Mystery as retired army officer goes ‘missing’ in Nepal

Published April 9, 2017
Retired Lt Col Mohammad Habib. ─Photo courtesy of author
Retired Lt Col Mohammad Habib. ─Photo courtesy of author

ISLAMABAD: A retired Pakistan Army officer has mysteriously gone missing while visiting Nepal for a job interview.

The officer, identified as retired Lt Col Mohammad Habib, has been untraceable since Thursday (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.

Col Habib’s family reported his disappearance to the Foreign Office after not having been able to reach him. He is feared to have been abducted, a source said.

“We wrote to the Nepalese foreign ministry about the missing Pakistani national on Friday, but we have yet to hear back from them,” Pakistani charge d’affaires Javed Imrani told Dawn over the phone from Kathmandu on Saturday.

Col Habib last contacted his family from Lumbini, near Indian border

The story about the disappearance of the former military officer first surfaced in WhatsApp groups of retired military officers and was subsequently picked up by the media.

The colonel, who reportedly retired in October 2014 and belonged to artillery, was currently employed with a private firm in Pakistan and had posted his CV online in search of employment.

According to the publicly available account of the events preceding his disappearance, somebody by the name of Mark Thompson had contacted him both via email and telephone for a job interview in Nepal for which he [Col Habib] was also provided an air ticket.

Col Habib departed from Lahore on Wednesday, reaching Kathmandu on Thursday from where he immediately flew to Lumbini. In Kathmandu, the information coming from retired army officers groups and verified by military sources reveals, he was provided a Nepalese cellphone SIM card by one Javed Ansari, who received him there.

The last message that he sent from Lumbini said that he had reached his destination.

Subsequent probing by his family and friends shows that the UK telephone number from which he had received telephone call for the interview was a computer-generated one, while the email domain and its associated website were registered in India. This has prompted concerns that the Indian spy agency RAW could have been behind the abduction plot.

India has always maintained strong influence in Nepal both as the Himalayan country’s main economic and defence partner. Nepalese soldiers are trained in India, which also supplies arms to Nepal. Critics describe India’s relationship with Nepal as ‘semi-colonial’.

India runs its influence in Nepal through RAW. The Nepalese government last year in May cancelled President Bidya Bhandari’s visit to India accusing RAW of backing attempts to topple it. The crisis in the relationship was later managed and RAW retained its foothold there. And as Prof Micheal Hutt, who teaches Nepali and Himalayan Studies at University of London, sometime back told BBC: “India has been a political player in Nepal as much as any Nepali political party.”

A serving RAW officer Kulbhushan Jadhav, who is originally from India, was caught in Pakistan last year and has been accused of involvement with subversive activities here.

Published in Dawn, April 9th, 2017


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