Lost in the Meadow
The meadow touches a whole lot of issues and keeps you on tenterhooks
I got this book from one of my journalist friend Izhar, who earlier had worked with known investigative journalists Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, the authors of “Meadow”, a book about the brutal kidnapping of five western tourists by terrorist in June 1995.Their last book was Deception, about Pakistan’s nuclear programme which was reportedly banned. While going through the book I revisited Kashmir’s dark and scary past. The killings, crackdowns, attacks, the razor wires, the Hazratbal siege, burning of Char-e-Sharif mosque, the Army, the militants, the deserted roads and the lawlessness. Everything looked real, as if the brutal 90’s had come back. The Book is about how five tourist, Americans Don Hutchings and John Childs, Britons Keith Mangan and Paul Wells, German Dirk Hasert and Norwegian Hans Christian Ostro were kidnapped by a lesser known outfit Al-Faran in July 1995. As if I was watching a Hollywood flick I couldn’t take my eyes off the book. It won’t be long before someone from the Hollywood or the Indian Bollywood makes a movie out of it. The book fascinatingly walks you across the events as they unfold and explains each and every character with their past, their field of interest and how they planned a holiday in Kashmir, and how fate led them to their death. The book states with authority that the five westerners have been killed brutally but the fate of them remains unknown. No evidence to dispute or confirm the claim has ever been found.
The Meadow is about the long, painful tumult in Kashmir, the start of terrorism, the brutal kidnapping of five westerners and the asymmetric nightmare of the family and the well wishers of the hostages. Their disillusionment towards the stake holders in the establishment, making them believe that they are not interested in having any meaningful dialogue with the Al-Faran. Their reason is a long, long series of unsuccessful negotiations putting the hostages into continuous danger from the Pakistan backed militants. The hostage crisis is deeply exciting and some events send shivers down the spine. Driven over the edge by the intolerable life-threatening danger from the militants how one of the hostage John Childs escapes in a dramatic way and is rescued by a flying chopper carrying Lt. Gen. D.D Saklani, the security advisor, which they later claimed was a `Miracle`. The hostages are scared of the kidnappers, and yet they are excited and even enjoy themselves in the higher reaches of warwan by playing volleyball. How invariably Don Hutchings a hostage in his crazy way has leadership qualities but knows that he could be killed. It refers to the physical trauma of the hostages who time after time were in close proximity to death. The book could be seen as simply a series of unbearably tense vignettes, like the gory picture presented in which the throat of Hans Christian Ostro is slit three times before being beheaded. The head was later found away from the body by a highly respected officer Mr. Kifayat Hyder, who trekked upto the mountain of Pehalgam with only two constables. The tense prelude of compressed silence encloses you in a tight prison of pain: the "Meadow" does a very good job of putting you inside it as well.
The Main Characters: The book states that the westerners were kidnapped to seek the release of Pakistani born Masood Azhar, the then general secretary of the Harkatul Ansar, caught in Anantnag along with another hardcore militant Sajjad Shahid Khan Alias Afghani, a pashtun commander from Afghanistan by the Indian Army. The kidnapping was carried out by an outfit named Al-Faran, which the book claims was an off shoot of the “Movement” a strong and fierce group of heavily armed militants headed by their southern commander Javiad Ahmed Bhat Alias “Sikander” a Kashmiri from Dabran, Anantnag. The “Movement” had also kidnapped two British tourists earlier but released them to the BBC special correspondent Yusuf Jameel through Mushtaq Ali, a journalist who died in a parcel bomb later in the press enclave. The book claims on 17th September the Al Faran through Jahangir; their negotiator was ready to strike a deal for as little as 10 million. However, the authors claim that the deal was deliberately sabotaged pointing fingers towards the Indian establishment. The book claims that a notorious renegade, Alpha, or Azad Nabi, from Anantnag in Kashmir, had “bought” the four Western hostages from Al Faran for 4 lacs ( 400,000) and held them for months before shooting them. The book claims that a group of undercover agents were put into service by a very intelligent and gifted officer Mr. Mushtaq Sadiq, who named it `Squad’. They apparently are the main source the book “Meadow” is based on. According to the Squad, ‘Sikander’s men handed over Paul, Dirk, Keith and Don to Alpha’s renegades in the third or fourth week of November, around the time when the final sightings dried up. Their final communiqué to their higher ups according to the book was “Sikander has given up. Al Faran is finished. Embarrassingly, India controls the renegades.’” The book finally claims that renegades brought the hostages to isolated twin villages of Mati Gawran, near the Mardan Top Pass about five-hour drive from Anantnag. The foreigners were hustled into a house by some STF boys and renegades. The four hostages were shot dead and buried in the frozen ground near a grove of trees behind the lower village on December 24, 1995. Their bodies are yet to be found!
The meadow undoubtedly touches a whole lot of issues and even keeps you on tenterhooks. Very important issues have been deliberated and explained, some I may agree or disagree. A friend of mine told me the other day that BBC correspondent has denied to have ever said what was written in the book.
The working of STF and renegades has been nicely explained. It should be an eye opener to some over excited people who claim that the government in 1996 created the STF. The book clearly mentions that STF was formed on the advice of the Security Advisor, while as the renegades were functioning under the Army.
Could a security advisor risk going to the higher reaches of Pehalgam alone in a helicopter and spot the hostage, when it was heavily infested with “foreign” Militants? Debatable!
According to “Meadow” the IGP Tikoo, could have pulled a rabbit out of the hat had he been given a chance. He was confident enough that he could have impressed upon Sikander for a peaceful solution. His pro-Kashmiri stance is impressive and even explains that Kashmiris, however virulent and dogmatic are not inherently violent people.
Why didn’t Sikander or his Pakistani handlers come out in public or to the media vehemently denying that they no longer held the hostages and the renegades had them?
If the Squad knew the whereabouts of the hostages why didn’t they without wasting time plan a raid? Why did they wait for so long?
And finally, despite brilliantly narrating the story and offering a luminous investigative conclusion it still falls short on convincing me. The book I feel is mainly based on dead characters, fictitious source and undiscovered bodies. Right or wrong I don’t know, but what I know is that there are families whose loved ones are buried somewhere out there. They deserve a decent burial and Justice!
Lastupdate on : Tue, 12 Jun 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Tue, 12 Jun 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Wed, 13 Jun 2012 00:00:00 IST
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