Pakistan, India locked in spy row

A missing ex-colonel and a death penalty for a convicted Indian spy threaten fresh divisions between nuclear neighbors

Pakistan, India locked in spy row

World Bulletin / News Desk

Longtime rivals India and Pakistan appear to be locked in a spying row which threatens to create further divisions between the two nuclear powers amid already-heightened tensions.

As a Pakistani military court sentenced a convicted Indian spy -- Kulbushan Jadhav -- to death last week for espionage and sabotage, a retired Pakistan army colonel, Habib Zahir went missing from Nepal.

Islamabad has accused “foreign intelligence agencies” -- a clear reference to India’s Research and Analysis Wing (which has a strong presence in Nepal) of “kidnapping” of its ex-serviceman.

“We don’t know about that yet, but there is a possibility that he was kidnapped by Indian intelligence agencies,” Pakistan’s defense minister, Khawaja Asif, said in an interview with local broadcaster Geo TV.

Lt. Col. (retd.) Mohammad Habib Zahir, has been missing since April 6 from Lumbini, a Nepalese town near the Indian border soon after his arrival there.

According to his family, which also insists Zahir was trapped by “enemy spy agencies”, a person named Mark Thompson had contacted him both via email and telephone for a job interview in Nepal, for which Zahir was also provided with an air ticket.

The last message that Zahir sent to his family from Lumbini said he had reached his destination. The Nepalese police have reportedly obtained CCTV footage showing a man meeting Zahir at Kathmandu airport on April 3.

Condemning Jadhav’s death sentence, an irate India has already warned Pakistan of severe consequences for bilateral ties if it goes ahead with the execution.

“India will do whatever it takes to save its Indian citizen," Home Minister Rajnath Singh told parliament on last Tuesday.

Rejecting India’s warning, Pakistan’s foreign affairs adviser, Sartaj Aziz, said on Friday: "We expect India to behave responsibly and refrain from issuing statements that will further aggravate people-to-people hostility.

“More active diplomacy is therefore needed to arrest the growing crises in India-Pakistan relations before it becomes even more serious.”

Though, there is no official word from New Delhi that it has the missing Pakistani colonel, Indian and Pakistani media tie Zahir’s disappearance to Kulbushan Jadhav’s death sentence.

Quoting military sources, India Express reported that Zahir had been trapped by Indian intelligence agencies which had long been on his trail.

The newspaper claims Zahir retired from the Pakistan army in 2014 but was said to have been engaged thereafter by the country’s intelligence agency -- the ISI -- for covert operations in Nepal.

Its reporting also claims that the missing colonel was part of a team that “kidnapped” Kulbushan Jadhav from Iran’s strategic port town of Chabahar in 2016.

Citing intelligence sources, the Indian Express claimed Zahir was lured to Nepal with the promise of a “big catch”.

Rejecting any connection between death sentence and the Pakistani colonel’s disappearance, Pakistan’s foreign office spokesman Nafees Zakaria said on April 13:

“Kulbushan Jadhav is an Indian agent who was caught red-handed in perpetuation of terrorist activities in Pakistan (while) Lt. Col. Habib Zahir is a retired army officer of Pakistan who went to Nepal for a job interview. He was actually entrapped there.”

A senior military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Anadolu Agency that India had planned to present Zahir as an “ISI agent” involved in terrorism in India but “timely preemptive measures taken by Pakistan foiled its plans”.

“The Nepalese government also cooperated with us. It provided us with the CCTV footage [of Zahir’s arrival at Kathmandu airport] and other relevant documents confirming that Zahir was invited to Nepal for a job by a company, which later proved to be fake,” the official said.

Sensing India’s plans, he added, Pakistan had highlighted the disappearance of its ex-serviceman long before India would have done so.

Hamid Mir, an Islamabad-based security analyst, rules out any comparison between Kulbushan and Zahir.

“Kulbushan is a very big catch. He was the mastermind of numerous terrorist activities in Karachi, and Balochistan. Whereas Zahir is a retired army officer who has been trapped and kidnapped by Indian intelligence agencies hoping to settle the score,” Mir told Anadolu Agency.

“But I don’t see any chances of a bargain over his [Zahir’s] disappearance despite India trying its best for that,” he said.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 16 Nisan 2017, 09:54