MY TRAVELLING COMPANION HAD, in his possession, four devices—two cell phones, a bulkier phone that seemingly dialed the moon, and a walkie-talkie. At any given moment, he seemed to be using at least two of the four. He answered one of the mobiles and exchanged a few sentences, grimaced, and punched the end button with some anger. It is futile trying to keep working while surrounded by bureaucracy and incompetence, he said. He used a less-polite word for "incompetence". I smiled in sympathy, though I had scant idea what he was talking about.
On behalf of a mutual acquaintance, he had agreed to show me around a few places in southern Punjab. He was born there in a small town, close to the Sindh and not too distant from the Indian border. He told me that he worked for the intelligence division of the police, in a district near Bahwalpur. His stark white salwar kameez certainly put him in the "undercover" category, and his abundant supply of telecommunications equipment suggested he was telling the truth.
We were somewhere south of Bahawalpur, waiting to get onto the highway. I had visited some archives, looking for texts and people to talk to. The afternoon sun was quite powerful, even in early March. The car stood idling, right blinker on, waiting for a break among the trollies and buses racing down the motorway. Just as we were about to merge, two black vehicles emerged from behind a trolley and flashed by in front of us—topping 120 km/hr. The second of the two trucks had an open top—two benches arranged to face the back—and on them sat four figures, clad all in black, heads wrapped, and carrying what looked like some serious weapons. We entered the motorway right behind them, and were soon trailing about 20 metres back.