Was a Pakistani Ex-Colonel ‘Kidnapped’ as a Swap for Cmdr Jadhav?
Lt Col (Rtd) Mohammad Habib Zahir. (Photo: Altered by <b>The Quint</b>)
Lt Col (Rtd) Mohammad Habib Zahir. (Photo: Altered by The Quint)

Was a Pakistani Ex-Colonel ‘Kidnapped’ as a Swap for Cmdr Jadhav?

The “disappearance” of a retired Pakistan army lieutenant colonel from Nepal last week and a phone number and an email trail, which have now turned cold, point to a suspected intelligence operation by an Indian security agency – to set in motion a chain of events that could lead to a ‘spy swap’ in the future.

Information culled from Pakistani sources indicate that Lt Col (retd) Mohammad Habib Zahir, a Pakistani artillery officer who may have worked as an undercover ISI agent runner in Nepal while in service, got a call (from a UK number) from a certain Mark Thompson, informing him of a “successful” job offer from Strategic Solutions. The website domain of the firm is registered in Australia.

Also Read: Family Blames “Enemy Spy” for Missing Pakistan Army Officer

Strategic Solutions, a Fishy Firm

Investigations by The Quint show that the Strategic Solutions website www.stratsolutions.biz has been shut down, though information in the cache revealed interesting details on recruitment.

The current requirements of the elusive “company” include “applications open for the role of Director (Investigations), the role of IT Lead (MAS) and the role of Vice-President (Security & Intelligence)”.

(Photo Courtesy: Screenshot of the website)
(Photo Courtesy: Screenshot of the website)

The ‘Bogus Job’ Trap

The “Who Are We” section says: “How do government and business leaders keep pace with change while ensuring cost efficiency and overall effectiveness? Strategic Solutions’ consulting services help you achieve more with less in strategic alignment with your mission and objectives."

At its core, Strategic Solutions is a security & risk consulting firm and a service provider with ample experience in security operations and confidential security services. Our team is experienced in providing exceptional services to Governments, Heads of State, public figures, corporations and high net worth individual clients.

Strategic Solutions’ staff are dynamic and can acclimate to any operational setting. We have the expertise of former security experts, technology czars, intelligence experts and management consultants.”

Intelligence sources familiar with such operations said that the use of “&” and “and” as well as the spelling “acclimate” stood out as “obvious flaws” in an otherwise fool-proof lure for Lt Col (retd) Zahir.

Several calls, made by The Quint, to the UK number – 00447451203722 – went to the answering machine after two or three rings. It is presumed that the phone connection is still alive, but has been disabled to receive calls.

Lumbini Rendezvous

Information emanating from Pakistan suggest that Lt Col Zahir went missing from 6 April after he reached Nepal and travelled to Lumbini, a town close to Nepal’s border with India, to meet his prospective “employers”. This and other details are part of a police complaint lodged by Saad Habib, a son of Lt Col Zahir who, after retiring from the Pakistan army in 31 October 2014, got a job at Rafan Mills in Faislabad.

A few months ago, Lt Col Zahir began a job hunt after posting his resume on LinkedIn and a United Nations web portal. The initial search did not come to much, but he seems to have had some correspondence with “executives” of Strategic Solutions. The conversations and exchange of emails seem to have convinced him that the job offer was genuine.

All he had to do was visit Nepal and accept the offer letter before an interview with Strategic Solutions’ “top management”. Incredibly, Lt Col Zahir, despite his intelligence background, fell for the “offer” of “Vice-President and Zonal Director”.

$8,500 ‘Salary’ Hooked Lt Col Zahir

He was offered an irresistible amount of $8,500 per month as salary. Round-trip business class tickets of Oman Airlines for the Lahore-Oman-Kathmandu sector were sent to him via email. The complaint filed at a police station in Rawalpindi, where the Pakistan Army’s headquarters are located, states that Lt Col Zahir took Oman Airlines Flight No WY344 on 5 April.

When he landed in Oman, a representative of Strategic Solutions, who identified himself as Javed Ansari, received him at Thumrait Airport.

Ansari is said to have given Lt Col Zahir a mobile phone and a SIM card with the number 977981384869 registered in Nepal. In his FIR, Saad Habib claimed that his father kept the family posted of his movements till he landed in Kathmandu.

Last Text Message From Kathmandu

Around 1 pm on 6 April, he sent a text message from his personal mobile phone to his wife, informing her that he had reached Lumbini. That was apparently the last message that he had sent home before his mobile phones, including the one supplied to him by “Javed Ansari”, went dead. Lt Col Zahir took a Buddha Air flight from Kathmandu to Lumbini.

Zahir ‘Kidnap’ – RAW Hand?

Indian security sources say the “operation has tell-tale signs of Indian intelligence involvement” and that Lt Col Zahir “is very likely” lodged in one of several safe houses in India. Or he may have been “handed over” to non-state actors, a euphemism for criminal and smuggler networks that operate on the Indian side of the India-Nepal border.

Indian national Kulbhushan Jadhav, who Islamabad claims is an Indian spy, was on Monday sentenced to death by a Pakistani military court. (Photo Courtesy: YouTube/Dawn News)
Indian national Kulbhushan Jadhav, who Islamabad claims is an Indian spy, was on Monday sentenced to death by a Pakistani military court. (Photo Courtesy: YouTube/Dawn News)

“This would lend deniability to the operation,” a former top intelligence operative said, adding that networks’ bases in Gorakhpur, Nautanwa and Raxaul have often been used in by the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) in past operations.

Also Read: Jadhav’s Execution by Pak Will Be ‘Premeditated Murder’: India

Several former Indian security officers with special operations background agreed that the elaborate ruse to “lure in” Lt Col Zahir appears to be linked to the Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav’s continued incarceration in Pakistan. A Pakistani military court’s meting out the death sentence to Jadhav could be the ISI’s way to raise the bargaining level in the event of a ‘spy swap’ between New Delhi and Islamabad.

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