ISLAMABAD: The Foreign Office on Thursday hinted at the involvement of Indian intelligence agencies behind the abduction of a retired Pakistani colonel in Nepal.
Identified as Lt-Col (retd) Mohammad Habib Zahir, the army officer has been untraceable since April 6 from Lumbini, a Nepalese town near the Indian border and a Buddhist pilgrimage site, soon after his arrival there. He last contacted his family on Thursday afternoon and since then his phone numbers have not been reachable.
The media was abuzz with speculation that India's Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) has abducted the retired lieutenant colonel as a retaliatory act to the conviction of Kulbhushan Jadhav.
“In view of the emails and subsequent revelation about the fake account, etc., it is a case of entrapment. We can’t rule out the involvement of hostile agencies in his disappearance,” Foreign Office spokesperson Nafees Zakria said here at his weekly news briefing without directly naming India.
However, the word 'hostile agencies' is a clear reference to India because its secret service such as RAW has huge presence in Nepal.
The police in Nepal were also clueless about his whereabouts after Pakistan contacted Kathmandu for assistance.
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Some Indian media reports claimed that the retired Pakistani officer was part of the team that tracked down Kulbhushan Jadhav and that Indian authorities had been making efforts to trap him for some time.
The Foreign Office spokesperson, however, dismissed the claims saying those two were entirely different cases.
“One case (Kulbhushan Jadhav’s) is about irrefutable evidence of the Indian state involvement in Pakistan in terrorism and terror-financing activities,” Zakria said explaining that how could a person retired in 2014 be linked to the arrest of Kulbhushan Jadhav.
The RAW agent, he pointed out, was detained in March last year. Col Habib retired from the army much earlier.
“Most details about Lt-Col Habib Zahir are in the public domain. He was a retired army officer, who went to Nepal for a job interview. The government of Pakistan has taken up the issue with the government of Nepal and is actively pursuing the matter. His family is extremely worried. The government of Nepal is also extending cooperation in the matter,” he further said.
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Observers believe India could use the abducted Pakistani retired army officer as a bargaining chip for the RAW agent.
Responding to the outcry in India over the conviction of Jadhav, the spokesperson said the defence minister had already elaborated Pakistan’s stance on the issue.
“What he (defence minister) said was based on the facts of the case which are: Jadhav, a serving Indian Naval Officer, is an Indian intelligence agency RAW’s agent. RAW’s involvement in subversive and anti-Pakistan activities is known to all by now. Jadhav was caught red-handed in this regard,” he said.
The spokesperson said Jadhav made confessions about his involvement in espionage, direct involvement in terror financing and recruitment for perpetuation of terrorist activities.
His arrest has also helped in averting or foiling other terrorist activities, which he identified himself. It was on the basis of his confessional statement that terrorist networks were dismantled and led to the arrest of people aligned with him.
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On India’s demand seeking consular access to Jadhav, Zakria said under the agreement signed in 2008, the two countries had the discretion to accept such a demand in cases where issues of national security were involved.
He also contested the Indian claims that Jadhav was abducted from Iran. Zakria pointed out that the German ambassador, who made this claim, had now clarified that he gave the statement merely on ‘hearsay’.
On the conference in Moscow, the spokesperson said an additional secretary along with other officials will participate from Pakistan to discuss the current Afghanistan situation.
The talks in the Russian capital are being attended by Pakistan, China, Iran, India and Central Asian states.