The price of Osama
Amarinder Sandhu

The Final Option
by Baqir Shameem. Frog Books. Pages 126. Rs 200.

Sought by the Americans, Osama bin Laden and his aides are captured by a Pakistan army patrol. Did that get your attention? Well it did catch mine. The Final Option has a captivating beginning. The Wakham corridor, at the border of Afghanistan, China and Tajikstan is the strategic venue of this operation. An innocent mute child fond of chocolates leads the army to the most wanted man in the world.

The Americans want Osama badly, but Pakistan won’t let him be revealed that easily. Osama is a cult figure not only in that country "but also for a`A0majority of the population in the Middle East, North Africa, former Soviet states, Malaysia and Indonesia". Pakistan cannot afford to antagonise the Muslim world, but Osama can be handed over to the US for a price, to which the Americans agree and give a nod for their indirect cooperation. The price is heavy—the "liberation" of Kashmir.

With India and Pakistan moving towards peace talks, the hotline between the operational headquarters of the Indian and Pakistani armies is suddenly activated. General Harinder Singh, who talks to Pakistani General Ibadat Beg, has some grave news for the Chief of the Army Staff. India’s security is under threat again. Either India should withdraw its troops from Kashmir or face serious nuclear consequences.

The author makes India appear as a military regime and not as a democracy. The Chief of the Army Staff takes the decisions without informing the Prime Minister or the National Security Advisor. The Field Commanders have a field day, behaving like warlords and treating their area of operation as personal fiefdoms. Ignoring protocol, evading perils and giving the appearance of normalisation, the Army bigwigs pass order to withdraw troops from along the LoC. Behind the scenes, the Army seems to have taken over the reins of the state, as India continues to function as a democracy.

India breeds men in uniform who are tougher and always resourceful. Every plot has its loopholes and every man has his weaknesses. A folder on Jehangir Khan, the military leader of Pakistan, shows his son and family residing in Chicago. The Indian Army comes up with a plan: kidnap the Pakistani President’s son and other members of the family. Col Asad Mustafa, a valiant Indian of good peasant stock, heads the kidnapping operation named Swarn. He is accompanied by his love interest, Swarnlatha, Maj Sanyal a military doctor, Wing Commander Moorthy, an ace pilot, and Col Patil.

The family is kidnapped from America, flown across half the globe in an Air India plane that stops at Heathrow for refueling and lands safety at Bangalore. A difficult mission, but easily accomplished!

Written in a simple language, the novel is contemporary indeed. The locales have been presented perfectly and the author has done a good job in characterising the Indian Army officers as perfect gentlemen. The readers are also introduced to the wily Americans and the`A0working of their intelligence agency, the over ambitious politician, Purohit, and Tekchand, the hapless steel magnate.

The Pakistani military leader plays the doting father and succumbs to his one weakness, withdrawing all his threats to India. The writer seems to have gone overboard in the plotting, with Mount Everest vanishing from the very face of the Earth. At times, the reader may question his legitimacy of reason. Shameem has addressed the current issues of terrorism, nuclear threats and security, but what happens to Osama? The book ends on a rather intriguing note.