Kulbhushan Jadhav to be swapped for Muhammad Habib Zahir?

Newspaper reports seem to suggest that the missing Pakistani retired army officer, who was in the team that picked up Kulbhushan Jadhav, is in Indian custody

Photo by PTI
Photo by PTI

NH Political Bureau

The tale of two spies, each a patriot in his own country, has fascinated people in both India and Pakistan. One has been sentenced to death in Pakistan for spying. And the other is officially missing from Nepal but suspected to be in the custody of Indian agencies.

The retired Pakistani army officer missing since April 6 from the Indo-Nepal border is in Indian custody, seemed to confirm The Indian Express on Wednesday quoting unnamed sources. The report confirmed that the ‘missing’ Pakistani army officer Lt Col (Retired) Muhammad Habib Zahir was on the radar of Indian Intelligence agencies since he was in the team which had picked up Kulbhushan Jadhav, former Indian Navy officer, on the charge of spying.

Jadhav has been sentenced to death by a Pakistani Army court this week. The Indian Express report suggests that Indian agencies believe the death sentence was announced hurriedly to pre-empt a public announcement by India on the detention of retired Lt Colonel Zahir.

Last week, Pakistani newspaper Express Tribune reported: “Lt Col (Retired) Muhammad Habib Zahir retired from service in October 2014 and had been working at Rafhan Mills in Faisalabad. Zahir had posted his resume on job portal LinkedIn and on the UN website. A month ago, a man named Mark Thomson contacted the ex-army officer through email and from a UK phone number claiming Zahir had been shortlisted for the job of vice president/zonal director with a salary package of $3,500-8,500 per month and asked him to come to Kathmandu, Nepal for an interview on April 6.”

Zahir was sent a business class ticket for April 5 to Kathmandu via Oman. According to the initial investigation, a man named Javed Ansari received him at Oman and provided him a Nepali cell phone number, added the report.

Pakistani newspaper Dawn then reported that “subsequent probing by his family and friends showed that the UK telephone number from which he had received the telephone call for the interview was a computer-generated one, while the email domain and its associated website were registered in India. This has prompted concerns that the Indian spy agency R&AW could have been behind the abduction plot.”

Zahir had apparently flown from Kathmandu to Lumbini and had contacted his wife after landing there. Since then his telephone numbers were found to be switched off.

Indian sources told The Indian Express that Zahir had retired from the Pakistan Army in 2014 but was said to have been engaged thereafter by the ISI for its covert operations. In 2015, he apparently picked up conversations between Kulbhushan Jadhav and his family members and started tracking him.

“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,” official sources told IE.

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