While recent years have seen an explosion of fiction from Indian authors being published in the West, the same can't be said for the other country that was born out of Partition; Pakistan. Pakistan remains something of a mystery for most people in North America, occasionally gaining notoriety for acts of violence against women, political assassinations, and insinuations about its ties with the Taliban and the insurgency in Afghanistan.
Ironically, it was its ties to the very same Taliban in the 1980s that gave it favoured nation status with Ronald Regan's administration in Washington. Pakistan was the conduit for American money and military aid to those resisting the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
In those days Pakistan was ruled by General Zia, who had led the military in the coup that had ousted the elected government of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, (father of recently assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto), and was responsible for his execution. Zia was America's "tame" Muslim, and they turned a blind eye to his introduction of laws that allowed for women to be stoned to death for adultery.
General Zia's career and life came to an abrupt end when his presidential plane crashed on takeoff, killing all on board. There has never been an official explanation as to what caused the crash that ended Zia's 11-year reign, but now, some 20-odd years later, an unofficial explanation has been put forward.
Mohammed Hanif's new novel, A Case Of Exploding Mangos, published by Random House Canada, plunks us down in Pakistan for the last month of President Zia's life and takes us behind the scenes - from the American Embassy in Islamabad, the First Lady of Pakistan's private chambers, to a military prison.
The war in Afghanistan is winding down, the Taliban are closing in on Kabul, and the Russians are pulling out. For their role in allowing the Americans to use Pakistan as their staging ground for funding the insurrection, President Zia and his chief of staff have gone to the top of the charts as the top ten bulwarks against Communist expansion in the free world. The fact that they run a despotic military dictatorship where the prisons are full of those who might not agree with them is conveniently ignored.
Junior Under Officer Ali Shigri is in trouble. He somehow managed to miss the fact that one of the men in his squadron at the Pakistan Airforce Academy was not present during roll call that morning. The man had not only gone AWOL, but had also stolen a small plane. His seniors aren't buying his story of the series of coincidences that prevented him from noticing Cadet Obaid-ul-llah was missing, and then not reporting the same. The fact that the two young men were known to be close friends probably has a lot to do with that, and they can't believe Ali knew nothing about his buddy's plans in advance.