LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) - Twenty-three years of military service come in handy when Masood Haider gets a call from a suspicious spouse.
He quickly dispatches a surveillance team to keep tabs on the partner believed to be heading off for an illicit rendezvous.
In deeply conservative Muslim Pakistan where arranged marriages are common and adultery can be punished by death, it is an illustration of how much the society is changing that Haider’s private detective agency exists at all.
“What was taken as taboo 20 to 25 years ago is no more taken that way,” said Haider, 53, a former army pilot who founded FactFinders, Pakistan’s first licensed private detective agency.
The business of exposing cheating spouses, he says, is growing.
“People simply understand that if two people cannot live under one roof and they cannot co-exist peacefully it is better to disengage and carry on with their lives instead of dragging it on.”
Pakistan portrays itself as a progressive Islamic nation. But since the 1980s, it has been drifting towards a more conservative interpretation of Islam that has reshaped the political landscape, fuelled militancy and cowed champions of tolerance into silence.
Adultery is a capital crime under Islamic Sharia law. Death sentences are rarely carried out by the state but people sometimes do take matters into their own hands, especially in rural areas.
Yet women are becoming increasingly assertive about confronting unfaithful spouses. So are men.
“When I opened this company I was not sure whether Pakistani men would confide in me regarding their wives,” said Haider, in his spacious office in the city of Lahore where he began his venture on Valentine’s Day two years ago.
“But to my surprise the first case I received was of a cheating wife.”
His services do not come cheap. The downpayment for FactFinders to check on an unfaithful partner is $5,500, out of reach of most people who on average bring home just $60 a month.
Clients are mostly wealthy Pakistanis who live here, or in Britain, the United States or United Arab Emirates and want to keep a close eye on spouses or fiancées from afar.
His investigations are not restricted to cases of infidelity.
One man, for example, desperately wanted him to retrieve a stolen computer with compromising pictures of his naked wife.
But it is mostly husbands or wives tormented by suspicion of cheating who turn to Haider.
His website promises to “Off load your burden with full confidentiality” with the suggestive image of a turned-over high heeled-shoe beside a wine glass. To reinforce the point, another photograph shows a luxury car splashed with graffiti from an angry wife or girlfriend.
For the really desperate, there is an emergency hotline.
“I think if women could afford it, 80 percent of Pakistani women would be here,” said one woman client.
“In our culture women are discouraged. They are expected to suck it up and be quiet about it. I am done with the being scared part.”
His staff of 30, scattered across Pakistan with a few in Britain for clients there, are recruited from retired military and police officers and the financial industry.
Fatima, 32, worked for Britain’s Scotland Yard before joining Haidar’s outfit, where she does research and manages surveillance teams and other operations.
“In a country like Pakistan, we should promote such things (businesses). There is nothing bad about it.”
Some philanderers go to creative extremes to avoid being caught.
A wealthy Karachi man posed as a rent-a-car driver when meeting his lover. To keep a closer watch, Haider deployed a female detective agent disguised as a maid in the woman’s house .
“So, under one roof, the driver was not the driver and the maid was not the maid. It was ‘The Bold and the Beautiful’ going on in real life,” said Haider, referring to the U.S. television soap opera.
Most infidelity takes place in the first five years of marriage or 20 years into married life, he pointed out.
The indiscretions may be one reason why divorce rates are rising. The Islamabad Arbitration Council, where divorces are officially registered, says the number of broken marriages, have doubled in the last ten years.
In 2011, there were 557 divorces filed in the capital Islamabad alone, compared to 208 in 2002.
Even after 150 cases, some still shock Haider.
“A client caught his wife red-handed in the bedroom with her lover,” said Haider, who has grey hair and a light mustache and retired from the army in 2000. “Instead of being ashamed, she blamed the lover for being caught.”
“‘It is because of this idiot that I was caught. Otherwise I was doing it for three years’,” Haider laughingly quoted her as telling her husband. “I thought ‘look at the guts of this lady’.”
Writing by Michael Georgy, Editing by Jonathan Thatcher