner. But the effect on General Beg was anything was casual. He lost whatever self-control he had on himself and started shouting even louder into the phone.

“ Who the hell you think you are ****** ? Do you think that you can just walk into my house and force me to handover everything that I worked for all my life just like that? I have lakhs of men at my command. I control the whole country, I control the Americans. You are nothing but a sneaking filthy rat. My men will enter the house and tear you apart within minutes.”

Man on other side of the line laughed even louder this time, “I’d not count on that if I were you. You need to understand it very clearly General that we are not ordinary terrorists. Our goal is to make sure that you give up your post with as little trouble as possible. We do have other means to persuade you apart from your family.”

“ What do you mean ? “

“ For starters, why don’t you try calling General Khalid ? Maybe that’ll make you see the light. I’ll call you after 10 minutes. “

General Beg was left holding the phone to his ear. He immediately broke out of his paralytic state and asked Major Aslam to contact General Khalid. Beg had promoted Khalid in order to cut down the power of General Asgar. Khalid was to assume command of Karachi garrison from Asgar who was transferred to a Nak Bundi near Afghanistan border. There his role would’ve been nothing more than that of a border guard. Orders to this effect were issued just a few hours ago in just concluded meeting.
Aslam was back within minutes looking shaken, “Sir, we have some very bad news. General Khalid convoy was attacked just outside his house just a few minutes ago. He is missing and 5 of his bodyguards are dead. Survivors claim that attackers who were in army uniforms bundled him into an army vehicle and sped away. “

Beg was speechless for a moment. “ Can anybody tell me what the hell is going on ? Are you telling me that some nuts not only took my family hostage and almost killed me inside my own house, but also managed to kidnap my most trustworthy subordinate? That too right inside my cantonment? “

Aslam shifted uneasily on his feet but kept quiet. He was rescued by ringing of Beg’s phone. It was from his house and he at once accepted the call and snarled into the phone, “ What have you done with General Khalid you ******** ? Who are you working for ? “

Man completely ignored his questions, “Do you realise what you are up against, General ? You, your family, your cronies, nobody is safe even in your own backyards. You might wear the stars, but it’s us who control everything in this country. For your own sake General, I’d strongly urge you to give up and do exactly as we say. “

“If I resign, who’ll take up my place ?”

“You need not worry about that General. After you retire, we’ll make sure that you lead a very comfortable retired life anywhere in the world.“

“It’s that ******** Asgar and you work under him? Isn’t it ? I always knew that he wanted my job, but never imagined that he’d stoop so low.”

“Right now, it’s not important who wants you job. Only thing important is the safety of you and your family. After all we can’t afford to keep them tied and bound for long.” Threat in the voice was too explicit to be ignored.

“Like hell I will. You’ve signed your own death warrant asshole. None of you will leave this building alive, even if it’s the last thing I’ll ever do.”

He disconnected the call and ordered Aslam to collect a crack team to storm the house. In the mayhem that followed his orders, his men suffered 28 causalities. They managed to save his son but not his wife . Her dead body was found in her bedroom, shot at point blank range. Total of 11 dead intruders were found, all in army uniforms but with fake identification papers. All were later identified as serving army person, 3 of them commissioned officers.

Part IX

03:30 Hours
28 Oct 2012
Army HQ

Last few days had been really hectic for General Beg and his face showed it. He didn’t had a moment of rest during last 2 days and his eyes were puffy and red from cigarette smoke and endless cups of tea consumed in that period. Right after his announcement of martial law on TV, he had called a meeting to discuss his future course of action with some of his trusted army and civilian officers. He had decided to keep most of the civilian bureaucratic setup unchanged for the moment to deflect some domestic pressure. All of the cabinet ministers and senior bureaucrats were to continue their work as usual. But a few changes in Army were inevitable and officers loyal to him reaped all the benefits in form of promotions and transfers to desirable places. For General Beg, it was a necessity to consolidate his position rather than a thing to reward his cronies. All the promoted and transferred officers were supposed to take up their commands within 24 hours but nobody was complaining. The officers who had to vacate their posts to make way for these new beneficiaries were sure to complain, but they didn’t know of it yet.

After the meeting was over, he poured himself a stiff drink of scotch and called for his car to take him to his residence. Drive to his official bungalow took barely 10 minutes on a crowded day, it was going to be even shorter in these wee hours. He finished his drink leisurely and ambled out of the front door of the building towards his waiting bullet-proof car. A body guard who usually sat alongside his driver in front seat saluted smartly and opened the back door for him. Beg got in the back seat and closed his eyes as the driver slowly eased his car out of the driveway. 22 heavily armed commandos in 7 cars and SUVs surrounded the car and escorted him.

He felt mobile phone in his pocket vibrating signaling arrival of a new sms, but he ignored it for the moment. Nobody sent him any sms apart from his 12 years old son, but he should’ve been fast asleep now. He opened his eyes just minutes later when his driver stopped the car in front of the bomb proof gate of his bungalow . There was a lawn almost 70 meters across between the gate and bunalow with a narrow paved driveway joining the two. Even though all the lights in the lawn were on, those inside the house were off, except for a single bulb on the porch of front entrance.

He yawned and took his phone out to read the message. In the meantime gate was opened and first car of his convoy started entering the premises. He fumbled with the buttons to get to message inbox and smiled quizzically when he read his son name as the sender of message. “It’s a little late for the little monkey to be up . Even the lights of whole house are off.”
He pressed the read button to open the message and his smiled disappeared at once. It was very short and read, “Bad men inside. Donot come Send help.”.
He immediately asked his driver to stop the car. All of his convoy behind him rolled to a stop. He snatched the walkie-talkie from the guard in front seat and hailed Major Sohail riding in leading SUV of convoy. “There’s a situation Major Sohail. I think my family is being held hostage inside the house.”

“What ! I don’t understand sir” Sohail exclaimed.

“ I just received this message from my son warning me that some bad men are inside and that I should send help.”

“ Asif is not of prankster type. Any idea who or what are we dealing with ?”

“No. He didn’t tell. I’m trying to call him but his phone is switched off. We need to act fast. “

“Agreed. General. I’m calling for additional forces from the HQ. Meanwhile we’ll check the house ourselves. You stay in your vehicle sir.”

“ Alright. Hurry but be very careful. “

“Roger that.”

Sohail immediately gathered his men and ordered 12 of them to take positions around the house and guard the general. All the windows of the house were barricaded by grills and there were only two entrances to the house, one each in front and back. guarded by 2 armed soldiers at all times. He split rest of his men in two 5 member teams, one for each entrance and decided to lead the one entering through the front door himself.

Running towards the door he prayed that Asif was indeed playing a prank on his father for once. If he was not, all his men were in serious trouble. The bad guys inside the house must already have him and rest of his team in their gun sights all this while. Feeling of butterflies in his stomach got worse as he neared the front entrance. Two guards who were supposed to be there at all times were missing. Just then Hav. Yaqub leading his 2nd search team informed him that there were no guards on back entrance either . For a moment he considered waiting for the backup to arrive. After all, it wouldn’t take 10 minutes for them to reach here. He brushed away these thoughts from his mind . He was a professional soldier trained for all kinds of situations. Backup or no backup, it was his duty to complete the mission assigned to him.

About 10 metres from the door he thought that he saw somebody moving on the balcony on 1st floor. He was about to hail whoever was there, when he saw a flash and heard the whooshing sound typical of a RPG-69. Before he had the time to react, the rocket smashed in to the ground right in the middle of his team and exploded. 2 of his team members were blown to pieces while the rest were thrown off their feet by impact of the blast. As he struggled to get up and return fire, he heard sounds of heavy gunfire and grenade blasts coming from back of the house, right were his 2nd team was supposed to be. He shouted at the survivors of his team to follow him as he ran towards the cover behind the heavy flower pots around the entrance. This time his approach was interrupted by a hail of heavy AK 47 gunfire and remaining 2 commandos following him dropped dead. He himself was hit by a bullet in left leg, but managed to crawl up behind cover of a flower pot where he lay bleeding, unable to move or fire back at his attackers.

General Beg was watching this carnage from the back seat of his car. 10 of his men were down without even firing a single bullet. His car was hidden from the house by a row of trees and decorative bushes, but they’ll provide no cover from the bullets once the intruders in the house start firing in his direction. He had no idea how many people were inside and could only guess their intentions. He only knew that they were very heavily armed and had his family hostage. Only thing he could do was to wait for backup from HQ to arrive. Till then, it’ll be better if he got himself out of their weapons range.

He ordered rest of his men to get in cars and get out of the bungalow. His driver immediately started the engine and put the car into reverse gear. His convoy, now reduced to 4 cars started backing up towards the gate at a high speed.
It was time to pay back for their second mistake. They had completely forgotten about the guards on the gate. As the first car neared the gate, one of the 3 guards on duty fired a RPG on it killing 3 commandos who were in it. Other 2 started firing from their assault rifles. Survivors took cover and started firing back. Guard who had fired the RPG was killed as he was trying to reload it. Just then, intruders in the house directed their small arms fire towards the convoy.

Inside his bulletproof car Beg was frantically shouting into the walkie-talkie calling for backup. Major Aslam answered him, “I’m almost at the gates of your bungalow General, but how do we get in ? “

General Beg was furious, “What do you mean by that ?”

“Your gate and boundary wall are bullet proof and bomb proof, designed to keep armed intruders out.”

“For God’s sake, just blow up the damned thing using C4 charges. I don’t care if you use up whole stock. We are being shot to hell from 2 sides. 13 of my men are dead already. “

“Understood sir. My men are placing the charges now. “

Moments later, whole compound shook when the C4 charges planted by men of Major Aslam’s team exploded. One of the guards near the gate was knocked down by the flying debris. Explosions also disoriented the third and last guard who was killed when he tried to run across the lawn towards the house.

Previous Part

19:30 Hours
27 Oct 2012
Karachi Garrison

General Asgar was pacing his office waiting impatiently for his telephone to ring. General Beg’s reaction to the bombings and riots had taken him completely by surprise. As soon as he came to know of it he tried contacting General Hu but was told by his aide that Hu was in a meeting with senior leaders of the Party and could not be excused. Asgar could do nothing but wait for Hu to contact him and that made him mad.
Presently the phone rang and Asgar rushed towards the table to pick it up. Smooth voice of General Hu came in on the line, “ Good evening General. I understand that there’ve been some unexpected events ?”

“Why else would I feel the need to contact you General Hu, if everything was alright ?” Asgar asked angiriy.

Hu ignored the jab and continued in the same voice, “ Well, Beg’s action were not really unexpected after what happened to Naqvis and the unfortunate blasts and riots in your country today. ”.

“Nothing is really unexpected once it has happened. Now what am I supposed to do ? I don’t even know who is behind these blasts.“

“If you leave out Islamic terrorists, who do you think can possibly benefit from this ? “

“ Beg himself ! But is it really possible ? Serving Army chief orchestrating bombings and riots to get the chair !“

Hu replied, “ We don’t know if he did it or not. But think of the consequences if somehow it’s proved as the truth.”

“ Even if he really did this and we manage to prove it as such, it will not amount to anything. Americans will not withdraw their support and Beg will continue his rule” Asgar lamented.

“ Not if you snatch it from him”.

Asgar nearly jumped out of his chair, “ A coup ! That too against an serving Amy general! Are you in your senses ? Do you really think that Americans will let their poodle go down so easily ?“

Hu replied in a soothing voice, “ I know very well what I’m talking about General. If Americans are backing Beg, you have all the might and goodwill of Chinese republic behind you. You realise that China is an all weather ally of Pakistan unlike US , even your public knows this truth.”

“What will you gain from this ? “

“ Come on General ! We both have common goals and interests that we’ve discussed so many times. It’s just that we need to find a somewhat different way to get you at the top post . ”

“It’ll not be so easy General Hu, as you might be thinking. There are a million things that could go wrong. General Beg is no fool. I’m sure that he must have planned for any such attempted coups. Grabbing power from him could turn in to a bloody and long affair. And whats going to stop Americans from coming to his aid ?”

Hu replied in a reproaching voice, “ You seem to forget your Chinese allies too easily, General. Whatever you need of us, you just need to ask.”

“I’m worried about American intervention because of the nukes. They’ll do anything to stop me from gaining their control. You know the history. “

“You need not worry about that General. Didn’t I just say that you just have to ask.”

“What ? Are you a djinn (genie) or something ? Genei Hu ?” Asgar laughed nervously.

“ May be.” Hu replied mysteriously. “ You are really worried about being nuke nude, aren’t you ? “

“Of course yes.”

“In that case, how about we supplying you a minimum of six nuclear missiles within two days of your request ? Painted in your Pakistani colours, all ready to parade around or even launch at your enemies as you see fit . Beg needs approval from his American masters even to see the Paki nuke assets. But you’ll have your own, completely independent ready to launch nuclear tipped missiles. Even if Americans disable all the nukes and missiles that your country already has, you still have something to scare your enemies. You’ll get more weapons later according to your requirements.“

Asgar stammered, “ Yes..yes..That’ll be really great. But what about the Indians ? How do we keep them from any mischief ?”

“ Indians wouldn’t be able to interfere in anyway with our plans. If needed, we’ll keep them occupied. You just have to act fast before anybody has the chance to react. ”

“I understand. You just take care of the nuke business and keep an eye on India . I can easily handle Beg myself. After I seize the power, nobody will have any option but to respect my authority. “ Asgar felt some of his old confidence returning.

“Very well then. I’ll be seeing you in person real soon. Goodbye and good luck.”

Part VII

19:00 Hours
27 Oct 2012
PM House
New Delhi, India

Six big blasts in four cities within a span of 4 hours !” Indian PM was incredulous, ”What the hell is happening in Pakistan ?“

“Bomb blasts are least of their worries right now. More Pakistani civilians have died in riots that broke out after the blasts than the blasts themselves. More are dying even as we speak. “ Angad replied.

“Any idea who did this? Were all blasts planned by a single group” ? PM asked even though he knew the answer he’d get.

Angad shrugged, “ We are still analysing our intelligence reports. There are numerous suspects, but whoever did this, executed it really well. Unlike the attack on Paki President, no one has taken the responsibility for these attacks yet. “

“ I just hope that these guys have enough sense not to blame us for this.” DM remarked warily.

“ That’s a feeling we both share.” PM murmured and lapsed into a moody silence.

“We’ve already issued an official statement condemning the bombings. But I have serious doubts whether it’ll make any difference to these idiots. They’ll blame everybody except themselves for all their troubles.” DM continued. “I’d like to put our forces on border on heightened state of alert, but I ‘m sure that it’ll be taken as a sign of aggression.”

“Only border ? I’d like to put all our security agencies on high alert. I’m willing to bet you anything that some Islamist nuts have already started planning terrorist strikes against us”. HM spoke to the nodding agreement of Angad.

“We can put state police and other internal security organisations on high alert without any problem but doing it on the international border is a different matter. Doing so will not only increase the tensions but also bring international pressure on us. Pakis have always exploited anti-Hindu, anti-India cards to divert attention from real issues since long and any such action on our part will surely provide them with an excuse to cause some mischief.”

“ Would you rather have similar terrorist attacks in our cities than take necessary actions to avoid them lest in offends Pakis ? ” HM asked testily.

“Our forces in J&K; are always on high alert and BSF is guarding rest of IB in western sector fairly well. In current situation, maximum we can do is to increase size and frequency of patrols without making it public. Anything beyond this will be seen as unprovoked aggression on our part. Mobilisation of army in current situation is out of question. ” DM retorted.

This exchange was broken by buzzing of the intercom. Angad put the phone to his ear and without saying a word turned on the large LCD TV in room. All eyes in the room were turned to the news channel on which serving Pakistani Army Chief General Beg was reading his speech. He spoke of the recent bombings and subsequent riots and their effect on already precarious security situation in Pakistan. He went on to announce imposition of martial law, postponing of election pending better security conditions and his appointment as the country’s military ruler until such conditions are achieved. War against Islamic terrorism was to continue without any change as per the requirements of his allies. He finished the speech asking for help from the international community in Pakistan’s hour of need.

“Well, that changes something I guess. At least he had the fig leaf of a civilian regime before this. ” PM was first to break the silence.

“He didn’t mention anything about mobilisation of army or reshuffling of top posts. I can’t find anything in his speech that’ll specifically change anything for us in near future.” DM observed.

“What about our peace talks ? We can’t be seen negotiating for peace with a military dictator. “ PM asked in a worried voice.

DM rolled his eyes and was about to say something when he was interrupted by HM, “ You are still serious about that “peace talk” thing ?

PM replied in a surprised fashion, “ Why not ? Do we have a choice ?”

“ We can worry about “peace talks” later. Right now, we have a situation at hand that needs our immediate attention.” HM responded. “What do you think of it Angad ? “

“ One of many things that’s worrying me is reaction of General Asgar. I don’t think he’ll take it easily. Beg didn’t mention anything about him and we don’t know what he is going to do. Unless Beg has offered him something substantial, he will not take it lying down. Specially when he has backing of Chinese. “

“What’s the worse that could come of it ?”

“ An attempted coup followed by a bloody civil war is one thing that comes to the mind. ” DM replied glumly.

“ You mean Asgar trying to overthrow Beg ? But this is madness !” PM exclaimed.

“Well, we discussed something like that in our last meeting.”

DM looked towards HM before replying “ Seems like we’ll have to put our forces on maximum alert now. No point in taking chances when Chinese and Pakis are involved. “

“What is your opinion Angad ? “ PM looked towards NSA chief hopefully.

“ I agree with Defence Minister. Not only Army, even Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard should be put on high alert . It’d be foolish to just guard IB after Mumbai attack.”

“ Very well then. Do whatever is necessary, but take every precaution to keep things under control. I don’t want a possible nuclear war due to any misunderstanding. ”

DM allowed himself a smile, “ Don’t worry, sir. We’ll issue a press statement and send a dossier to assure everybody of our benign intentions.”

Part VI

10:00 Hours

27 Oct 2012

Central Market

Karachi, Pakistan

Mohammed Shafiq was in a bad mood when he stopped his car in front of his 25 years old eatery in Central Market, one of the busiest in Karachi. He came to the city when he was barely 13 years old after running away from his home in Multan. He did various jobs for 11 years and somehow scraped up enough money to start his own shop in Central Market. Over the years he managed to establish a reputation of serving good food at affordable prices. Most of his customers were local shopkeepers and their employees who bought their breakfast and lunch from him daily.

His daily commute of 20 minutes to his shop today took him 3 hours due to almost curfew like security measures in place. Although Pakistanis were used to terrorist attacks and subsequent tightening up of the security that invariably followed such attacks, measures adopted today were extreme by even Paki standards. Every occupant of every vehicle was told to disembark and then body-searched in addition to metal-detector and dog sniffer checks This delay had cost him earnings he made every morning that amounted to almost half of his daily income everyday. He barked at Shahid, 18 years old helper who was dozing in front of the shop , to get the keys and open the shutters while he searched for a place to park his car. Delay of 3 hours meant that most of the already scarce parking spaces were already full and he had to park his car at a considerable distance from his usual place near the shop. Cursing everybody in general for his troubles he took out a cigarette and started walking towards his shop. His unpleasant mood was slightly softened at the sight of a few regulars starting to assemble in anticipation of an early lunch or a late breakfast.

Shafiq’s attention was diverted by sound of a pickup truck being rashly driven that passed him by with only inches to spare. He swore loudly cursing the driver and his relatives to hell and worse. His rant was suddenly interrupted by the sight of that truck suddenly changing it’s direction towards the small crowd in front of his shop. Before his horrified eyes the truck ran over 3 people and stopped after hitting the wall of his shop. He shouted at the people around for help and starting running towards the scene of accident. He was still 20 meters away when the truck exploded with a loud bang and caught fire. Shafiq along with many other people was thrown back many meters by the force of the blast wounded grievously. Fire from the truck soon reached the LPG cylinders in the eatery which exploded further spreading the fire. Eight fire brigade trucks took 4 hours to extinguish the blaze which turned more than half of the Karachi’s most crowded markets into ashes, killed 37 people and wounded many more.