The retired Pakistani Army officer who disappeared few days ago was part of the team that nabbed convicted Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav from Balochistan in March 2016, reported The Indian Express, citing sources in the security establishment.

Lieutenant Colonel Mohammad Habib Zahir went missing on April 6, 2017 from Lumbini which is about five kilometres away from the Indian border with Nepal.

"Zahir was at the Indo-Nepal border last week. He was in the team that had trailed Jadhav. There is definitely a connection between the two cases," the newspaper quoted an anonymous officer as saying.

"No sooner did the Pakistani authorities learn of Zahir’s disappearance, Jadhav was pronounced guilty of being a spy. The purpose is clear. They didn’t want any Indian agency to go public."

The newspaper report said Zahir, who retired from the Pakistan Army in 2014, had been engaged in several convert operations for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). It added that he had been on Jadhav's trail since 2015.

"Jadhav used an Indian passport issued in the name of Hussein Mubarak Patel to carry out his dhow business in Iran. Pakistani agencies heard him speaking to his family members in Marathi. Zahir started trailing Jadhav. A trap was laid and Jadhav was apprehended in March 2016," said the officer.

"Zahir arrived in Oman on April 2 and reached Kathmandu the next day. On his arrival in Nepal, he was handed over a SIM card at Bhairawa. Zahir was told that this was to facilitate his communication with a point person. From there, he was made to travel to Lumbini near the border."

Death sentence

A military court in Pakistan sentenced Kulbushan Sudhir Jadhav to death on charges of espionage and anti-state activities.

ISPR said in a statement he had confessed to being tasked by India's intelligence service with planning, coordinating and organising espionage and sabotage activities in Balochistan "aiming to destabilise and wage war against Pakistan".

The sentence was passed by a Field General Court Martial and confirmed by the Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa. The military did not announce any date for the execution.

Kulbushan Sudhir Jadhav was arrested on March 3, 2016, in Balochistan, which has seen a long-running conflict between Pakistani security forces and a militant separatist movement.

ISPR released a video shortly after Jadhav's arrest last year in which he confessed to having spent years sowing unrest in Pakistan.

'Premeditated murder'

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj told agitated lawmakers in parliament that India would take up the issue with Pakistan at the highest level to ensure that justice was done to Kulbhushan Jadhav.

Swaraj dismissed Jadhav's trial as a farce and said Pakistan had ignored 13 separate requests in the past year to be permitted to offer him consular services.

"The government and people of India would view very seriously the possibility that an innocent Indian citizen is facing death sentence in Pakistan without due process and in violation of basic norms, law, justice and international relations," she said.

Swaraj warned "the Pakistan government to consider the consequences for our bilateral relationship if they proceed on this matter".

India's External Affairs Ministry said Monday that Jadhav was kidnapped last year from Iran and his subsequent presence in Pakistan was never explained credibly. It concluded that his death sentence, if carried out, would be regarded by the Indian government as "premeditated murder".

Lawmakers from opposition Congress and other parties asked the government to put international pressure on Pakistan to free Jadhav and return him to India.

Pakistan and India have tensed relations. High-level talks between the neighbours have been suspended since January last year, when India postponed scheduled meetings on Kashmir and other problems after an attack on an Indian air force base killed more than a dozen soldiers.

The nuclear-armed neighbours have fought three wars, two of them over Kashmir, the divided region both claim in its entirety, since they won independence from British colonialists in 1947.