Foreign Office rubbishes rumors of prisoner swap involving Jhadav

The Foreign Office took exception to reports in the Indian media that there were plans to exchange convicted Indian spy Kulbhushan Jhadav with the missing Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Habib of the Pakistan army, media reported. 

“Lt Col (R) Habib Zahir is a retired Pakistani officer who went missing in Nepal, where he had gone for a job interview in April 2017,” the Foreign Office said in a statement released to the press. 

The curious case of the disappearance of Lt Col (R) Habib was also detailed by the FO, which said in the statement that the former officer had two years ago applied for a job at a non-profit website thorough a LinkedIn account. 

The FO said that In response to his query, he had received a call and email from a man named Mark, stating that he had been shortlisted for the job of Vice President at the organisation. Accordingly, he was asked to visit Kathmandu, Nepal, for which he was sent air ticket. 

“After landing in Nepal, which he visited for the first time in his life, he left Kathmandu airport (from where he had sent his pictures and boarding pass to his family through WhatsApp), for Lumbini airport by Buddha Air,” the FO noted. 

“At 1300 hours on April 6, 2017, he messaged his wife from his cellphone intimating that he had landed safely at Lumbini (a municipality 5 kilometers from the Indian border) after which his mobile appeared switched off and his family lost contact with him,” added the FO. 

Afterwards, investigations into the incident had revealed that the phone number from which the colonel had been contacted was fake and was actually an internet-generated bot number. The website to which Lt Col (R) Habib applied was also fake and taken down subsequently. 

The government of Nepal constituted a special team to look into his disappearance but there has not been any progress in the matter so far.  Pakistan has also repeatedly requested the government of India to assist in locating him.

“In view of his disappearance from Lumbini, which is 5 kilometers from the Indian border and the involvement of Indian nationals (who reportedly received him at Lumbini, made his hotel reservations and booked his tickets), Pakistan wants an investigation,” the foreign office elaborated.

However, the FO details that no positive response on the issue has so far been received from the Indian side, and the disappearance is causing distress to the family of the retired colonel. Pakistan has approached the UN group in Geneva for assistance in locating him too. 

His disappearance has also been reported in media, including outside Pakistan. “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 and shall not rest until he is home,” said the Foreign Office.