Book Review of Khalid Muhammad’s ‘Agency Rules: Never An Easy Day At The Office’

By Syeda Qudsiya Mashhadi

Agency Rules’ by Khalid Muhammad is a gripping spy thriller that holds the reader’s attention right from the beginning to the end of the story. It takes one on a roller-coaster ride with an intelligence agent, Kamal Khan who goes undercover to expose a terrorist stronghold in the north western province of Pakistan.

The protagonist’s journey is described in the engaging style of an action thriller and keeps the reader wondering what may happen next to the hero. The only few times where the pace slows down a little is when the setting involves the conniving politicians, who are always thinking about themselves, not giving a thought to the security or well-being of the country. But even here, the author has presented a likeable character in the form of Adnan Butt, the president of Pakistan.

The main plot of the story revolves around a dauntless and resilient ISI agent, a young but resourceful and dedicated captain of Pakistan Army. The path he treads is definitely not for the faint-hearted. Through his journey, one gets a first-hand glimpse of what it truly means to be a spy and that too, of the intelligence agency that is ranked number one in the world.

Though the story is set in the time after the US-sponsored Afghan Jihad had ended but the army operations against terrorist sanctuaries inside Pakistan depicted in the novel are a vivid reminder of what actually happened in Pakistan Army’s operations against the TTP in Swat and Waziristan. As the plot progresses, one reads about different Generals, ‘Sheikhs’ and ‘Imams’, and being a Pakistani one can easily recognize these characters from a Pakistani perspective.

For the international audience too, this book, though a work of fiction, gives a very accurate insider’s view to the decentralized, asymmetrical warfare that Pakistan had to encounter as the after-effect of the American War on Terror. The reader gets to see the life of a Pakistani commando who not only observes terrorists very closely, but also plays a key role in eliminating them. It shows the western reader what the average and the not-so-average Pakistani has gone through since the Russian and American adventure in Afghanistan.

The story of Kamal Khan is filled with courage and guts, violence and pain, and sometimes disgust too but that is what makes the plot very real and life-like. If this novel was made into a Hollywood action thriller, which it very well can be, it will be quite gripping and a treat for the fans of this genre, though it might be rated for violence and language, but who cares. It is the truth that one wants to see.

My favourite ‘scene’ from the novel, as it is a very visual narrative, is the brilliant fight scene at a Peshawar warehouse where Kamal Khan uses a combination of his courage as a warrior, his skills as a spy and his emotional intelligence as a very sharp-eyed operative to defeat the adversaries. I cannot describe it in detail for the fear of giving away spoilers but want to say that I definitely enjoyed reading it.

Though the story is about a courageous ISI agent, it does not present Pakistan Armed Forces and intelligence agency as some super human force. The beauty of the book lies in presenting them as humans not without faults and weaknesses. It is only their dedication to serve their homeland and their unbeatable will to overcome those human weaknesses which makes them the ‘men at their best’.

I would definitely recommend this book for those interested in finding out about Pakistan’s fight against terrorism, and also for those who are on the look-out for a good piece of literature, ‘Agency Rules’ by Khalid Muhammad is the book for you. Finally, this book is a reminder to the enemies of Pakistan too: remember that the agency rules, always!

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