Pointing to India, Pakistan on Wednesday said that the "involvement of hostile agencies cannot be ruled out" in the case of the disappearance of a former Pakistan Army officer retired Lt Col Habib Zahir who mysteriously went missing in Nepal in April. Image Source: IANS News

Islamabad, Sep 18 : Pointing to India, Pakistan on Wednesday said that the "involvement of hostile agencies cannot be ruled out" in the case of the disappearance of a former Pakistan Army officer who mysteriously went missing in Nepal in April 2017, days after a Pakistani military court sentenced Kulbhushan Jadhav to death for alleged espionage.

Responding to a media query on reports that retired Lt Col Habib Zahir was in Indian custody and speculations about a swap with Jadhav, the Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson said on Wednesday that "Pakistan maintains that the involvement of hostile agencies cannot be ruled out." "The government continues to make all out efforts to locate him and shall not rest until he is home." After Pakistan announced the death penalty for former Indian Navy officer Jadhav in April 2017, reports emerged in the Pakistani media that India's Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) had abducted a retired Pakistani lieutenant colonel, in retaliation for the arrest of Jadhav.

His son Saad Zahir filed an FIR at the Rawat police station in Rawalpindi on April 8, complaining about the former Pakistani army man having gone missing from Lumbini in Nepal.

Lt Col (retd) Zahir had worked as an undercover agent for the Inter Services Intelligence for a while.

Saad Zahir told the police his father after retiring from the Pakistan army in October 2014 had taken a job with the Rafhan Mills in Faisalabad.

According to the son's complaint, in early 2017 a person called Mark Thomas called his father on his phone from a number in the UK and offered him a job at a firm called Strategic Solutions Consultancy.

An offer letter followed soon after for the post of zonal director with a salary of $8,500 (Rs 5.5 lakh) a month in Nepal. After negotiations, Lt Col (retd) Zahir left for Lahore on April 4.

A business class ticket was sent to him to travel to Nepal via Oman. Saad told the police that Thomas asked his father to contact a person called Javed Ansari in Nepal.

A Nepali mobile phone was also provided to him. His father told him to contact him in Nepal after he reached, according to the FIR.

Lt Col (retd) Zahir was received in Kathmandu on April 6 and immediately put on a short haul flight on board a Buddha Air plane to Lumbini. He communicated with his family at every step of the journey and also sent some pictures from the airport with the aircraft in the backdrop in Lumbini.

But after reaching Lumbini, there was no word about him, and his phone went dead.

Lt Col Zahir had put up his bio-data on LinkedIn and some other websites seeking a job opportunity after he retired from the Pakistan Army.

All the phone numbers mentioned in the FIR by his son either "no longer exist" or "can't be reached". The internet address of Strategic Solutions also proved to be fake.

The Pakistan embassy in Kathmandu was also not able to make contact with Javed Ansari, the local contact person of Stratsolutions.biz in Nepal.

There was speculation in the Pakistani media that the disappearance of Lt Col Zahir was a counter operation by India in order for a "swap" for Jadhav, who was abducted from Iran by the Taliban and sold to Pakistan's ISI.

The Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson, in a release on Wednesday, said: "Zahir is a retired Pakistani officer who went missing in Nepal, where he had gone for a job interview in April 2017.

Giving details of the entire episode, the spokesperson said: "Investigations revealed that the UK cell number of Mr. Mark was fake and actually is an internet/computer generated number. The website that he was contacted from was found to be operated from India and was subsequently taken down. The government of Nepal constituted a special team to look into his disappearance but there has not been any progress in the matter so far.

"In view of his disappearance from Lumbini, which is 5 kilometers from the Indian border and the involvement of Indian nationals (who reportedly received him at Lumbini, made his hotel reservations and booked his tickets), Pakistan also repeatedly requested the government of India to assist in locating him.

"However, no positive response has been received from the Indian side. His family is very distressed and also approached the UN Working Group on Enforced Involuntary Disappearances in Geneva for assistance in locating him. His disappearance has also been reported in media, including outside Pakistan." Earlier, Pakistani media had reported that the names of three "Indian nationals" had emerged in connection with the mysterious disappearance of Lt Col Zahir.

Three Indian nationals were found to be responsible for booking Zahir's air ticket, hotel accommodation and receiving him at the airport.

Safal Chaudhry, an Indian national, bought an air ticket for Zahir from Kathmandu. Similarly, an Indian woman Sabu Rajora, booked accommodation for Zahir in an upscale hotel in Kathmandu, besides Javed Ansari.

Rajora reportedly works as a marketing manager in Kathmandu.

The Pakistan Foreign Office said earlier that in the whole scenario, the possibility of India's secret agencies' involvement cannot be ruled out.

A Pakistani team had also visited Nepal to try and trace him, but to no avail.

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