How a young woman saved our nuclear plan
(Note: The superpower mentioned in the story was the US and the intelligence agency was CIA)
I As the nation celebrates the eleventh anniversary of Pakistan’s nuclear tests today (May 28), a shocking 30-year-old secret has been exposed. It reveals how a young woman college lecturer, feeling betrayed after a romance with a nuclear scientist of the Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (KANUPP), had given a lead to the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in 1978, which in turn had led to the dramatic arrest of 12 Pakistani scientists and engineers, planning to sabotage Pakistan’s nuclear sites at the behest of a superpower. The startling spy ring was exposed by this female college lecturer of a Karachi Memon family to the then head of ISI Sindh Brig Imtiaz Ahmed (Operation Midnight Jackals fame), only because she wanted revenge from her lover for being unfaithful.
Brig (retd) Imtiaz Ahmed broke his silence of over 30 years to share this amazing operation with The News on the eve of the 11th annual celebration of Pakistan going nuclear . He said that while many people take credit for saving our nuclear programme, no one actually knows how an unsung jilted girl had actually ended up saving Pakistan’s nuclear project out of sheer vengeance.
Brig (retd) Imtiaz Ahmed served as director in charge Internal Security ISI for several years in Islamabad and later director general Intelligence Bureau (IB) in the first government of Nawaz Sharif. The then prime minister Benazir Bhutto had put him in jail for about three years on charges of being part of the operation to oust her in 1989 during her first government. Later, General Musharraf also put him in jail for four years till his acquittal by the Lahore High Court. He is the only spymaster of Pakistan who was jailed for eight years, after serving 15 years in the ISI and the IB.
Brig Imtiaz recalled that as a lieutenant colonel he was posted as chief ISI Sindh in 1978. One day he received a telephone call from the sister of A K Brohi, who was a psychologist in Karachi. She informed him that she was treating a female young patient who was suffering from a disease called “secret concealment” wherein a patient could not be cured unless he or she shared this secret with someone. The lady doctor had confessed to Brig Imtiaz that she had failed to make the girl reveal the secret and thought maybe he could help her. He then went to meet the woman at the clinic. She was very beautiful and had done her Masters in English Literature and was teaching at a local college.
After some initial talk, the woman finally told him that she was carrying a very dangerous secret with her but made it clear that she would not share it even if she was killed. She told him that she knew very well that the intelligence people were not trustworthy, as they usually use the people and then don’t care what had happened to them. Brig Imtiaz told her that if she was not ready to trust him, then he was ready to arrange her meetings with the then DG ISI General Riaz Mohammad (uncle of MNA Shahid Khaqan Abbasi). But, she refused. Brig Imtiaz did not lose heart and told her that he could arrange her meeting with General K M Arif who was then chief of staff to Gen Zia. When she refused again, as a last resort Brig Imtiaz offered to take her to meet President Gen Zia to share this strange secret which had made her life a living hell. But, the woman did not agree to any of these names to share her dangerous secret as she feared she might be killed.
According to Brig Imtiaz, he could have easily picked her up and kept her in a safe house for a few days in isolation to make her reveal the secret but he did not adopt this traditional style of the intelligence officers. For a few days, according to his own version, Brig Imtiaz grappled with the dilemma of whether to wait or to just pick her up and try extracting information through traditional methods.
It was during these days that one day while on his way to Clifton and driving by the consulate of a superpower, he saw a red colour Mazda car bearing a private number plate going inside at a very fast speed but he never really gave it another thought. But later, when he was sitting with the man in Clifton whom he had gone to meet, all of a sudden, his mind started working and he thought of the same red Mazda car and how it was allowed inside the consulate within a few seconds. He immediately ordered his men to stay vigilant outside the consulate and keep a tab on the car when it came out. But the red Mazda did not come out of the consulate building till late at night. Next morning, he went to his office and took out the Karachi metropolitan map and divided it into eight sectors. He gave motorcycles and cars to his ISI people with the directions to keep on roaming in these eight sectors all the time and note the registration numbers of all such red Mazda cars which were very few in those days. This exercise continued for a month but there was no big success. He kept on checking the registration numbers of red Mazda cars but no suspect was found.
One day, he got a red Mazda number which was rented out to someone from a Tariq Road showroom. One Rafique Munshi had rented that car. He had also given his address to the showroom. He was living in Garden East in MPA hostel in a suite. When the credentials of Munshi were checked, Brig Imtiaz came to know that he was working in the KANUPP as an engineer. The brigadier was immediately reminded of the female lecturer and went to meet the Memon lady. He again called the sister of Dr A K Brohi and requested her to arrange a meeting with her patient. During the meeting, he suddenly asked the lady whether she knew Munshi. As he uttered the name, she started weeping. It took her a while to regain her composure but then she started sharing the secret which she was not ready to share earlier. She admitted that she and Munshi had been class fellows at Karachi University. Both had a serious love affair and he had promised to marry her. She said that they had also developed an illicit sexual relationship.
But then he suddenly disappeared from Karachi and she could not trace him anywhere. After four long years, he suddenly resurfaced in Karachi and was a totally changed man. Before going into hiding, he was a poor guy, but now he was loaded with dollars and leading a luxurious life. She also saw the photograph of a very beautiful foreign girl in his wallet. She then admitted to the brigadier that she was still dating Munshi but felt betrayed and cheated as she believed he had spoiled her life. She told Brig Imtiaz that she was thinking to take revenge from him but then she could not dare because it might have also harmed her.
Then the secret broke. The woman told him that one day, when Munshi left for his office, he left his safe open. She looked at the half-open safe and could not resist the temptation to check its contents. She was startled to see piles of dollars inside along with some official secret files. These papers were related to Pakistan’s nuclear sites and installations.
This information was enough for Brig Imtiaz to proceed further as he understood the nature of the secret the woman was carrying with her for so many months and becoming sick in the process. He asked her to help him get a key to Munshi’s suite so that he could himself inspect the stuff. She provided him the alternate key. With the help of a 70-year-old key-making expert Brig Imtiaz managed to open the foreign made safe and made copies of documents which were primarily questions and the answers related to Pakistan’s nuclear sites and the people working there. Obviously Engineer Munshi was working for the secret agency of a superpower which used to provide him questions and he used to give them the replies to those questions related to the nuclear programme. This was the same man who was seen taking his red Mazda car inside the foreign consulate.
Brig Imtiaz did not touch the dollars and kept putting the documents back after making copies. He now wanted to capture the whole gang, as he came to know through the papers that the agents of this secret agency of a superpower were also present in Kahuta and other important installations where the nuclear programme was being executed. Munshi was simply playing the role of an agent between the foreign secret agency and Pakistani scientists working at those installations.
After a labour of ten months and armed with necessary information, the matter was then brought to the notice of DG ISI Riaz Mohammad. In the meantime, Brig Imtiaz came to know through those secret communications through papers that Munshi was to meet a foreign secret agent at Hawkes Bay Karachi to hand over some documents. He decided to arrest them red handed. He only took his driver along. When the two were exchanging documents, he tried to arrest them; and to his surprise, the agent shot at him but missed. But he, along with his driver, overpowered them and shifted them to a safe house. Soon they had the names of 12 other officers at Kahuta and other places who were part of this plan to sabotage the nuclear sites.
According to the plot, these nuclear scientists and engineers working on the payroll of a secret agency, were to develop huge technical sabotage of the programme to an extent that it could not have been repaired or fixed for some years to come. They all were arrested from various places in the light of information given by Brig Imtiaz. It was revealed that actually the foreign secret agency had deputed five handlers from Washington to deal with the nuclear programme of Pakistan. These five foreign handlers included two girls, one of whose photos was seen by the heartbroken girlfriend of Munshi which made her jealous and she decided to take revenge.
Brig Imtiaz was immediately called to Islamabad to give a briefing to General Ziaul Haq The five handlers were immediately told to leave Pakistan and General Zia was said to have called the president of this superpower to register a protest that how his country’s secret agency had tried to sabotage Pakistan’s nuclear programme. Zia was said to have expressed extreme displeasure over this espionage of nuclear programme. But, the president of that superpower was said to have requested Zia not to make it a public issue as it might tarnish his country’s image and Zia obliged him. A special tribunal was set up to try all those Pakistani scientists and engineers on high treason charges. The ringleader Munshi was sentenced to death while others were awarded life sentences by the court.
But one fine morning, much to his shock, Brig Imtiaz learned that President Zia had commuted the death penalty of Munshi on the recommendation of a top Sindhi leader in exchange for his political support to the Zia regime.
After the arrest of Munshi, Brig Imtiaz met the lady lecture whose tip had led to unfold this international conspiracy against Pakistan nuclear programme. She was devastated and feeling very depressed as she told the ISI officer that she loved Munshi dearly but as he had betrayed her she could not spare him. The woman had managed to take her revenge from her lover while Brig Imtiaz was happy to unearth such a big conspiracy for which he was later decorated with a Tamgha-e-Basalat by the president of Pakistan for his services to the nation.
“Listen, almost 30 years have passed since this incident, but till date I can’t forget how a heartbroken woman’s commitment to herself to take revenge from her lover had led to the unfolding of this secret, which, if not shared, might have deprived Pakistan of its nuclear assets ad we might not be celebrating this day,” remarked Brig Imtiaz while lost in the memories of the past.