The curious symmetry of Lt Col Zahir's disappearance
Employed by Pakistan's ISI after his retirement from the army, Lt Col Zahir travelled to Nepal in 2017 and disappeared in events remarkably similar to an operation Zahir executed in 2016.
Pakistani intelligence arrested Hussain Mubarak Patel on 3 March 2016. Somewhere in Balochistan, they claimed. Then they announced that the person arrested was really Commander Kulbhushan Jadhav, formerly of the Indian Navy.
Jubilant sources in the Pakistani security establishment told newspapers that Jadhav had been arrested near Chaman, along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, more than 800 kilometres from Chabahar in Iran where Jadhav was based.
The Indian government disputes this account.
Jadhav was working as a businessman in Chabahar, Iran. Lured under the pretext of a business opportunity to Saravan, which is fifty kilometres from the border, Jadhav was kidnapped by a Salafi jihadist group named Jaish ul-Adl.
This group — believed by the Iran government to be supported by Pakistani intelligence — then took him across the border into Pakistan and handed him over to the ISI.
One of the officers responsible for identifying, tracking, and abducting Jadhav was a Lt Colonel of the Pakistan Army who had retired from the Pakistan Army in 2014. Lt Colonel Mohammad Habib Zahir, who had served multiple stints with the ISI and one stint with the Frontier Corps in Balochistan, reportedly returned to working for the ISI after retirement from the army (his official record shows him working for a company in Faisalabad).
In 2015, he intercepted conversations between Jadhav and his family in India and began tracking him. He was also reported to have been part of the ISI team that took custody of Jadhav in Balochistan in March 2016.
Sometime in late 2016 or early 2017, Zahir applied for a job with the United Nations through their website.
He received an email followed by a telephone call from the UK in early 2017. Mark Thompson of Strategic Solutions Consultancy , a UK-based firm, interviewed him over the telephone. He was being considered for the post of Zonal Director, a position based in Nepal, Zahir was told. At $8,500 per month, the salary was fabulous.
But they’d have to meet in person, get a feel for each other before the final job offer was made. Zahir was invited for an in person interview. Thompson sent him a Business Class flight ticket for Kathmandu via Oman.
As a retired army officer, he could not travel abroad without a No Objection Certificate from the government. He applied for one, listing Umrah — pilgrimage to Mecca — as the reason, possibly to speed the process up.
In April 2017, Zahir flew down to Oman, and thence to Kathmandu. At Kathmandu airport, he was met by Javed Ansari, another associate of Thompson’s. Ansari gave him a local mobile phone for contacting his family. Zahir informed his family that he had arrived in Nepal, and even sent them a photograph of him standing before a Buddha Air aircraft. This photograph may have been clicked by Ansari.
After that, Ansari and Zahir boarded the Buddha Air flight to Gautam Buddha International Airport at Siddharthanagar in Nepal, twenty five kilometres east of Lumbini. Zahir messaged his family at 1pm on 6 April 2017. He had arrived at Lumbini, he told them. Then his telephone was switched off. At that point of time, Zahir disappeared.
Symmetry of coincidences
In an incredible symmetry of coincidences, Lumbini is five kilometres from the Indian border.
A few days after Zahir’s disappearance, a military court in Pakistan sentenced Jadhav to death for espionage. The Indian government denies all knowledge of Lt Colonel Mohammad Habib Zahir’s whereabouts.
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