How We Killed The Kao – boys

by —- Mallika Nawal

{ Mallika Nawal is a professor-cum-author and PhD in marketing, and author of three management books which are prescribed textbooks in universities across India. She has taught in India and abroad. She is also the author of the crime novel I’m a Woman & I’m on SALE. }

Our late Prime Minister Morarji Desai blew India’s most critical covert operation, fully compromised our secret services, and helped Pakistan make the “Islamic bomb”.

Kao is a name that’s known the world over—the secret world of espionage. R.N. Kao was the man anointed as independent India’s spymaster to bell the international cat. This shrewd, sharp and surprisingly shy Kashmiri Brahmin (Ramji to his friends; Kao to his foes; R.N stood for Rameshwar Nath) was handpicked by Nehru himself to deal with matters too sensitive and important. x There couldn’t have been a better choice. Read his obituary carried by the British newspaper The Independent in February 2002 (Do a Google search for “obituary independent kao”).

Birth of RAW – The brain child of Kao

Kao, who had joined the Imperial Police Service in 1940, donned the proverbial cloak and dagger on the 21st day of September, 1968, and thus was born the (in)famous Research & Analysis Wing (RAW), India’s external intelligence agency, which then comprised 250 hand-picked agents and a meagre budget of Rs 20 million. Amongst these “researchers” and “analysts”, there were those who were trained to exist sans their shadows and these elitest-of-the-elite covert operatives were popularly known as “Kao boys”. Of course, over the years, the agency has grown exponentially—both in terms of bodies and budget. However, as it was then, so it is now…its staff structure still remains shrouded in silence, and has been spared much investigative journalism.

To best understand who or what these Kaoboys were, one simply needs to watch the Tom Cruise starrer Mission Impossible, the first instalment of the ever-popular spy franchise. xxx While official personnel have the safety net of diplomatic immunity, an NOC or a Kaoboy operates without immunity and if captured is often dubbed a “spy” and tortured/ imprisoned/ executed. Hence, to ensure the State’s plausible deniability, the NOC’s identity is supposed to be the State’s best-kept secret. Omertà—the code of silence—is not reserved only for the Sicilian Mafia.

According to Raina, the importance of intelligence can be traced all the way back to the Vedas, which talks about sapasah or spies with a thousand eyes. xxxx

The Chanakya neeti of Sam-Daam-Dand-Bhed (negotiate-buy-punish-divide) is the strongest pillar in the world of intelligence and counter-intelligence.

Of course, as with every secret, there are times when the NOC list can indeed come out in the open. And in real life, unlike in reel life, there is seldom a Tom Cruise available to avert the catastrophe. And so, it was with Kao and his Kaoboys.

The Morarji Damage

According to the writings of B. Raman (formerly a top officer in RAW) and the German author Heinz Duthel (Global Secret and Intelligence Services II), the man who inadvertently managed to play the mole was none other than our late Prime Minister Morarji Desai. He unwittingly—through a single act of indiscretion—accidentally managed to get every single one of our Kaoboys killed in Kahuta.

RAW’s Secret Nuclear Operation – Kahuta

Operation Kahuta was one of RAW’s most ambitious and daring covert operations overseas, inside Pakistan. Kahuta was the xx secret site for Pakistan’s nuclear programme. In fact, Kahuta was the answer to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s silent prayers, who as Pakistan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs had passionately vowed that Pakistan would build a nuclear bomb, even if the people had to eat grass (as he said in an interview with The Guardian in 1965). And so, under the leadershup of Dr. A. Q. Khan (often colourfully referred to as the “rogue scientist”) was born the “Islamic bomb”.

Hair sample analysis lead to discovery of Pak Nuclear programme !!!

However, it is quite possible that the Kahuta Project may have remained just a distant dream and Pakistanis would have been spared their grass-eating spree. So, how did RAW discover Pakistan’s nuclear secret (in fact, we had even managed to beat the CIA)? RAW actually found the answer lying on the floor of a barber shop! By analyzing the hair samples of the scientists (collected from the barber shop near the plant), RAW discovered they had indeed developed the capability to enrich uranium to weapons-grade quality. And thus, unbeknownst to Pakistan, RAW managed to infiltrate the Kahuta plant in 1977.

The Morarji Blunder of Rejection

In fact, in early 1978, the entire blueprint of the Kahuta nuclear plant was offered to India for a measly sum of $10,000 by one of RAW’s Pakistani agents. However, as dictated by protocol, RAW needed the PM’s approval. Unfortunately, Indira Gandhi (the woman who founded RAW) was no longer the PM. The Janata Party was in power, and Morarji Desai, as Prime Minister, now held the reins of RAW. Desai, who had a strong aversion to RAW, rejected the agency’s request.

And in a further and final act of betrayal, he inadvertently informed General Zia ul-Haq xx that India was well-aware of Kahuta and Pakistan’s nuclear programme. As it emerged from later reports, the military dictator went about eliminating every single one of our agents and assets, thus forever leaving us in the dark about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme.

Factors that lead to disaster

The wheels of fate had started turning in the year 1977. There were three major changes that occurred. One, Morarji Desai, who hated Indira Gandhi for humiliating him and taking control of the Congress, had become India’s Prime Minister. Two, General Zia led a successful military coup against Bhutto and anointed himself as Pakistan’ president. Three, a disillusioned Kao resigned.

PMs with out Military or security back ground are a national liability – Example : Morarji.

With Morarji Desai as PM, RAW saw significant cutbacks in both budget and operations. (Desai’s actions were understandable from one angle – Indira Gandhi had used RAW to spy on the members of the so-called Congress “Syndicate”, including Desai.) In fact, Raina writes, “Prime Minister Morarji Desai was contemptuous of RAW and he believed that it was just another police force, and Kao resigned, saying it was pointless working for an intelligence agency, if the PM had no faith in the business.” Kao’s resignation probably sealed the fate of the Kaoboys in Kahuta.

Gen Zia’s sly approach – Morarji slipped that costs India dearly

As shared by Raman in his memoir, General Zia would often make “friendly” calls to Desai. Zia was aware of Desai’s deep-rooted devotion to urine therapy. He would often call the Indian Prime Minister, asking him innocuous questions like “Excellency, how often should one drink the urine in a day?” or “Excellency, does it have to be the first urine or can one drink it at any time of the day?” or “Excellency, how much urine should one drink?” Desai was sold.

And thus, in an unguarded moment, he told Zia all there was to know about Operation Kahuta !!

No wonder then, that Morarji Desai is the only Indian recipient of Pakistan’s highest civilian award, the Nishaan-e-Pakistan.

You can’t blame General Zia for ingratitude!

About Shiv Rana

Retirement life is series of transition: from Olive Green to civvies, being woken up a buddy to fetching morning milk from the milk booth. And now trying to adjust with new-normal due to pandemic - CORONA.
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7 Responses to How We Killed The Kao – boys

  1. Ashok chaturvedi says:

    Thanks for educating on the subject.


  2. Shiv Rana says:

    Thank you Ashok. You are quick.


  3. Sashi Menon says:

    Had heard this story from one of the other Kao boys. Goes to prove how a small slip can jeopardise our national interests in the long run.
    Thanks for sharing Shiv.


  4. Ashok says:

    Morarji Desai never denied the accusation that he had been paid by the CIA!


  5. Ashok says:

    What about IS Gujral? He dismantled everything.


  6. Narinder Sharma says:

    There is so much to learn !!!


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