By Ansar Abbasi
Former spymaster Brigadier (retd) Imtiaz Ahmad, whose recent statements caused ripples in the country’s political arena, now talks of a much serious issue; Pakistan’s nuclear programme. He claims to have foiled two American CIA plots to sabotage the country’s nuclear programme.
While serving for the ISI, he recalled, he had conducted the operation ‘Rising Sun’ in 1979 that successfully thwarted a CIA plot to target Pakistan’s nuclear programme. The operation concluded with the arrest and conviction of a Pakistani CIA agent, declaration of a few undercover CIA agents and US diplomats as personae non gratae and their return.
In the second case, Brigadier (retd) Imtiaz said, he, as the Intelligence Bureau chief, had discovered another CIA plot being operated through a third country mainly to hit the country’s nuclear programme.
Talking to The News here on Monday, Brigadier Imtiaz said that in the late 70s, the CIA spotted one Rafiq Munshi, a graduate of Karachi University, and took him to the US to be trained on nuclear technicalities and intelligence skills. Later, he got appointed in Kanup Karachi as an engineer.
It was in 1979 when he was launched back by the CIA with a mission to penetrate into the country’s nuclear network with two clear objectives. Firstly, to provide them (CIA) information about the nuclear programme’s development, security and protection measures for the nuclear installations and identification of nuclear scientists working on sensitive assignments. Secondly, he was assigned to create an opportunity, when given signal, for a technical sabotage of certain nuclear installations.
Imtiaz said that Rafiq Munshi was provided substantial financial aid and was made to operate in close coordination with a few special CIA operators, who were undercover agents and working under diplomatic cover in the US embassy in Islamabad and its consulate in Karachi.
Imtiaz said during those days he was posted in Karachi as a Lt-Colonel and the ISI chief in Sindh. After getting the clue of the plot and personally monitoring it for several months, he disclosed, he conducted the operation ‘Rising Sun’. He said that the operation was conducted in a very secret manner and it was only between him and the then DG ISI Maj General Riaz Muhammad Khan as to what was going on against the country’s nuclear programme.
“I fell impelled to pay greatest tributes to the then DG ISI Maj General Riaz Muhammad Khan, who not only encouraged me but also gave me complete authority to fearlessly conduct the operation,” Imtiaz said, adding that the operation that consumed 8-10 months finally ended up successfully with the arrest of Rafiq Munshi from Karachi while the undercover CIA agents were returned to Washington after being declared as personae non gratae.
According to Imtiaz, he was later summoned by the then ruler General Ziaul Haq, whom he briefed on the operation ‘Rising Sun’ and its outcome. “After hearing all the details, General Ziaul Haq immediately went to another room to talk to the US president. And what I assessed from his body language as soon as he returned after making the telephone call was a clear message that Zia had lodged a forceful protest with the Americans over its plot against Pakistan’s nuclear programme.”
Brigadier (retd) Imtiaz said that he was decorated with Sitar-i-Rasalat for foiling the CIA plot. However, he said, Rafique Munshi, who was sentenced to life imprisonment, was released during Benazir Bhutto’s first government and got closely associated with the Pakistan People’s Party.
Talking about the second CIA plot targeting Pakistan’s nuclear programme that he had successfully foiled, he said that he did it during his stint as DG Intelligence Bureau in Nawaz Sharif’s first tenure and at a time when tension between the then president Ghulam Ishaq Khan and PM Nawaz Sharif was at its peak.
Sharing the details of the plot, he said that he got a clue about an individual, who was in contact with an Islamabad-based ambassador of a European country, which was operating for the CIA as a third country. “I personally got in contact with the individual and made a concerted effort to motivate him to work in the national interest instead of becoming an agent of the country’s enemies.” Imtiaz said that he had succeeded in persuading the individual, who later agreed to work for Pakistan as a double agent and for the same reason, the ex-DG IB said, he was duty bound not to disclose his identity. The retired brigadier said that through briefing and debriefings of the same individual, who was nick-named as “Star”, he came to know about the details of the plot that was being hatched against Pakistan by the CIA.
Imtiaz disclosed that “Star” was taken to the US where he had received instructions as how he was supposed to operate. Heavily financed, “Star” when came back told the IB chief in his debriefing that he was assigned multiple tasks but the topmost assignment was to find out complete details of the deficiency in the security system of Pakistan’s nuclear programme, the exact location of strategic arsenals and the nature of their security arrangements and weaknesses. “Star”, he said, was also asked to create a favorable lobby in the corridors of power to seek policy decisions on the Kashmir issue in accordance with the aspiration of Washington. Imtiaz said that “Star” was also asked to fuel regionalism with focus on the activation of the demand for the creation of a Seraiki province. In this regard, Imtiaz said, “Star” was to create an NGO based in Islamabad and having branches in Bahawalpur and Sindh.
Imtiaz said that one more assignment given to “Star” by the CIA was to weaken the extreme emotional attachment of the common Pakistanis with Islamic values. He said that his interaction with “Star” continued and the latter was successfully working as a double agent for Pakistan till the dismissal of the Nawaz Sharif government, which also led to his immediate resignation.
Imtiaz said that on the basis of his each and every interaction with “Star”, he used to make his hand written notes all of which were saved in the safe of the DG IB. Later, what happened to those notes, Brigadier Imtiaz does not know. He, however, said that “Star” later left Pakistan and got settled in a foreign country.
“Star”, according to Imtiaz, had offered his cooperation on the condition that he would never be handed over to any other IB operator.