Pakistan Army officer, who went missing in Nepal, played a role in Kulbhushan Jadhav's kidnapping?
Mohammad Habib Zahir retired from the Pakistan Army in October 2014 but was reportedly roped in by Pakistan's spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, to carry out its clandestine operations.
New Delhi: A report on Wednesday claimed that Mohammad Habib Zahir, the retired Lt Colonel of the Pakistan Army who disappeared from Lumbini near Nepal’s border with India on April 06, was a part of the team that kidnapped Kulbhushan Jadhav from Iran in March 2016.
The Indian Express has quoted sources in the security establishment as saying that Indian agencies had been on Zahir’s trail for long and he is now suspected to be in the Indian custody.
He was last spotted in Lumbini. Pakistan's announcement of awarding death penalty to Jadhav was linked to the disappearance of Zahir, the daily cited sources as saying.
“Zahir was at the Indo-Nepal border last week. He was in the team that had trailed Jadhav. There is definitely a connection between the two cases,” an officer said.
“No sooner did the Pakistani authorities learn of Zahir’s disappearance, Jadhav was pronounced guilty of being a spy. The purpose is clear. They didn’t want any Indian agency to go public,” the officer added.
Albeit Zahir retired from the Pakistan Army in October 2014 yet was reportedly roped in by the Pakistan's spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), to carry out its clandestine operations.
In 2015, he picked up conversations between Jadhav and his family members and started tracking him, the daily quoted sources as saying.
“Jadhav used an Indian passport issued in the name of Hussein Mubarak Patel to carry out his dhow business in Iran. Pakistani agencies heard him speaking to his family members in Marathi. Zahir started trailing Jadhav. A trap was laid and Jadhav was apprehended in March 2016,” the officer said.
Sources said Zahir was lured of a “big catch” to ensure his presence in Nepal. The man who turned in Zahir established a connection with him through a UK phone number to pass “information on a mole”, said the daily. The duo met a couple of times in Oman.
“Zahir arrived in Oman on April 2 and reached Kathmandu the next day. On his arrival in Nepal, he was handed over a SIM card at Bhairawa. Zahir was told that this was to facilitate his communication with a point person. From there, he was made to travel to Lumbini near the border,” the officer said.
The family of the retired Pakistan Army officer has also told police that he may have been kidnapped by "enemy spy agencies", an apparent reference to Indian intelligence agencies.
Saad Habib, a son of the missing officer, in an FIR lodged late Sunday with Rawat police station near Rawalpindi, said that his father was received by one Javed Ansari in Nepal who took him to Lumbini, a town near the Indian border.
“We suspect that my father has been abducted and enemy spy agencies might be responsible for it,” a police officer quoted Saad as saying. “Enemy” word is often used for India in Pakistani security circles.
Zahir last contacted his family on Thursday afternoon and since then his phone numbers have not been reachable.
Habib, who belonged to artillery wing of the Army before his retirement, was currently employed with a private firm in Pakistan and had posted his CV online for employment.
News agency PTI had earlier reported that a caller identified as Mark Thompson had reportedly contacted him both via e-mail and telephone for a job interview in Nepal for which he was also provided an air ticket.
An initial probe by security agencies showed that the UK number was computer-generated and the e-mails and website domains were registered in India, creating an alarm that Indian spies might have tricked the officer.
Habib last contacted his family on Thursday afternoon and since then his phone numbers have not been reachable.
Foreign Office spokesman Mohammed Nafees Zakari said the ministry had asked authorities in Nepal to look into the disappearance of Habib.
The last message that Habib sent from Lumbini said he had reached his destination.
A Pakistani statement described Jadhav as an Indian Naval officer attached to the Research and Analysis Wing. India, however, says that Jadhav, whose family lives in Mumbai, had gone to Iran for business purposes and was kidnapped by Pakistan.