In A Case of Exploding Mangoes, his sardonic, satirical debut novel, a BBC World Service journalist fabricates several solutions—some plausible, some not—to the real-life mystery of who assassinated Pakistani dictator Mohammad Zia ul-Haq in 1988.
Your novel has taken on a timely cast with the death of Benazir Bhutto. Were you surprised by her assassination?
Yes, I was. Everybody I know in Pakistan was. Things that have never happened before have become commonplace—wave after wave of suicide bombings, local Taliban control—but her death was unexpected. There was this aura of invincibility around her—“Bullet-proof Bhutto,” she was called. We journalists can be coldhearted, but I saw colleagues crying.
Nobody has been held to account for dictator Zia's assassination. Who did it?
The truth is that, if I knew, I couldn't have written this book as the satire that it is. There are layers of disinformation out there. If you can't find the truth, you make it up and have fun.
You also have fun with “OBL,” a wallflower at an American ambassador's party. How likely is it that Osama bin Laden was on such a guest list?
I wasn't at such a party, of course, but it's well-documented that all these people—CIA, Pakistani military, Afghans fighting the Soviets—were hanging together, had expectations of each other. So it could have happened.
There's a sexual subtext in the relationship between Junior Officer Shigri and his friend, Cadet Obaid. Very taboo, no?
I didn't really think about it. If you've ever been in any sort of all-boy environment like the military, these things happen. People go through a certain period after adolescence where that kind of relationship is a natural outcome of young men being thrown together.
You send up the army of a military dictatorship. Expecting any “difficulties”?
My god, I thought I was writing a love letter to the army—why would anyone object? Pakistan has had military rule for most of its natural life, so I hope people will find things that are familiar and funny. I hope they'll stock it at the Air Force academy I attended!
What do you foresee for Pervez Musharraf?
A year ago, most friends in Pakistan said the only way he would leave would be to be killed. But that thinking has changed now that he has taken off his uniform. All his power was because he was chief of staff of the army. Now, everybody says his days as leader are numbered, and I agree, but I think he'll just be forced out.