Pakistan reiterates commitment to bring missing ex-army man home

ISLAMABAD: Islamabad has reiterated its commitment to trace the whereabouts of a retired army colonel who had gone missing from Nepal in 2016, refusing to rule out involvement of ‘hostile agencies’ in the case.

“As stated earlier, Pakistan maintains that the involvement of hostile agencies cannot be ruled out. The government continues to make all out efforts to locate him [Lt-Col (retd) Zahir] and shall not rest until he is home,” said a statement issued by the Foreign Office on Wednesday.

Zahir – a resident of Rawalpindi – went missing from a Nepalese town, bordering India, in April 2016. Purportedly, he was offered a job at an international organisation working in Nepal.

The statement by the office of spokesperson comes in response to a media query regarding reports on Indian TV channels and social media, claiming that the ex-service man is in Indian custody and speculations about a possible swap with Kulbhushan Jadhav – a self-confessed and convicted Indian spy in Pakistan’s custody.

According to the statement, the retired officer had received call from a UK telephone number, which later turned out to be a fake VOIP number, after he posted his CV on LinkedIn and UN website seeking a job. “He was asked to visit Kathmandu, Nepal for which he was sent air-ticket for Lahore-Oman-Kathmandu by Oman Airlines for an interview on April 6, 2017,” he added.

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The FO spokesperson said the website, on which the advertisement for the job was published, was being operated from India and was taken down immediately after the incident. The organisation did not exist either.

After landing in Nepal, which he visited for the first time in his life, before leaving the Kathmandu airport for Lumbini – a municipality 5 kilometers away from the Indian border – he WhatsApped his pictures and boarding pass to his family, according to the statement. “At 1300 hours on April 6, 2017, he messaged his wife from his cellphone, intimating that he had landed safely at Lumbini, after which his mobile appeared switched off and his family lost contact with him.”

The Nepalese government constituted a special team to look into his disappearance but there has not been any progress in the matter thus far, the FO spokesperson said.

“In view of his disappearance from Lumbini 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 Indian government to assist in locating him. However, no positive response has been received from the Indian side,” the statement read.

“His family is 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 the media, including outside Pakistan.”

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