The Meadow: Kashmir 1995 – Where the Terror Began Kindle Edition
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Prelude: Prior to 1995, terrorism was largely an intellectual exercise for me much like the concept of war prior to my combat tour in South Vietnam. I knew that war caused death and destruction, but it did not become “real” to me until I landed up in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam in 1972 and witnessed it first-hand. The sight of unloading body bags from a Huey helicopter was a defining moment for me as a young lieutenant. So it was with terrorism.
I was an Army colonel and the defense attaché (DATT) at our Embassy in New Delhi. I had attended the Indian National Defence College in 1993 and then became the DATT in the summer of 1994. The redoubtable Frank G. Wisner became our ambassador soon afterwards. He was an esteemed career diplomat who had previously served as our ambassador to Egypt and just prior to coming to India as the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. Under his leadership, tremendous progress was made in furthering Indo-U.S. relations in all areas, especially defense.
Terrorism became quite a bit more personal on 8 March when Islamic terrorists killed two U.S. diplomats and wounded one other in Karachi, Pakistan. I happened to be in the Frankfurt airport about to board a plane back to India when I learned of the attack. Upon my arrival home at 0300 on 9 March, there was a note on the door from my wife: “Ambassador Wisner wants you to conduct a memorial service at the Embassy flag pole at 0800. I left the computer on with some possible scripture references you may wish to use.” I drafted some remarks and also contacted the Marine security detachment to ensure their attendance. The ambassador liked my comments so much that he included them in an official State Department cable to Washington.
But, it was the kidnapping of Western backpackers, including two Americans, in the Indian Himalayas in Kashmir by Islamic terrorists on 4 July 1995 that truly impacted my life and put a human face on the suffering that such acts cause. As we approach the 20th anniversary of the kidnapping, I felt moved to write a first-person account of the tragic event as it unfolded over the course of months. The source of my information is mainly the daily personal diary I have kept since 1985. To fill in some gaps in my fading memory, I will rely on “The Meadow, Kashmir 1995 – Where The Terror Began” written by two British correspondents and published in 2012.
Postings will be based on when events occurred 20 years ago and will not be on a daily basis. I will create a “Terrorism in Kashmir – 1995” note on my Facebook page and add to it the periodic postings I will make. If anyone has a question, desires more information, or seeks clarification, please make a comment or send me a personal message.
4 July (Tuesday) Kashmir has long been a popular destination for foreign backpackers. Unfortunately, most were ill-informed as to the on-going unrest and were completely unaware of the brief kidnapping of two Brits in June 1994 and the fatal shooting of an American in July 1994 in Srinagar. Thus, the hill and meadows of Kashmir presented a target rich environment for militants in the summer of 1995. In the evening of 4 July, an Islamic terrorist group took hostage four Western backpackers, two Americans (Don Hutchings from Spokane and John Childs from Connecticut) and two Brits ( Keith Mangan and Paul Wells). Three women, Jane Schelly (Don’s wife), Julie Mangan (Keith’s wife), and Catherine Moseley (Paul’s girlfriend), were briefly held and then released. The group was called “Al-Faran” and consisted of battle-hardened mujahideen from Pakistan and Afghanistan who had fought against the Soviets in the 1980s. They felt that they had been successful in driving the Soviets out of Afghanistan and now wanted to “liberate” Kashmir from Indian rule.
In New Delhi, Americans enjoyed Fourth of July activities at the American club. My wife and I volunteered to work the gate at the club to ensure access to the festivities by only authorized personnel.
5 July (Wednesday) After their release, the three women returned to their respective camp sites for the remainder of the night. In the morning, Jane was given a note from the leader of the terrorists. The note was addressed to the “American Government” and listed the names of 21 prisoners that the kidnappers wanted freed in exchange for the hostages with a deadline of 14 July. Jane was soon joined by Catherine, Julie, a Japanese tourist, an American woman with her teenage daughter, and a Canadian. After a six-hour trek, they reached Pahalgam, the closest town of note, and after some difficulty, found a working telephone late in the afternoon. Julie rang the American Embassy, and Catherine, the British High Commission. They both received assurances that representatives would arrive in Srinagar on the next available flight which would be in the morning. After a lengthy, fruitless session with the local police, the group traveled by vehicle to Srinagar, the summer capital of the state of Jammu & Kashmir. There, they were able to find lodging with the United Nations Military Observer Group for India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) which has been monitoring the ceasefire line between India and Pakistan since 1949.
In New Delhi, after the 0900 country team meeting, the Ambassador had Sean (chief of station), Matt Daley (deputy chief of mission or DCM), and me listen to him as he verbalized his preparation for his 1230 meeting with the Prime Minister. I went for a lunchtime run during the heat. I met with the DCM at 1800 to discuss an upcoming visit by an admiral – another unproductive meeting. As part of my attaché duties, I briefly attended the Egyptian National Day reception at 1900 – too crowded and hot. Linda and I hosted a Bible study at 1930 at our house. She and I then joined a farewell dinner for the departing air attaché and his wife, Colonel Rick and Myra Davis, at 2115. Jim and Colleen Luntzel, their replacements, left early due to jet lag from having arrived a day or so earlier. It was a late evening, and I went to bed at 2400 still unaware of the kidnappings.
6 July (Thursday) Tim Buch, a political officer from our Embassy, and Philip Barton from the British High Commission (BHC, term used for British embassies in Commonwealth countries) arrive in Srinagar on the first morning flight. Even though Tim was new to India, he and I had accompanied the Ambassador on a three-day trip to Srinagar two weeks earlier. That visit had been marred by a demonstration during our visit to the Hazratbal Mosque which houses a hair from the prophet Muhammad and is the holiest site in Kashmir to Muslims. Later that same day, two grenades went off outside where we were attending a dinner in honor of the Ambassador. Our Kashmiri hosts had been completely unperturbed over the explosions and said in unison, “Welcome to Srinagar!” Tim, thus, was familiar with the security situation in the area. Tim and Philip both diplomatically asked Jane and the others what they had been doing in the mountains in the first place but did not belabor the point. They assured the group that personnel from the FBI and Scotland Yard were on their way to assist and advice the Indians. In the course of their conversations, Jane told them that American and British men had been targeted for kidnapping. Other nationalities and women were passed over or only briefly held.
In Delhi, at an expanded Embassy country team meeting at 0915, the big news was the kidnapping of the two Americans in Jammu and Kashmir. Because of the initial complete information void, the main focus of discussion was on information gathering and sharing. A general consensus of opinion was wonderment as to why the backpackers had been trekking in such a dangerous area. I had an internal DAO (defense attaché office) staff meeting at which we began looking at options and how we might interact with the Indian security forces. At both meetings, there was a high level of concern but not anxiety. Many folks felt that the hostages would be released in a few weeks after international pressure came to bear on the militants. After another hot run, I spent the afternoon on talking points for the Ambassador’s office call on the Indian Air Chief the next day.
7 July (Friday) Tim and Philip accompanied Jane, Catherine, and Julie as they went from one official after another of various Indian security agencies and retold the circumstances surrounding the kidnapping of their husbands and boyfriend.
In Delhi, the 0915 Embassy country meeting went much longer than usual as everyone shared what little bits of information were available on Al-Faran, the group holding the hostages. Afterwards, I walked over the British High Commission for the monthly ABCA (American, British, Canadian, and Australian) meeting where the subject of discussion was the kidnappings. In the afternoon, I accompanied the Ambassador on an office call on Air Chief Marshall Kaul who had been to the States on a counterpart visit. We discussed next steps in military cooperation, the Pressler Amendment (which was being changed to allow the sale of certain military equipment to Pakistan), and the kidnappings in Kashmir.
8 July (Saturday) In a major development, John Childs was able to escape from his kidnappers. Suffering from severe diarrhea, as do most travelers to South Asia, John had established a pattern of often going to the bathroom. So much so, that his abductors paid no attention to him when he went out of his tent for the woods at 0200. His absence was not noticed until 0300. In a series of events that can only be described as miraculous, John eluded his captors, avoided recapture, and was fortuitously sighted as dusk approached by the Governor of Kashmir’s Security Advisor, Lt. Gen (Ret.) Saklani, as he was doing a routine reconnaissance by helicopter.
In Delhi, I spent most of my day with my children, Rusty and Laura, and my granddaughter, Arielle. Linda and I had gone to the airport to pick them at 0300 as they returned from the States.
9 July (Sunday) The joy of seeing John Childs alive quickly left Jane, Catherine, and Julie when they realized that he had escaped rather than being released. They felt that his escape would result in harsher conditions for the remaining captives. They were joined in the evening by another grieving woman - Anne Henning, girlfriend of Dirk Hasert, a young student from eastern Germany. The two of them had begun their trekking the same day the others had been kidnapped but were unaware of the general security situation or of the tragic turn of events. Dirk had been taken captive by the militants as they were searching for John Childs.
In New Delhi, unaware of the developments in Srinagar, I fixed banana pancakes for my family before we went to church. Pastor Paul Cornelius preached on Galatians 2: 17-24. Following my Sunday routine, I went for a run and then had pizza for lunch. Linda and I attended a farewell dinner for the outgoing air attaché at the DCM's house in the evening.
10 July (Monday) News of the kidnapping of yet another foreign tourist reached Srinagar. After taking Dirk Hasert the morning of 8 July, the militants seized Hans Christian Ostro, a Norwegian, later that same day. As had the other hostages, Hans Christian had made no effort to determine conditions in Kashmir and had been unaware of the deteriorating security condition there. It appeared as though the terrorists were planning to capture every foreigner in the region. John Childs was flown from Srinagar to New Delhi.
In Delhi, I experienced a worse Monday than usual. News of the additional kidnappings was troubling. A misunderstanding between the DCM and me over requesting an Indian Army briefing on Kashmir and the kidnappings resulted in my wasting a lot of time and effort and his becoming irritated. Linda and I hosted a farewell lunch for the outgoing air attaché and his wife at our house. Almost 40 folks showed up. I was sorry to see Rick and Myra leave. I telephoned Brigadier Varma, the Indian Army foreign liaison officer, at his home in the evening to clarify what the DCM wanted concerning the Army briefing. It turned out to be a fruitless call.
11 July (Tuesday) In New Delhi, the Norwegian Embassy learned of the kidnapping of Hans Christina Ostro. I spent much of the day striving to get the Indian Army briefing on Kashmir and the kidnappings that the DCM had requested. I got the run-around from MEA (Ministry of External Affairs, equivalent to our Department of State) and Brigadier Varma all day long with each side blaming the other for not permitting the briefing. Dilip Lahiri, the MEA joint secretary for the Americas, finally telephoned the DCM to advise him that the Army just did not want to give the briefing. The DCM and I were quietly rightly furious over this lack of cooperation. I accused both sides of lying, but it appeared that MEA was right. In an effort to force some action, I later informed Brigadier Varma the MEA had placed the blame squarely on the Army. The DCM also included a paragraph on the Army’s lack of cooperation in the matter in a cable back to Washington. I personally felt that there should have been some retribution against Brigadier Varma, but we had little leverage in the matter.
12 July (Wednesday) In Delhi, I was still fuming over Brigadier Varma’s abject failure to be of any assistance in obtaining an Army briefing on the situation in Kashmir and his less than truthful statements. At the Embassy, the DCM appeared to have put the matter behind him and was over his frustration with Army HQ. I met John Childs who had escaped from his captors on 8 July in the Embassy. He seemed confused and had a deer-in-the-headlights manner about him. Selected country team members (DCM, chief of station, political counselor, public affairs officer, and me) convened a Kashmir hostage update meeting at 1700 to discuss the capture of the Norwegian tourist and the impeding deadline imposed by the terrorists for the release of certain prisoners held by the Indian government. We decided to meet daily to exchange information and ensure unity of effort.
13 July (Thursday) In New Delhi, selected country team members met at 0900 for a hostage update meeting followed by an expanded country team meeting at 0930. There was no fresh news on the hostages. I went over to Army HQ at 1100 for an hour session with Brigadier Varma to discuss the hostage situation and his and the Indian Army’s lack of cooperation. Despite my extreme frustration over the stonewalling I had received the previous two days, I was able to put on my game face and conduct a professional and frank exchange with him. He was not able to provide any additional information which may have reflected the lack of coordination between the various branches of the Indian security forces.
14 July (Friday) It was a busy day around the Embassy. There was no new news concerning the hostages. Tensions were mounting as we approached tomorrow’s deadline set by the terrorists for the Indian government to release 21 militants in exchange for the hostages. COL Tim Eastham (USAF COL in charge of the defense security assistance office) and I made an office call on Hardip Puri, the Joint Secretary (Planning & Coordination) in MOD.at 1100. The primary purpose of our visit was to discuss implementation of the defense agreement that the Indian government had signed during the visit of our Secretary of Defense in January. We also used the opportunity to express concern over a perceived lack of cooperation in sharing information about the hostages and their captors. It was a positive session. Even though Mr. Puri had no information to give us, he appeared honest and forthright. In the evening, my wife and I attended the French National Day / Bastille Day reception. It was a pleasant affair, but I could not enjoy it due to concern over the fate of the hostages.
15 July (Saturday) At the Embassy and especially during a crisis situation, work continues on the weekends. I went to the office at 0900 to prepare for a hostage meeting at 1000. Today was the deadline the terrorists had set for releasing prisoners held by the government in exchange for the hostages. There was no new information concerning the status of the hostages. A major problem we faced in the Embassy was the paucity of information from the Indian government. Although there was an official Indian government interlocutor talking with the militants, we were generally unaware of the nature or contents of the conversations. The situation was very frustrating due to the information void.
16 July (Sunday) Apparently, the efforts of the Indian interlocutor in Srinagar had gained more time for the hostages. However, at the Embassy, we did not have any insights as to what was being said.
22 July (Saturday) Selected country team members met at the Embassy at 1000 for a long hostage meeting. We were concerned over unconfirmed reports of a firefight between the kidnappers and Indian security forces (Indian Army, Border Security Force, police, or some other paramilitary force of which there was a plethora in Kashmir) which may have wounded two hostages.
23 July (Sunday) My daughter took over my duties as lay reader at church, and I went by taxi to the Embassy for an impromptu hostage meeting with our British counterparts: the Deputy High Commissioner, Brigadier Robin Drapper (the defense attaché), two Special Air Service (SAS) operators, and the head of the local MI6 section. Our side consisted of the deputy chief of mission, the chief of station, two of his personnel on temporary duty from CIA headquarters, and me. Pouring over a set of 1:125,000 maps of Kashmir I had recently acquired, we deliberated possible military actions and intelligence capabilities with respect to the hostage situation. The discussion was one of the most grave of which I had been a part in recent memory. The mood was somber as we realized that timely, actionable information was lacking. Another major concern was the apparent lack of a unified command structure in that region. The various security forces in Kashmir were stovepipe organizations that reported back to their headquarters in New Delhi with virtually no sharing of information at the local level.
24 July (Monday) Given the heightened concern over the plight of the hostages, we formed the hostage consultative group which consisted of selected country team members and began meeting twice daily in the high-security “bubble” in the most secure part of the Embassy. The purpose of the meetings was to share information, brainstorm possible courses of action, and ensure unity of effort.
5 August (Saturday) The Embassy’s hostage consultative group met at the DCM’s house in the evening for an informal session. We had received worrisome news that Al-Faran had released photos of the American (Don Hutchings) and one of the British hostages showing wounds from having been caught in a firefight between the terrorists and Indian security forces and an audiotape by Don. We had no way of corroborating the information, and the DCM seemed to discount the report.
13 August (Sunday) Gene Price, a political officer, telephoned at 1900 to tell me to come to the Embassy for an urgent meeting. The Norwegian hostage’s body had been found decapitated and mutilated with the name of the terrorist group, Al-Faran, carved into the chest along with a note threatening to kill the remaining hostages in 48 hours. Ambassador Wisner went to see the Indian Home Secretary who agreed to accept advisory help (FBI and Delta Force). The Indian agreement to allow members of Delta to come into the country was remarkable given India’s historical suspicion of foreign military intervention. The DCM had already alerted Washington. I sensed that the next few days were going to be busy.
14 August (Monday) COL Jim Luntzel, the air attaché, telephoned me at home at 0615 with flight information on the Delta Force planners who would be arriving tomorrow. Virtually all day was spent in preparation for the arrival of the planners. In the afternoon, I went over to the National Security Guard (NSG) headquarters to discuss the arrival of the Delta Force planners. The NSG is India’s counter-terrorism force and comes under the purview of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). NSG personnel are often referred to as Black Cats because of the black dress and black cat sign-age worn on their uniforms. I met with Mr. A.K. Tandon, the NSG Director General, and Major General Wadhwa, the NSG operations officer. We had a useful exchange of information, but I left with strong reservations about a rescue attempt by the NSG. Upon returning to the Embassy, I gave the DCM and chief of station a briefing on what I had learned. The evening was filled with one phone call after another with folks from Washington, Pacific Command, and Embassy personnel. I was able to take a short nap before going out to the airport around midnight.
15 August (Tuesday) In the wee hours of the morning, I was on the Delhi airport tarmac meeting the C-141 bringing in the Delta Force team of planners. I briefed them on the hostage situation on the plane and on the bus trip to the Embassy. After unloading their gear at the Embassy guest house, we linked up with selected Embassy personnel for information sharing. After telling everyone to get a few hours’ sleep, I went home at 0500 and got three hours sleep. I met with the Delta team at 1000, with the DCM at 1130, and the ambassador at 1230. After a quick lunch at the American Club, we met with the team’s British (SAS) and German (GSG 9) counterparts at 1400 in our Embassy. I recommended to the DCM that I accompany the group to Srinagar due to my current involvement in the hostage situation, my extensive knowledge of the Indian security forces, and my contacts within the Indian Army. The DCM accepted my proposal. The Delta guys and I made a trip to the Embassy commissary to stock up with provisions for our deployment. We walked out with several shopping carts full of food and other essentials. I should mention here that the Indian terms of condition for accepting foreign “help” included that the personnel could not wear uniforms or carry weapons.
16 August (Wednesday) The day was filled with frenetic activity. Upon reaching the Embassy, I learned that we would be flying up to Srinagar in the afternoon. After a couple of coordination meetings, I raced home to complete packing. I scribbled a quick note to my wife: “Pray for us. I love you and the kids.” We (three Delta, two SAS, two GSG 9 personnel, and I) flew up in a Border Security Force Avro. Mr. Jain (Special Secretary in the Home Ministry), Mr. Tandon, and MG Wadhwa were also on board. After a two and a half hour flight, we landed at 1630. We were taken to a government guest house. Alas, the provisions we bought at the commissary the day before were unloaded from the aircraft but never made it to us. Tim Buch (an Embassy political officer who had been intimately involved in the crisis since the beginning) and I shared a room. I held a get-acquainted session with the military counterterrorism operators while Tim went to meet with the Diplomatic Liaison Group. We later linked up with him in the office of Lt Gen (Retired) D. D. Saklani, the security advisor to the governor of Jammu and Kashmir. Our session with Lt Gen Saklani was cordial. In the evening, MG Wadhwa, Brigadier Mahalingam (the NSG task force commander), and COL Daulta (deputy task force commander) came to our house for a frank and sometimes contentious discussion of the situation and options. It was painfully obvious that we all had a lot of work to do. On a positive note, the Delta, SAS, and GSG 9 personnel and I were bonding well.
17 August (Thursday) Most of the day was spent getting to know each other and with information sharing. At 1800, MG Wadhwa, Brigadier Mahalingam (which is Hindi for “great penis”), and COL Daulta arrived at our guest house. The atmosphere was considerably more friendly than yesterday’s session. I felt more confident as a result. Mr. Jain and Mr. Tandon later came over with assurances of complete cooperation which was a very positive development. After our Indian colleagues left, we spent considerable time preparing a situation report (sitrep) that reflected the collective views of our multinational group. To ease the procedure, our GSG 9 team members provided us with German beer that they had somehow managed to bring with them. The Delta communications sergeant sent the jointly prepared sitrep to the Embassy using a secure satellite transmitter.
18 August (Friday) In the morning, we were surprised by the sudden appearance on the front lawn of a TV crew and group from Reuters. Then, after lunch, we had an encounter with a female correspondent from The Guardian on the front porch. I made a unilateral decision to move our group to a more secure guest house in a different location. Later in the afternoon, a small group (the officers) of us met with Lt Gen Saklani to discuss lack of liaison, security, problems with command, control, and coordination, and the need for an overall commander. The session was brutal because we did not pull any punches. I had some sympathy for Brigadier Mahalingam and COL Daulta because they were being slammed for matters over which they had no control, and they do not have sufficient resources. It was not an uplifting situation. Tim Buch and I went to 15 Corps headquarters and met with the commander, Lt Gen J.S. Dhillon. I had worked with Lt Gen Dhillon when he had been the Indian Army Director General of Military Intelligence in New Delhi and knew this imposing Sikh to be a no-nonsense, straight-talking officer. Tim and I frankly shared our concerns with him. He stated that the Army could “sort the situation out.” He also opined that command and control and the necessary coordination would take place at the proper time. We agreed to meet again tomorrow. Back at our quarters, a general gloom pervaded as we prepared our evening sitrep.
Another posting to my note “Terrorism in Kashmir – 1995.” Postings are made as events unfolded in the hostage situation 20 years ago while I was the defense attaché in New Delhi. To view the complete story, visit my Facebook profile and go to notes.
19 August (Saturday) A relatively sleepless night due to radio traffic over the Delta secure satellite transmitter. Even so, we had a much better day than yesterday. The special operators (Delta, SAS, GSG 9) and I went to the Diplomatic Liaison Group’s operations room in a house at a different location at 1100 to examine their 1:50,000 maps. COL Jude Cruz, Special Forces advisor to the 15 Corps Commander, came by at 1230, and we went to see Brigadier Arjun Ray, the 15 Corps BGS (brigadier general staff, similar to a G-3). I knew Arjun quite well from our time as classmates at the Indian National Defence College in 1993 and considered him a friend. Arjun was most cooperative, and we had a useful exchange of information. COL Cruz and one of Arjun’s staff officers went back with us to our guest house, and we had an excellent exchange of ideas concerning planning for a rescue. They also gave us a set of critically needed maps. The NSG folks arrived at 1515, and we had a frank discussion of their “plan” which is slowly coming together with no small amount of suggestions from our side. They also left us additional maps and an aerial photograph. LTC Lee A. Van Arsdale (senior Delta operator, aka Lava) and I then went to explain various pieces of equipment to Lt Gen (Ret.) Saklani. It was a very positive exchange except for new information about movement of the hostages and an increase in the strength of the militants – both items were disturbing. Back at our “safe” house, our German colleagues provided us with a genuine German meal – bratwurst, sauerkraut, bread, and beer – for dinner. The German sergeant was a cook before he joined the army, and the meal was excellent. We received a new liaison officer – CPT Mandeep Shankar who was with the anti-hijacking wing of the NSG. Our group has bonded well. Our German colleagues broke out a few bottles of wine. I confess to having enjoyed a few glasses while Tim Buck and I discussed the multi-national challenges that the DCM was facing in Delhi in comparison to the camaraderie of our group in Srinagar.
20 August (Sunday) In the morning, after stopping by the house where the Diplomatic Liaison Group (DLG) stayed, I attended the worship service at the nearby All Saints Church of Srinagar (Church of North India). The service appeared to be Presbyterian in nature. Some of the hymns were in English, and the guest preacher mercifully presented his sermon in English, “Man can do nothing without God; God will do nothing without man.” I went back over to the DLG house and appropriated what I considered to be a fair share of the provisions that the American Embassy had sent up. In the late afternoon, we met with the NSG force commander and his deputy. They did not have a plan to meet the new situation and wanted to know how the Western special operators would carry out a rescue operation.
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Judging from the two dozen odd reviews that it has garnered so far, The Meadow by the British journalists, Adrian Levy & Cathy Scott-Clark, is quite contentious despite impressive evidence of the very thorough research which has gone into its making. My review, however, is different from other such assessments in one significant way: the events narrated in the book simply happened around me.
Growing up in the shadows of conflict, of guns wielded by both militants and armed forces, we in Kashmir have witnessed many confusing narratives that just 'happened' but which are now imprinted in our minds, seemingly forever. Everything in 1990s Kashmir was, as I remember it iteratively, brought to a standstill each day. Our lives as young boys were ruled by a primary goal: to save ourselves and to live just for one more day. While boys of our age in other parts of the country were aiming for productive careers in the engineering, medical and civil services and concentrating on their studies, our lives were part of another narrative - knotted, twisted and often grotesque, despite the shimmering beauty of the landscape we inhabited.
In July 1995, after our XI standard biology lecture, a seventeen-year-old boy told us a strange story before the news actually broke in the media. It was the tale of the kidnapping of six foreigners from the upper ranges of Pahalgam valley. How did this boy know of this event even before the fiery media disclosures? He did not tell us and we did not ask - but the dramatic kidnapping episode soon became the talk of the whole town. Everybody had their radios tuned to the frequency for the BBC Urdu news, the only source the people of Kashmir perceived then as reliable and unbiased. I could hear people speculate about the kidnapping everywhere but only a few knew the truth - one of them being a classmate of mine.
The Meado w-- the name of the lush, pine-scented camping ground in the Kashmiri Himalayas -- tracks this decade and half old but still haunting story. The book is essentially an unravelling of the brutal 1995 kidnapping of six foreign tourists (two Britons, two Americans, one German and one Norwegian) which, some believe, changed the face of modern terrorism and, in a convoluted kind of ways, paved the way for the urban attack of 9/11.
In contrast to the marvellous description of the scenic beauty of the valley, the truth about the journey of the hostages is gritty: the book unsparingly describes their incarceration in deep, remote forests, their rough hand-written notes, the counter-insurgency of militants, the horrific torture by security agencies, and the routine killings of innocent civilians. The Meadow is a candid tract, leaving out little. It discusses the narratives of global jihad, Kashmir , India , Pakistan , Afghanistan , America , Britain ; it deals in ideologies, clashes, deception, the making and unmaking of militancy, of Muslims and the western world. It also considers language, identity and cultural discourses in both indigenous and global contexts.
From my 'Kashmiri' point of view the whole tragedy of the kidnapping recorded in such meticulous detail in The Meadow is framed by two larger 'action' narratives - the narrative of the Pakistani involvement in Kashmir and narrative of the Indian state. Neither of these tales of violence, exploitation and indifference lack in the murky undertones and sinister overtones. Both have had major repercussions not just on the lives of the innocent foreign victims of the 1995 kidnappings but on the continuing lives of the Kashmiri people. That is why The Meadow is such an important and revealing work of journalism - it exposes the overwhelming complicity of governments in ruining the psychological as well as physical environments in which ordinary people live.
The genesis of the first 'Pakistani' narrative that animates this book lies in the attempt by a group of Pakistan based militants to 'free' Masood Azhar, a cleric, and the founder of Jaish-e-Mohammed, a Pakistani militant organization, who happened to be languishing in an Indian jail in the 1990s. How so? Well, Masood's long-term objective was to persuade Kashmiris to engage in a holy war--a jihad-- for freedom or azadi . This overt aim on his part was happily in consonance with the more covert goal of Pakistan 's secret service organisation, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), whose eyes were on Kashmir after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan , to create a strategic discourse that would foment discontent in Kashmir . In the February of 1995, Masood Azhar was, thus, dispatched to Kashmir via Bangladesh on a fake Portuguese passport to address the 'Jihad Council' in Kashmir - when the Indian security forces promptly arrested him and put him in Tihar Jail, New Delhi .
Knowing that India had, in the past, released various top militant leaders when influential people were kidnapped by 'militants', Masood's affluent father, Master Alvi--a religious cleric himself belonging to Bahawalpur in Pakistan--then influenced the ISI to devise a specific strategy based on this premise. To set Azhar free, a party of militants under the mysterious name Al Faran , an offshoot of Harkat ul-Ansar (Movement of the Victorious), was dispatched from Pakistan with a well planned operation " Ghar ", the Urdu word for home--getting Azhar back to home.
Due to some strategic problems, instead of heading towards their originally intended destination , Anantnag, this kidnapping party, under the command of a Pakistani militant Abu Jindal, had been forced to divert to the ancient citadel of Charar-i-Sharief- holding the shrine, a wooded medevial settlement of fourteenth century Kashmir's patron saint or rishi, Shiekh Noor-ud-din Wali. According to the revelations of the authors, ahead of the kidnapping party, the shirine was already occupied by Haroon Ahmad alias `Mast Gul' also known as `Major Gul'- a Pakistani militant working for the then largest indigenous Kashmiri militant group, Hizbul Mujhahiden [HM] (p.99). The shrine was cordoned by the armed forces and the men from the various Indian intelligence agencies. In the early hours of 10 May 1995, two explodes rocked the shrine and the in-charge of the kidnapping party, Abu Jindal was arrested by the Indian Army, nevertheless, the HM commander Mast Gul and most of his men had slipped away. Finally, a party of militants succeeded in kidnapping the six tourists - of which one American prisoner escaped- from the upper hills of dense forests of Pahalgam valley, near the meadows. Although Al Faran demanded the release of 21 militants imprisoned in the Indian jails after the kidnapping, it was clear that their main aim from the very beginning was to just free Azhar.
The Meadow speaks of the unimaginable security conundrum in the Kashmir valley at the time. Its description of the Kashmir valley in the 1990s includes the episode of 20 January, 1990 , when the J&K police opened fire on worshipers at Srinagar and killed around five dozen civilians. The book also offers portraits of the people involved in the incident: the story, for example, of Javid alias Sikandar (the Persian name for the Alexander the Great), a cricketing enthusiast and talented pace bowler from Anantnag and a 'key accused' in the kidnapping who had been reading about radical German students who had taken up arms and formed the Red Army Faction in 1970, `turned a militant' in 1990, and for whom an uncompromising Islamic identity became the only way to confront India.
Indoctrination is, indeed, more dangerous than nuclear weapons; an idea can destroy or build nations. A conscious and well-strategised 'identity theft', which happened with all militants fighting in Kashmir, was to make them re-identify themselves not as Kashmiris, Afghanis or Pakistanis but a more homogenous body of Islamic fighters, who would respond to any call to perform holy jihad , whether in Kashmir, Palestine or Azerbaijan. Such 'defenders' of Islam would be committed to defending any Muslim suffering at the hands of any 'non-Muslim' (p.90). This notion of global jihad, then, was sustained by the idea of global Islamisation. The authors of The Meadow expressively recount how Kashmir travelled, during the last twenty years of turmoil, from the Sufi/Rishi and liberal human traditions to Islamic laws, referring, for instance, to "...the daughters of the nation, a fringe women's group lobbying for strict adherence to Koranic Law, demanding that women completely cover up. For centuries, Muslim women of all ages have walked with their faces uncovered in Kashmir ..." (p. 133).
As the story advances, the more it twists and gnarls, expressing a naked truth of which even the people of Kashmir were not fully aware. The second framing narrative in The Meadow highlights the far from innocent role of the Indian state in Kashmir . The authors claim that far from being utterly clueless, the Indian security forces identified the hostages' exact location early on but chose not to act simply to prolong the adverse international publicity for Pakistan . It also elucidates how the Government of India prolonged its dealing with the militants in its attempts to convince the world that it was not just India but whole world which was affected by the Pakistan-sponsored war in Kashmir . The narrative spells out how the families of six abducted tourists were kept in the dark while the deal between the militants and J&K's then Inspector General of Crime was disclosed to the press in New Delhi by intelligence agencies. This move callously and knowingly aggravated the situation by putting the lives of the kidnapped people at considerable risk.
The book reveals the reluctance of New Delhi to allow either the J&K Police or the Scotland Yard or the FBI to pursue independent investigations that could have ended the hostage crisis. Levy and Scott-Clark write "Anywhere else in the world, the fraternity of police would have shared intelligence and war stories. Here (in Kashmir ) everything was infused by politics, shrouded in secrecy and predicated by control" (p. 386).
A focal point in the gripping tale that The Meadow reconstructs is the brutal, wretched and unfortunate death of one of the kidnapped foreigners, Hans Christian Ostro of Norway , on August 13, 1995 , in upper ranges of the Anantnag hills. All my classmates then had discussed this tragedy - but remained unaware of the identity of the perpetrators. Bewildered, we had asked ourselves why this innocent Norwegian, whose life has little to do with the conflict in Kashmir , who had different dreams, was killed. "He was over-smart and was fighting," answered the same boy who had broken the story of the abduction. This boy was Abbas Dar, a student from the locality where the body of Hans Christian Ostro was found. Later, we found that he had in fact joined militants and was fully aware of the identity of the abductors and of much else. This very boy, Abbas Dar alias Shaheen, was later killed in an 'encounter' with the security forces in Kishtwar near the 'Meadow'. It is in this ironic sense that his story - and mine and those of our classmates - were affected by the larger tale that Levy and Scott-Clark have now undertaken to tell.
Hans Christian Ostro was murdered. John Childs, the American hostage escaped, but here again the authorities just wanted him to hold his tongue and adopt a conveniently amnesiac stance. The remaining four abducted tourists were never found. Nevertheless, Levy and Scott-Clark's account bluntly exposes the 'real' fate of these foreigners who, according to later disclosures, were handed over to the militants who has surrendered and subsequently worked with the Indian Army and to the shadowy Indian 'intelligence agencies'. These forces allegedly 'bought' the four tourists from Al Faran for Rs.4 Lakhs - and then shot them in cold blood on December 24, 1995 .
As for Masood Azhar, though the Indian government refused to release him or any of the other imprisoned militant leaders in 1995, he was in fact finally released on the Christmas Eve in 1999 when an Indian Airlines flight carrying 178 passengers was hijacked and forced to land in Kandahar. The hijackers of this aircraft once again demanded the release of 36 prisoners from Indian jails and Azhar's name topped the list. It was this same 'released' Masood Azhar who was subsequently implicated in the spectacular and dreadful 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai in 2008.
To return to the terrain of Kashmir, Levy and Scott-Clark's book finally highlights how Indian government-sponsored 'surrendered militants' and security agencies created a reign of terror in the 1990s, killing hundreds of innocent civilians in Kashmir-- where the 'official truth' is always a manufactured narrative-- and burying them in mass graves. Several such myopic and grave mistakes by the Indian state are still part of the community memories of all Kashmiris.
Even in a generation that has not lived through the traumatic events of 1980s and 1990s, the memories of trauma are potent - and quite sufficient to provoke the Kashmiri populace to violent incidents such as 'stone-pelting' against the Indian security forces at a moment's notice. In this sense, The Meadow strongly questions the Indian claim to `finding a political solution' and explains how the Indian state in effect practices the counter-insurgency doctrine - "get them by the balls, and the hearts and minds will follow". In this context, as I see it, the innumerable 'stone-pelting' events from 2008 and 2010, for instance, were not the sudden, 'flash' uprisings that they appeared to be but involved deep-rooted memories of the atrocities and terror of 1990s. Such events demonstrate that the earlier fears may have dissipated somewhat but an atmosphere of mistrust and suspicion still remains. The brutal kidnapping of the 'western' hostages is clearly the tip of an iceberg. The region waits for more storytellers like Levy and Scott-Clark - including witnesses from within Kashmir .
Following the shocking revelations in The Meadow , Kashmir 's State Human Rights Commission has issued a notice to the state government to explain the 1995 abduction of the foreigners whose fate the authors of The Meadow relate. On August 13, 2012, The Hindustan Times from New Delhi reported: "The state police have told the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) in Srinagar that the master file of the case of six foreigners' kidnapping in south Kashmir in 1995 were gutted in a fire incident." A 'convenient truth' indeed!
It is time the trust of the Kashmiri people is restored and 'getting them by their balls' is not a policy that can ever translate into peace. The need of the hour is to take account of the people of Kashmir and not only the territory.
( The author is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Delhi and can be reached at `email@example.com').
At times I did think that it was overlong and that the authors were perhaps using guess work in describing people's reaction. However for the most part it seemed quite convincing and accurate.
Maybe the events described in this book were not as influential on a global scale as the author suggests. However they do a good job in conveying the personal tragedy and horror.