ON 19 NOVEMBER 1987, during the protracted final phase of the Soviet war in Afghanistan, Indian Airlines flight IC 452 from Kabul landed at New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport. Shortly after its arrival, a security guard spotted ammunition cartridges rolling out over the tarmac from a damaged crate, one in a consignment of 22 that had arrived on the plane. Airport staff began an X-ray examination of every box. Apart from cartridges, the scan revealed at least one rocket launcher.
Police and customs officers took the shipment for a haul of terrorist contraband. While airport personnel argued over who should get credit for the seizure, a man in mufti appeared and identified himself as a Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) operative. Before the munitions could be properly inventoried, he confiscated the crates, claiming they were government property.
The journalist Dhiren Bhagat broke the story on 24 April 1988, in Bombay’s Indian Post and the London Observer. The damaged crate “was the sort of slip that journalism thrives on,” he later wrote. According to the freight bill, the consignment was telecom equipment bound for the Director General Communications in Sanchar Bhawan—a non-existent official. Looking for an explanation, Bhagat contacted the cabinet secretary, BG Deshmukh, to whom R&AW reported. Deshmukh said he could neither confirm nor deny R&AW’s involvement.