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Cops, 'foreign intervention' blamed for Kashmir hostage crisis

The police, security negligence and high-profile ''foreign intervention'' have been blamed for the hostage crisis in Jammu and Kashmir which has entered its third year.

In his book Jackals of the Himalayas: The Kashmir Hostages Mystery which was released on Monday, S P Sinha says the first round of kidnapping by the Al Faran of foreign tourists -- Donald Hutchings, 42, of the United States, Keith Mangan, 33, and Paul Wells of the United Kingdom -- took place on July 4, 1995. But no extra vigil was mounted in the trekking areas around Pahalgam and the militants struck again four days later, kidnapping Dirk Hasert, 26, a German tourist.

Even then vigilance was not intensified. For on July 10, the Al Faran kidnapped Hans Christian Ostro of Norway from the same region and beheaded him four weeks later. The mountains where he was killed were ''supposedly guarded by the security forces'', says the author.

If the Jammu and Kashmir police had tightened vigilance in Pahalgam after the first kidnappings, the subsequent ones could have been avoided. Ironically, the crime investigation department office in Srinagar as well as the tourist office and the houseboat owners on the Dal lake, where incidentally all the tourists stayed, knew where the foreigners were going, he says.

Sinha researched the book for two years in Kashmir and in New Delhi, met officials of the Border Security Force, the army and top J&K police officials monitoring the hostage crisis. Some of the hostages's relatives have also been interviewed.

Sinha says the Al Faran had spread its tentacles to Srinagar airport, the bus stands, the tourist office, among the houseboat owners on the Dal and Nagin lakes, hotel staff, taxi drivers and even among the pony owners and shepherds in Pahalgam.

Information on the travel plans of tourists was collected with meticulous care and passed on to Al Faran operatives in Pahalgam, Lidderwat and Zojibal.

Vital clues and leads were allowed to slip away and negotiations with the Al Faran were carried on for far too long. The idea was to buy time. But desperate men with a load on their hands have little patience. The psychological condition of the militants was not adequately taken into account.

''Even when Ostro was beheaded after about 33 days of being kidnapped, the authorities did not get the signal. Or perhaps they did and wanted to move in fast, but foreign intervention in terms of experts and diplomats either stalled or discouraged their efforts.''

Indian security agencies felt they could have solved the crisis if they had been allowed to handle it on their own way. There was interference of all sorts.

The author quotes a top J&K police officer as saying, ''It is difficult to believe that the hostages are alive. At the same time there is no proof as yet to establish that they are dead.''

Diplomats of the countries to which the hostages belonged tried to meddle a little too much, claims Sinha. They wanted to solve the crisis on their own way.

As for the kidnapped engineers in the valley -- Johan Jansson and Jan Ole Loman, the two Swedes working on the Uri hydel project near Srinagar, and Mosio Silva Antonio of France working on the Dul Hasti hydel project in southern Jammu and Kashmir -- the diplomats of the two countries went about in a low-key manner.

Though the army, the Border Security Force, the intelligence agencies and foreign experts fanned out in the valley, they could not scoop out the four men.

Perhaps the answer lies in the question as to where the hostages were when Al Faran commander Abdul Hamid Turki and four other militants were killed in an encounter with the Rashtriya Rifles at Dabran village, 65 km south of Srinagar on December 4, 1995.

Turki held the hostages captive and a new militant group is said to have taken charge of them after his killing.

Cath Moselely, a friend of Paul Wells, feels the December 4 encounter was crucial in determining the fate of the hostages. She says, "We believe that after the militants at Dabran were killed, a new group took charge of them. We don't know what happened after that." Julie Mangan, Keith Mangan's wife, too feels that the Dabran encounter was crucial.

Asks Sinha, "What did the new militant group which took charge of them do to the hostages? Could the freedom of the four hostages be secured with the selective release of some of the militants by not jeopardising national security?"

After all, militants were released from prison to secure the freedom of relatives of high-profile politicians like then Union home minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed's daughter Dr Rubaiya Sayeed and Nahida Imtiaz, daughter of Saifuddin Soz (now Union minister for environment and forests).

Militants were also released to secure the freedom of Indian Oil Corporation executive director K Doraiswamy.

According to the author, 1995 was an important year for militancy. It was the time when counter-insurgency mearures were launched by the Indians. Militancy was breaking up. Indigenous militancy was unhappy with the space being taken up by foreigners. Some of the militants were no more motivated. They became mercenary in character.

Diplomats tried to negotiate with some of these elements, but owing to the latter's unreliability, met with no success.

He quotes 33-year-old Birgit Hasert, Dirk Hasert's sister, as saying, ''It is important that we continue our efforts to know the reality. The situation of uncertainty, whether they are alive or whether they are dead, is intolerable. The family wants to know the truth.''

Former Financial Times correspondent David Housego, whose son Kim was kidnapped in 1994, tells the author, ''I don't think kidnappings of foreigners who are no part in this conflict serve the militants's cause at all. It seems to me that it damages them in the eyes of the public opinion outside the country. Public opinion in Europe and the US cannot understand why a 16-year-old boy should be kidnapped as a lever to secure the release of their people from the Indians.''


Wife longs to storm militants's den to free American hostage

EARLIER REPORT: Two years after the abduction of five foreigners from Pahalgam, their fate is still unknown...

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