Muhammad Habib Zahir, the retired Lt Colonel of the Pakistan Army who disappeared from Lumbini near Nepal’s border with India and now suspected to be in Indian custody, was in the team that nabbed Kulbhushan Jadhav in March 2016. Sources in the security establishment have told The Indian Express that Indian agencies had been on Zahir’s trail for long. He was last seen in Lumbini. Monday’s announcement of the Pakistan military court’s decision to award the death penalty to Jadhav, sources said, was tied to the disappearance of Zahir.
“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 said.
Zahir retired from the Pakistan Army on in 2014 but was said to have been engaged thereafter by the ISI for its covert operations. In 2015, he picked up conversations between Jadhav and his family members and started tracking him, sources said.
“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 to Nepal with the promise of a “big catch”. The man who turned in Zahir connected with him through a UK phone number to pass “information on a mole”. He met Zahir 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.
Zahir’s family also told the press in Pakistan that he was likely picked by an “enemy spy” agency. A PTI report from Islamabad Monday said Zahir’s son Saad lodged an FIR with Rawat police station near Rawalpindi, saying his father was received in Nepal by one Javed Ansari who took him to Lumbini.
“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.