At a time when people go missing all over, reports in Pakistani media of Lt Col Muhammad Habib Zahir, a retired Pakistan army officer going missing in Nepal where he had ostensibly gone for a job interview may not be much of news. But this seemingly routine incident has all the ingredients of a potboiler.
What has been reported goes like this:
Lt Col Zahir retires from service in October 2014 and starts working at Rafhan Mills in Faisalabad. He posts his CV on job portal LinkedIn as well as the UN website and month ago gets a telephone call from a UK number as well as an email. The person contacting Zahir is someone calling himself Mark Thompson and the message is that he has been shortlisted for the job of a vice president/zonal director for which he would be required to appear in an interview on April 6 at Kathmandu.
Subsequently, Zahir receives a business class ticket to Kathmandu for April 5 and during the stopover in Oman he is received by person called Javed Ansari who provides him a Nepali sim card. The retired army officer reaches Kathmandu on April 6 as scheduled and it is here the story takes an unexpected twist. For reasons not yet known, he leaves for the Buddhist pilgrimage site of Lumbini, a town barely five kilometers from the Indian border on the same day and after reaching texts his safe arrival to his wife at 1 PM. Yet, everything seems normal because men in the Indian subcontinent have the proclivity of arbitrarily changing travel plans.
Thereafter, Zahir suddenly vanishes and hasn’t been heard of since then. With both his Pakistani and Nepali mobile numbers being switched off, the plot becomes thicker but things don’t end here. Subsequent inquiries reveal that the UK telephone number used to inform him of the interview in Kathmandu was computer generated and the website used to send the interview call message was registered in India. This has raised suspicions that the retired Pakistani army officer may have been the victim of an abduction plot orchestrated by Indian spy agency RAW!
Pakistan’s paranoia about RAW will most certainly give the abduction theory more currency in the days to come. But if RAW indeed possesses the exceptional abilities of subterfuge and deceit that the Pakistani establishment attributes to it then there are many contradictions in the abduction theory. Firstly, to execute such an elaborate plan just to entrap a middle level army officer who retired two and a half years ago and is working for a commercial enterprise with no defence or intelligence connections makes little sense from the intelligence acquisition point of view. Secondly, only a novice would use a website domain based in India for such a diabolical purpose.
To check out antecedents of one’s prospective employer is something that every individual instinctively does out of curiosity just to see if the proposal is really worth consideration. Lt Col Zahir had served in the artillery and ‘gunners’ (as artillery men are referred to in army parlance) all over the world have one thing in common- they are very meticulous. This is because for ‘gunners’, even an error of one degree can make artillery shells land where they shouldn’t!
So ‘gunners’ grow up in an environment where every order and instruction is repeated by the receiver to rule out possibility of such errors through a system called ‘checking back’ and over the period of time this becomes their second nature. Moreover it is not very common for prospective employers to fly interview aspirants’ business class and so I’m sure that even if he was casual, Zahir would certainly have done his basic homework and done some ‘checking back’ on the bona-fides of his prospective employers!
Though businesses do provide local cellular facilities to prospective employees, which organisation in the world takes the trouble of nominating a person to deliver a sim card to a job aspirant enroute when it is of no use at that point of time? Wouldn’t it have been more convenient and practical for the concerned party that had called Zahir for the interview to have arranged his reception party to deliver the sim on his arrival in Kathmandu? It certainly would have had a greater impact.
But the most intriguing about this whole episode is why Zahir went to Lumbini. This town isn’t a commercial hub and doesn’t have any business houses that can afford lavishing business class tickets on people shortlisted for interviews. So the question of the interview being rescheduled in the border town of Lumbini doesn’t make sense. However, if Zahir did appear for the scheduled interview in Kathmandu and irrespective of the results, what made this retired Pakistani army officer to forego a once in a lifetime chance to explore Kathmandu and instead proceed to Lumbini on that very day? Besides being a Buddhist pilgrimage site, Lumbini has little else to offer and it is unlikely that this would have interested Zahir!
Lumbini is in close proximity of the Indo-Nepal border Pakistan’s spy agency ISI is known to be having an ‘operating base’ here. Though it may just be a coincidence, but for Zahir to make it here in such haste is something that doesn’t quite fit into the narrative emerging from Pakistan. Therefore, even if one discount’s the extraordinary concessions made to Zahir by his prospective employers, there is something that doesn’t fit in the scheme of events. One could be generous and attribute Zahir’s travelling to Kathmandu in business class for an interview and a sim card of Nepal being handed over to him at Oman as a gracious act of unprecedented magnanimity on the part of his perspective employers. But, what explains his presence in Lumbini on that very same day?
But if Zahir’s inexplicable visit to Lumbini raises suspicions, it’s the time plan which confirms that is something amiss. I am not aware of the time when Zahir reached Kathmandu on April 6 and it really doesn’t matter. However, what is of concern is the time when he reached Lumbini. As per media reports Zahir’s wife claims that he had texted her his safe arrival at Lumbini at 1 PM. Nepal time is 45 minutes ahead of Pakistan and so Zahir must have texted his wife at about 12:15 PM. On checking the internet, I found that Buddha Airlines operates three flights from Kathmandu to Lumbini and their timings are:
Departure Kathmandu 9:00 AM, arrival Lumbani 9:35 AM
Departure Kathmandu 4:30 PM, arrival Lumbani 5:05 PM
Departure Kathmandu 5:35 PM, arrival Lumbani 5:35 PM
Now if Zahir texted his wife informing her of his arrival in Lumbini at 1 PM, then it is obvious that he could have only taken the 9 AM flight from Kathmandu. Taking a flight so early would have only been possible in two eventualities. First, that he attended a pre-dawn interview or second, that the interview story was made up as a cover for him to proceeded to Lumbini!
Only when Zahir surfaces will the truth emerge but going by indications, the truth that comes out may not be savoury!
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