The Indian government is refusing to comment but the 1995 kidnapping of Western tourists in Kashmir is returning, literally from the grave, to haunt it.
In July 1995, the Islamic fundamentalist group Al Faran kidnapped six trekkers in Kashmir and demanded the Indian government release 21 militants. One of the trekkers was found beheaded, one escaped. The other four were never found.
Guardian journalists Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark have now released The Meadow, an explosive new book that claims that the Indian government knew all along where the four were, sabotaged the negotiations for their release and allowed a government controlled group to kill them in order to frame Pakistan. Levy and Scott-Clark cannot be dismissed easily. They were the duo behind the acclaimed book Deception about how America abetted Pakistan’s nuclear programme. This book contains “blow-by-blow descriptions of the negotiations for the hostages’ release” writes India Ink and is a “meticulous investigation” writes Tehelka.
Tehelka interviewed the two via email and that’s worth reading in its entirety here.
They told Tehelka they interviewed hundreds of people on both sides of the LoC, former and active jihadis as well as Indian intelligence agents and they came to one dreadful conclusion – Pakistan’s Al-Faran kidnapped the trekkers, but Indian intelligence hardliners sacrificed them in order to prove Pakistan was a state sponsor of terror.
At a time when the Indian army was claiming it had no idea where the hostages were, Levy and Scott-Clark found that the Intelligence Bureau and Army had photographs of them so detailed that could “see the sweat on their brows” as they played ballgames to while away the hours of captivity. John Childs, the American who escaped, said he was whisked out of the country even though he wanted to take the security forces back to the mountains to rescue the others. Villagers in Warwan who reported seeing the hostages were beaten up. A foreign woman who also informed the army about them was allegedly raped by a Major.
According to the book, Al-Faran was very ready to mediate. But when they reached an understanding, someone in the government leaked the details out leading to the talks collapsing. Eventually Al-Faran folded and “at this stage renegades were instructed by their handlers to try and buy the hostages from Al-Faran to let the crime continue.”
“It was potentially a useful tool with which to expose its neighbour’s proclivity for dabbling in Kashmir and making India bleed, at a time when the West was reticent to comment on Kashmir (and perceived the state’s insurgency as a human rights issue),” Levy told Rediff.com’s Vicky Nanjappa in a separate interview.
On Christmas Eve 1995, the book says, the four hostages were walked into heavy snow and shot, killed and buried.
“There was only one end for them, and we all knew it,” and eye witness to the shooting told the journalists. “No one could risk the hostages being released and complaining of collusion, having seen uniforms and STF jeeps.”
Four years later an Indian Airlines plane was hijacked to Kandahar. Its hijackers repeated the old Al-Faran demands. The government gave in and released militants including the Pakistani cleric Masood Azhar. “Masood, who was still not understood by RAW, or in the UK by MI5, reactivated and expanded his global network that would soon stretch from east London to Karachi, via Mumbai, co-operating with al-Qaeda when necessary, finding common ground with an erstwhile ally in Osama bin Laden,” Levy and Scott-Clark told Tehelka.
While the government has refused to comment the book has come in for some rebuttal. Arun Joshi, the Hindustan Times reporter who covered the kidnapping told India Ink that the hostage negotiations were not “mysteriously leaked.” He says he pried the details out of an inspector who was “completely drunk.” The state police chief DGP Khoda has rubbished the claims.
Levy and Scott-Clark are standing by their book.
“Let there be a full inquiry,” they say. “An independent body must investigate, which cannot be accused of being part of the cover up.”
Did India kill Kashmir hostages in 1995 to frame Pakistan? | Firstpost