‘Operation Kahuta’, seems like an unusual name for an undercover operation, doesn’t it? No matter how unusual the name might seem, it is recorded as one of the most daring of operations. The first thing that we must know about the operation is that it was undertaken by Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) which is India’s primary intelligence agency.
Kahuta is a city in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. It is here that the Khan Research Laboratories was founded which was the home to the Kahuta Project, officially known as Project-706. The project aimed at developing Pakistan’s first atomic bomb, & ran from around 1972-1983.
What was Operation Kahuta?
Launched by RAW in 1977, the motive of the mission was to locate & confirm the existence of the Pakistan’s secret weapons program. It is said that Israel’s intelligence agency, Mossad, also helped RAW in its mission.
For around a decade, under the leadership of ‘Kaoboy’ R.N. Kao, RAW had worked to build a network within Pakistan. RAW operatives inside Pakistan picked up on ‘chatter’ on a possible fissile material production facility. Priority of RAW was to pin point the location of the facility.
The French government had withdrawn support from the Pakistanis. This made them paranoid & they began maintaining much more secrecy in relation to the project.
RAW agents were aware of various such facilities in Pakistan, but they still weren’t sure which one was the mother lode. Infiltrating each facility was in no way feasible, so RAW planned to ‘infiltrate’ a different kind of establishment – barber shops.
RAW agents were surveilling Pakistani scientists. The agents went into barber shops that were visited by these scientists, & collected their hair samples. These samples were sent for testing, which showed that the samples from scientists belonging to the Kahuta plant had radiation traces proving the plant was refining plutonium! With the location identified, RAW wanted to infiltrate & possibly sabotage the plant.
Then Came the Political Betrayal
This betrayal came from none other than Prime Minister Morarji Desai. During his regime, there was great distrust between politicians & the IB, RAW.
One of the first actions he took was to eviscerate RAW’s budget by as much as 30% to 40%. This led to RAW founder R.N. Kao quitting; a sad, unfair end to an exemplary career. Not only this, but Desai also managed to isolate &get rid of K.S. Nair who was handed the RAW mantle when Kao left.
Boils your blood, right? Wait for what happened next.After confirming the location of the plant, the next step was to get hold of the blueprints. A mole at the plant agreed to provide the blueprint in exchange for money. As per RAW playbook, any such ‘fee’ being given by RAW agents had to be approved by the prime minister himself.
So N.F. Suntook, who had taken over from K.S. Nair, brought this to Morarji Desai for approval. But his reaction to the approval can be termed both as shocking, & to an extent treacherous as well.Morarji Desai gave a flat ‘no’, & even lectured K.S. Nair on how RAW/India shouldn’t interfere in Pakistan’s ‘internal affairs’!
The betrayal to the nation & our intelligence forces didn’t end here. Worse was to come. In an informal conversation with Zia-ul-Haq, Morarji Desai revealed details of the RAW network in Pakistan & also confirmed that India was aware of the enrichment happening at the Kahuta facility.
What happened next was on conceivable lines. Pakistan hunted the brave men across its land, killing many of them brutally. The entire network was neutralised, &it set back our Pakistan specific intelligence by at least a decade.
So, this is how RAW carried out a stunningly dangerous operation, which would have been a smashing success, but for political betrayal. Such betrayals aren’t a rarity. Jawaharlal Nehru deserted the Indian Army during the Indo-China war that resulted in the deaths of many soldiers, who didn’t even have guns in their hands to counter the invading Chinese.