The Last Man
Author:Vince Flynn



Chapter 7
INTER-SERVICES INTELLIGENCE HQ, ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN

NADEEM Ashan walked down the broad hallway with a sense of dread. After twenty-nine years of working for Pakistani intelligence, one would think Ashan would be used to these bumps in the road, but this particular bump concerned him for reasons that he was extremely reluctant to share with anyone else in the building. Ashan was an expert navigator when it came to the turbulent waters of the ISI, and that historical knowledge only added to his growing concern. The place was not some monolithic bureaucracy where like-minded men shaped the intelligence-gathering and covert activities of Pakistan. The ISI was a deeply divided, sectarian institution composed of intelligence professionals and military personnel who had vastly different ideas about what was best for their country.

The main fault line lay between the secularists and the religious fanatics, with various groups within each camp. The secularists typically pushed for modernity and stability. They had warned for years that the intelligence agency's support of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Lashkar-e-Taiba in Kashmir, India, would eventually bite them in their proverbial behind. The religious fanatics saw the Taliban as an ally that could be used to keep neighboring Afghanistan weak, and the fiercely nationalistic element of the group refused to waver in their support for the terrorists in Kashmir. Their hatred for India ran so deep that they blindly supported the savages who intentionally killed civilians in an effort to make Kashmir a free state.

The hard-liners were exposed as reckless fools in the aftermath of the Mumbai terrorist attacks that left 195 dead and the world-famous Taj Hotel a smoldering ruin. The international outcry was deafening. As the deputy general for Analysis and Foreign Relations, Ashan heard it the loudest. Even before the attacks on New York and Washington, Ashan had had a very close relationship with the CIA and MI-5. After those attacks, Ashan began to see just how dangerous it was to support the mongrel dogs of jihad. Even President Musharraf began to see the light, and when he moved to support the United States in the War on Terror, those dogs turned on him and tried unsuccessfully to take his life seven times during his tenure as Pakistan's head of state. Only five of those incidents had been reported. Ashan and his colleagues at ISI helped cover up the other two due to the conspirators' ties to certain intelligence officials.

All of these incidents were embarrassing for the ISI, but none of them compared to what was uncovered when the Americans sent in one of their elite commando units to kill the world's most notorious terrorist. Bin Laden, it turned out, had been hiding in Pakistan for years. Ashan instantly knew that factions within the ISI had been harboring him. Money would have changed hands, to be sure, but the primary motivation was undoubtedly ideological symmetry. No matter how Pakistan tried to deny it, there were a significant number of men in the Pakistani military and ISI who supported and applauded the actions of the Taliban and al Qaeda.

Ashan was on his way to see just such an individual. Lieutenant General Akhtar Durrani was the deputy general of the ISI's External Wing. Durrani and Ashan ran two of the ISI's three main groups. Their influence was vast, and they both reported directly to the ISI's director general. Ashan managed to move back and forth between the secularists and the hard-liners depending on the situation, while Durrani was firmly in the camp of the hard-liners. Ashan's pragmatism was driven by an obvious fact - Pakistan was overwhelmingly a Muslim country.

Ashan moved past the handpicked military bodyguards and his colleague's male personal assistant with nothing more than a nod. ISI Headquarters was a sprawling compound and the Foreign Relations Wing was a healthy distance from the offices of the External Wing, but even so, the two deputy generals were very close. Almost every day Ashan made the lengthy walk from his office to Durrani's. Unlike most of the Pakistani men his age, Ashan was very focused on his health. Neither of his parents had made it to sixty. His father died of a heart attack brought on by years of smoking cigarettes, and his mother died of lung cancer brought on by years of smoking. Ashan abhorred smoking and made every effort to eat right and walk every day. He was intent on living well into his eighties.

The heavy door to Durrani's office was closed. Ashan glanced over his shoulder at the assistant, who checked the lights on his phone.

"He's alone."

Ashan knocked on the door and turned the knob. He stepped into the large rectangular office and was enveloped in a haze of gray smoke. Ashan didn't hesitate. He flipped a switch on the wall and the hum of an exhaust fan kicked in. He had had the unit installed nearly four years ago, because he could no longer tolerate sitting in the smoke-filled office. He considered chastising his friend for not having it on, but thought better of it. The man was breathing the carcinogens directly into his lungs. The exhaust fan would make little difference.

"Nadeem," Durrani said, leaning back in his high-back black leather chair, "what a pleasure." Durrani was dressed in his Army uniform, lest anyone forget the duality of his importance.

Ashan, having served only four years in the Air Force, was dressed in a blue suit and yellow tie. "I was in the neighborhood and I decided to stop by."

"Exercising again." Durrani smiled and held out his cigarette. "I've warned you, if you keep that up it will kill you."

"Yes, I know. If only I smoked like you and the rest of the country I would be much healthier."

"You might have more fun," Durrani said with a broad grin forming under the ample black mustache that seemed to be a prerequisite for being an officer in the Pakistan military.

"I have plenty of fun." Ashan continued past the two chairs in front of his friend's large desk and sat in the chair by the window that looked out onto one of the many inner courtyards of the compound. The armchair was something else he had ordered on his own. The two chairs in front of Durrani's desk were stubby little things that forced the occupants to look up at Durrani as if he sat high atop K2. Ashan couldn't be certain, but he suspected that the seating arrangement was a holdover from the old colonial days when British officers ran their country.

"So what brings you to my little enclave this morning? Do you need the dirty tricks of the External Wing to save your rear end once again?"

More serious than kidding, Ashan said, "Your dirty tricks are usually what puts my posterior into the hot water."

"Oh, come now," Durrani said with a deep laugh. "We all have our roles to play."

Ashan was not in such a playful mood. He knew his friend too well. Knew his capabilities and his weaknesses, and if he had been stupid enough to lend any of his people or expertise to facilitate the lunacy in Jalalabad, then they were all in a great deal of trouble. "Let us just pray for a moment that no one in the External Wing had anything to do with what happened across the border last night."

"Which border are you referring to?"

Ashan ran a hand across his clean-shaven face and tried to gauge whether his old friend's ignorance was real or feigned. The man had become so adept at playing this game that Ashan could no longer tell the difference. He decided to play it straight. "The border to our north."

"Ah . . . Mr. Rickman. Very unfortunate. I'm surprised you have heard."

Ashan was used to the constant shots at the capabilities of his department. "Foreign relations is our specialty."

"How did you learn of it?"

"The embassy. They sent a cable this morning." Ashan told only half the truth. He'd also spoken with the CIA directly. "The Americans are very upset."

"I would imagine they are. Mr. Rickman is not someone I would want to lose."

Ashan turned and glanced out the window. He sensed his friend was playing some kind of game, but he could no longer be sure. They had met thirty-five years ago while he was studying at Oxford and Durrani was at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. Back then Durrani was an open book - transparent about his passions and plans. Ashan had always appreciated his honesty and forthright manner. The ISI had slowly turned him into a duplicitous spymaster, however, and Ashan feared there was an ever-deepening divide between them. "Akhtar, I have to ask you something."

Durrani gave a welcoming smile, signaling for his friend to proceed.

"You will not like this question."

"People ask me questions every day that I do not like. It is part of my job."

Ashan watched him light another cigarette and then casually asked, "Do you or any of your people have any information about the kidnapping of Rickman?"

Durrani didn't answer right away, as he was taking in a deep breath of smoke to make sure the cigarette stayed lit. Only fools had to relight a cigarette. He shook his head and exhaled, saying, "That is a pretty broad question. Could you be more specific?"

"Did you have any knowledge that he was a target?"

"Personally, I had no knowledge."

"And your people?"

Durrani scoffed. "Why would my people be involved in something so reckless?"

Ashan could come up with a half dozen reasons that would make his point. He was going to let it go, and then something pushed him further than he had gone with his friend in some time. "Maybe you should tell me, since we both know some of your people decided it was a good idea to hide bin Laden from the world. In our own backyard, I should add."

Durrani's easy expression hardened. "It has been decided that we are not to discuss that matter."

Yes, it had been decided. In the embarrassing aftermath of the SEAL team raid, the president and the director general had asked Ashan to investigate any potential involvement by the ISI in aiding bin Laden. A two-star Army general had been ordered to investigate the potential involvement of the armed forces as well. The general had come back with a pathetic report that cleared the military of all involvement. Ashan's investigation was an entirely different matter. Six intelligence officers were implicated as well as five Army officers and a handful of subordinates, and there were more. Before Ashan could finish his investigation, the director general stepped in and seized all evidence and had it destroyed.

Ashan had been furious, but he was told it was for the good of Pakistan. The director general told him the Americans had penetrated his investigation and were now in possession of information that they could use to blackmail Pakistan into doing their bidding. Ashan knew the answer was a complete fabrication. His investigation was taking him to the doorsteps of some very influential people. He was on the brink of exposing to the world that senior Pakistani officials had harbored the world's most notorious terrorist. Rather than clean house and admit their mistakes, the president and his senior cabinet members decided to bury the entire matter. Not a single person was punished, and since firing those involved might bring about more speculation, they were allowed to stay in their positions. Ashan found the entire thing infuriating but was left with no recourse except one. He very quietly and carefully passed what he knew on to the Americans.

"Yes, it has been decided that we are not to discuss the matter, but we have always prided ourselves on being realists, and since we are in your office, which we both know to be secure, I see no harm in pointing out that we know for a fact that some of your people are indeed reckless."

"Don't be so smug. Your department was implicated as well."

"Yes." Ashan nodded. "One reckless moron, and I have done my best to make his life miserable. I have him stuffed down in one of the sublevels digitizing old files. And the five men in your department, how are they faring?"

"How I run my department is my business."

Ashan took the defensive answer for what it was - an admission that the duplicitous scum still held their old positions. "So now that we've established that we have people in our fine organization who would indeed participate in a plan as reckless as kidnapping someone like Joe Rickman, how do you suggest we make sure that none of our people had anything to do with this?"

"I would suggest doing nothing."

"Nothing?"

"Even investigating such a thing will draw the attention of the Americans. I see no reason to open my wing up to more of their accusations when I am confident that my people had nothing to do with this. Afghanistan is a rough place, as the Americans have found out. They should have gone home a long time ago."

Ashan made no attempted to conceal his exasperation. "Why must you continue to treat the Americans as if they are our enemy?"

Durrani stabbed out his cigarette in the large copper ashtray and folded his hands across his tight green uniform shirt. "Afghanistan is our toy. The British thought it was their toy for a long time, and then the Russians thought they could take it, and then the Americans in their arrogance thought they could do what neither the British nor the Russians could accomplish. They thought they could tame the savages and take what is ours."

Ashan shook his head. He had heard all of this before. "Again, you have conveniently left out the part where al Qaeda attacked them."

"We could have handled al Qaeda for them. All they had to do was ask. They didn't need to invade our neighbor. Look at all the damage they have caused."

Ashan started to speak and then stopped. It was all a waste of his time. They had been over all of this before. Durrani loved to feign ignorance and spout his dislike for the Americans, all while gladly taking their money. It was rumored that he'd pocketed millions over the course of the war, some of it undoubtedly coming directly from Rickman. Ashan had been on the verge of leveling the accusation on multiple occasions but had always maintained just enough control to avoid suicide. Durrani wasn't the only one who took money. Most of the leadership at the ISI received some form of payment from the Americans, including Ashan himself. The problem with Durrani was that he took the money and then worked feverishly to undermine the legitimate goals of their ally.

"The damage they have caused? And I suppose you think we've had no hand in this mess . . . training and funding the mujahideen and then the Taliban and even some members of al Qaeda."

"Afghanistan is a mess, but it is our mess. It is time for the Americans to leave."

"And what do you think they're trying to do? This reintegration program that I've been helping them with is so they can pull out."

"And maintain a network of paid spies to continue to manipulate the affairs of this region." Durrani shook his head. "It is unacceptable."

"It is understandable considering everything they've been through."

"Would they allow us to meddle in the affairs of countries in their geographical sphere of influence?" Durrani didn't wait for an answer. "They most certainly wouldn't. They have worn out their welcome. It is time for them to go home."

Increasingly, this was how their conversations played out. To push further would be a waste of time and energy. "And what about Rickman?"

The general shrugged. "Another casualty of war. Everyone involved in this mess has lost thousands. Rickman is just another body."

Ashan shook his head in genuine disbelief. "That's where you're wrong. Joe Rickman is not just another body. He is one of the CIA's most important assets, and they are not just going to sit back while he's tortured. The man has too many secrets . . . extremely valuable secrets."

"You are overstating his importance, and even if you weren't, good luck finding him."

"Overstating his importance." Ashan stood and walked to the other side of the large desk. He faced his friend and said, "Do you know who the Americans have dispatched to find Rickman?"

"I have no idea."

Ashan placed both hands on the desk and said, "Your old friend Mitch Rapp."

Durrani looked away and swallowed hard. After a moment of silence he said, "We will offer him any assistance he needs." The words were flat, with no real commitment behind them.

"Akhtar, we have been friends for a long time. I don't want you to react . . . I don't want you to say a word. For once, please listen to me. Mitch Rapp is an extremely dangerous man. The fact that they have sent him over here is proof of how serious the Americans are about getting Rickman back. Rapp doesn't care about diplomacy or politics. He is the last man you want to cross. He will kill anyone who has anything to do with this. I'm going to leave now, but I suggest you follow through on your words. Offer him any assistance he needs, and if you find out that any of your people have aided the Taliban in - "

"We have no idea who did this," Durrani said, with more than a tinge of irritation in his voice.

"You are correct," Ashan said in a soothing voice, "but we can make some educated guesses, and if the usual suspects are involved, we can almost guarantee that somewhere, someone has a connection to the ISI. We need to put our people to work. They need to tell us what they find out and we need to hand it over to the Americans. I know this is painful for you, but you need to act like a true ally."

Durrani looked as if he'd taken a bite out of a sour lemon. "I am sick of the Americans and their arrogance. This is not my problem. They can find Rickman on their own."

Ashan stepped back. "Fine, you stubborn fool. Rapp has already warned you what he would do to you if you stabbed him in the back again." He retreated toward the door and asked, "Does he strike you as a man who doesn't follow through on his threats?"

"I am not afraid of Mitch Rapp."

Ashan placed his hand on the doorknob, a genuine feeling of sadness in his heart. His friend had turned into a stubborn old fool who thought the Americans lacked the resolve to play this nasty game at his ruthless level. For the average American he had a point, but Mitch Rapp was in no way average. Ashan opened the door and over his shoulder said, "If you aren't afraid of Mr. Rapp then you need to have your head examined."
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