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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

‘Army raped informant woman, delayed action till 5 foreigners were killed’

American book on Al-Faran hostages provides fresh fuel to Kashmiri separatists

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Apr 16: Rendered politically bankrupt in the aftermath of street clashes of the year 2010 and suffering a major setback in Ghulam Nabi Fai’s conviction by an American court, Kashmiri separatists are likely to get a fresh lease of life in a book written on the mysterious kidnapping of six Western tourists in 1995. Compiled by two American authors, the 500-page non-fiction, titled “The Meadow”, claims that the Indian intelligence and security agencies not only delayed action---till five of the foreigners were killed---but also sexually assaulted a woman who had reported to them sighting of a German hostage.

“The Meadow” claims to be based on years of research and hundreds of interviews by authors, Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark, who worked in South Asia during the kidnappings and for years after. It uses a combination of named and unnamed sources, journals and official files and transcripts to build its case---against the Indian establishment.

On July 4th, 1995, an unknown guerrilla group calling itself ‘Al-Faran’ claimed kidnapping of six tourists in Lidder valley, near Pahalgam, in south-east Kashmir. Keith Mangan and Paul Wells of Britain; two Americans, John Childs of Simsbury, Connecticut, and Donald Hutchings of Spokane, Washington; a German, Dirk Hasert; and a Norwegian, Hans Christian Ostrø, had disappeared mysteriously while enjoying picnic.

A note released by the kidnappers a day after the kidnappings said: 'Accept our demands or face dire consequences. We are fighting against anti-Islamic forces. Western countries are anti-Islam, and America is the biggest enemy of Islam’. Childs was presumably let off, to convey to the world that the hostages were alive and in captivity of the militants. Ostrø was beheaded and his body was found near Saleh village in Aeshmuqam forest range on August 13th.

The kidnappers demanded release of the jailed Pakistani militant, Maulana Masood Azhar, and 20 other prisoners. Several national and international organisations issued appeals to Al-Faran to release the tourists. Representatives of the embassies of the victims' countries also visited Kashmir frequently to seek their release, without success.
In December 1995, the kidnappers left a note that they were no longer holding the men hostage. They claimed that the hostages had got killed when the Indian troops engaged their kidnappers in a gunbattle.

As months of search, subsequently joined also by Scotland Yard and FBI, yielding nothing, one of the detained masons, Nazir Ahmad of Dabran, revealed to his interrogators in May 1996 that Mangan, Wells, Hutchings, and Hasert had been gunned down and buried by the kidnappers near Mati Gawran village in Kokernag. According to his statement, Harkatul Ansar’s local commander Javed Dabrani and Hameed Turki got killed in an encounter between the Indian Army and militants in close vicinity of their hideout on December 13th, 1995. He claimed that immediately after the death of the commanders, HUA militants gunned down all the four hostages and got them buried. Nazir led then IGP Kashmir, P S Gill, and other Police officers to the area but failed to identify the ‘spot of burial’.

Published after 16 years, “The Meadow” alleges that the Indian officials’ actions were part of a larger plan to present Pakistan, and the Pakistan-backed insurgency in Kashmir, in as harsh a light as possible to the world. Ultimately, the men were killed by a second group, funded and controlled by the Indian government, the book alleges. It claims that a local woman approached an Army officer with the information that she had sighted the German hostage, Dirk Hasert. But, rather than moving out to recover the hostages, he sexually assaulted the woman and covered up things for weeks until all the hostages got killed, claims the book.

“All the time New Delhi said it was trying to crack Al Faran, a group within intelligence and the STF (Special Task Force, an Indian Police division) was letting them dangle, happy to let the militants portray themselves as savage criminals,” a Police investigator, who worked on the case, is claimed to have told the authors. He remains unidentified.

The book contains purportedly the blow-by-blow descriptions of the negotiations for the hostages’ release between an inspector and the kidnappers, which seemed to be nearly completed several times, only to be blown apart when the agreed terms of the negotiations were leaked to newspapers, including the Hindustan Times, infuriating the kidnappers. At times when the Indian government claimed the kidnappers and their hostages were untraceable, the book says, they were being watched and photographed by an Indian Army helicopter.

A member of the Crime Branch team who worked on the case describes the “dawning realization that their desire to solve the crime was at odds with the goals of some senior figures in the military and the intelligence services, who could have saved the hostages but chose not to.”

The book points fingers at the central government. An official of the Security Wing of J&K Police then working with Governor K V Krishna Rao’s Advisor Security, who has been identified in the book as Altaf Ahmad is quoted to have told the authors: “Right from the beginning the strings were being pulled from New Delhi. Those of us dealing with the hostage-taking on the ground in Srinigar were not in control.”

India’s top officials aren’t the only ones “The Meadow” lays blame on. Woven into the nearly 500-page book are a number of blunders and miscalculations allegedly made by Indian and foreign officials: the area in Kashmir was not cleared of backpackers after the first kidnappings because of Amarnath pilgrimage in the area; a woman’s sighting of German Dirk Hasert’s kidnapping was not reported immediately because the Indian Army officer the woman approached sexually assaulted her and the Army was trying to hush that assault up; instead of allowing escaped hostage John Childs to lead police to the kidnappers, as he wanted to, American officials whisked him out of the country.

Officials in Srinagar, Jammu and New Delhi are unlikely to swallow what has been written in the book published in USA. Then IGP of CID in J&K Government, Rajinder Tikoo, had headed a team of Police officials who claimed to be interacting with the kidnappers for several days over radio from Shankar Acharya hilltop in Srinagar. Radio intercepts of the conversation, never contested by authorities, later appeared in India Today magazine. Even as the officials, and many of the journalists who covered the kidnapping drama, insist that the hostages were never spotted, traced or photographed till they were suspected to have been done to death in Kokernag,

Valley’s separatist circles and groups claiming to be working for human rights could, on the other hand, set off a fresh hullabaloo over contents of the book, particularly the allegations of rape and the government agencies stage managing  a theatre to discredit Pakistan, Kashmiri militants and the separatists.


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