Omar Shahid’s latest book The Fix is on cricket corruption
For decades, Karachi was one of the most violent cities in the world. Its daily body count hit the double digits from sectarian hits, political assassinations and suicide bombings not to mention “routine crime” which is the newspaper reporter’s way of describing street crime. It was a massive city of roughly 22 million people to cover which is why newspapers often ran out of space for stories on gang wars, murders, extortion, kidnappings. Even if all the city’s crime reporters worked round the clock, they would still not be able to cover it all.
There was, however, a second category of stories that were never told, but not because the broadsheets didn’t have enough space. They never saw the light of day because they were so “sensitive” that even the cops didn’t talk about them.
It is thus a rarity to have a law enforcer break the silence. Omar Shahid Hamid is a deputy inspector-general in the Karachi police who has started to talk, or “sing” to borrow from a confession cell metaphor. His choice of vehicle, however, is fiction.
“The things I have written are only 10% of the things that actually happened,” Hamid says. “In my career as a policeman, I had listened to the stories of my colleagues. And the real stories were more sensational than those in any novel.”
He has written four books since 2013. The characters are lifelike in their detail. It is clear that Hamid has drawn on his experience as a counter-terrorism law enforcer who saw up close the city’s underbelly of jihadi and criminal networks.
Give the risks in this line of work, Hamid had to leave Karachi in 2011 after he received threats and the headquarters of the then CID were attacked in 2010. At least 20 people were killed and the bomb left a football field-sized crater.
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“I spent five years outside Pakistan. Before leaving, I was deployed at the CID (now the CTD),” he says. “Many of our operations were against terrorist outfits, including the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and Al-Qaeda, so there were threats.”
A few months after Hamid left Karachi, a car packed with explosives blew up outside his partner Chaudhry Aslam’s residence in Karachi. Eight people, including Aslam’s police guards, were killed. By 2014, Aslam’s luck ran out. He was also killed in a suicide attack. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for both bombings.
While away from Pakistan, Hamid began writing. “It all started because the policeman had so many stories to tell but there was no method to tell them and they were very interesting,” he says.
One of his books The Party Worker is about a brainwashed young man who served his political party by bumping off names on its hit-list. The book may be fiction but journalists who have covered Karachi’s politics will tell you they know exactly what Hamid is talking about.
The writer admits that his books do bear remarkable resemblance to real life, but he is quick to stress that they are fiction. “Many of our stories have links to reality,” he adds. “The stories we read in newspapers and see on TV, such stories have an impact on all of us.”
The hit man in The Party Worker, for example, is strongly suggestive of Saulat Mirza, an assassin of the political party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, who was caught in the murder of the managing director of Karachi’s electricity utility, Shahid Hamid. Shahid Hamid was Omar Shahid’s father.
Saulat Mirza’s sentence was carried out in 2015 and he was hanged in Balochistan’s Macch jail.
One outcome of studying criminals is that you understand the criminal mind and its development. The overwhelming belief for many years in Pakistan was that young men and women were brainwashed into committing acts of extremism or breaking the law for certain justifications, sometimes political, sometimes religious. That might be changing, argues Hamid. There were parties and sectarian groups that did work on young minds and used them, but he believes that now youngsters are less likely to be so susceptible today.
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“Young people are very clever now,” he says. They have become more aware of what ‘targeting’ looks like since increased use of digital and social media.
After writing three crime-thrillers, Hamid’s fourth and latest book The Fix pivots to a more ‘white-collar crime’: corruption in the game of cricket.
He has never investigated corruption in cricket but as a policeman he had seen the inner workings of illegal gambling dens and bookies who bet money on games in big stakes. “It was a unique story for a novel because no one had told such a story before,” he says. “Just like a story on any good criminal case, murder or a robbery… this story has all the [same] elements.”
The cricket world has weathered a few storms with young cricketers being corrupted and proof emerging of international gangs being involved in the web. All of this is taken very seriously by the Pakistani cricket fan. Pakistanis are a cricket-crazy nation. Documented cases of corruption and match-fixing have left an eternal suspicion in fans’ minds. When the team loses most of them will entertain the theory that it intentionally lost the match because big money was involved behind the scenes.
“There is a trend that whenever our team loses we say our players sold out but when the same team wins, we turn them into heroes,” he says. “This happens because such incidents did take place in the past. The biggest crime of the people involved in cricket corruption is that they violate the trust of innocent fans.”
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Omar Shahid Hamid, Karachi, karachi crime, book review, the fix, cricket, crime, cricket corruption