Almost a year into my assignment, I was promoted to the visa officer position at the embassy. This promotion finally took me away from needless Pakistani bullshit about lost passports and I was able to deal with responsible citizens of my country that were visiting, studying or working in and around the city. I had many visits from Irani government officials who were checking to make sure that we were not violating their rules in any way. But on this day, I met Major Mahmoud.
The Major was a diminutive, unintimidating man. Dressed in what looked like a knockoff Saville Row pinstripe suit, the Major sauntered down the hall, stopping to ask staff for files and documents at will. My fellow consulate officers had warned me that he was a big shot in the government and not to be treated lightly because he would have you out of the country within hours, if he chose. I enjoyed Tehran and didn’t see a reason to start any unneeded battles with government functionaries.
“Mr. Aftab?” he asked as he entered my office. “I am Major Mahmoud.”
I stood to shake his hand and introduce myself, “Aftab Siddiqui” and offered him a seat. I motioned to my aide and asked “Would you like tea or coffee, Major sahib?” taking care to show respect to this man.
“Tea, thank you.” He looked relaxed and innocuous. “Mr. Aftab, you have been in my country for over one year now. I am the head of the cultural department for my government and was quite surprised not to have met or seen you in any of our functions.”
“Yes, Major sahib. It has been almost eighteen months now. Actually, I am very tied up here with work and don’t have the opportunity to attend the functions. My colleagues tell me of the grandness of the events and I hope to enjoy one before I am transferred back to Pakistan at the end of my posting.”
“How long might your posting here be?” He asked as we waited for the tea to come.
“I never know sir. Sometimes I am posted for a few months. Other times, I can spend a few years before it is changed.” I said, “It really depends on what our Interior and Foreign Ministries decide for me. I am a government servant, much like yourself, I take orders from a higher command.”
“A higher command. Interesting statement, Mr. Aftab,” he said. I felt a sliver of unease at that. My aide brought the tea and some snacks for the Major, distracting me from the Major’s statement.
“There is no reason that our conversation should end here. I have enjoyed speaking with you and would like to take full advantage of the fact that you are posted here in Tehran. You shall come for dinner to my home over the weekend. Does Sunday work well for you? I believe the embassy is closed and I can show you the beauty of Tehran before dinner.”
“I would be honored to join you sir, but I don’t want you to go to any trouble for me,” I said feigning humility.
“Not at all. You would be our honored guest. We Persians take great pride in our hospitality,” he said.
“How can I refuse then, Major sahib? It would be my pleasure.”
He handed me a pad and asked that I give him my address, “My car will collect you from your residence at two p.m. Sunday. I will join you from my office and we can tour Tehran. I look forward to continuing this conversation, Mr. Aftab.”
“Sir, please call me Aftab. There is no need for Mister among friends,” I said as I walked him to the door of my office.
“Then, if we are friends, you shall call me Mahmoud.”
I walked him to the door of the embassy and shook his hand, knowing that I had been able to gain some trust with the Vaja’s most well-known operative.
Major Mahmoud Ghaznavi has been a thorn in every intelligence operative’s side for the past three decades. He got his start as a quizmaster and had moved up the ladder to serve as the head of intelligence for the Vaja. I had heard during my training that he had performed multiple petrol enemas on a Mossad operative who had been caught close to an Iranian nuclear facility, ending with him being set ablaze as he passed gas. This was not someone that I wanted to be on the wrong side of for obvious reasons.
Read Part II tomorrow.