It is exactly 17 years since the abduction of six foreign backpackers from Kashmir Valley, which shook the entire world and has come back to haunt Kashmir with an investigative book revealing the untold story behind the kidnappings and shedding some light on the unknown fate of the kidnapped victims. Journalists Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, authors of The Meadow: Kashmir 1995 – Where the Terror Began, allege that the four Westerners were murdered by government backed Ikhwanis, working for the security forces. They claim that after one of the hostages, John Child, managed to escape and Norwegian Hans Christian Ostro was found beheaded, Al-Faran, which had already scaled down its demand from freeing 22 imprisoned militants to only four, was ready to strike a monetary deal to free the hostages and release them for Rs 2 crores, but the deal was deliberately sabotaged by the Indian establishment. They assert that ‘there were some in the Indian establishment who did not want this never-ending bad news story of Pakistani cruelty and Kashmiri inhumanity to end, even when the perpetrators themselves were finished’. They claim that Anantnag based Ikhwani, Azad Nabi (also known as Alpha, or Ghulam Nabi Mir), notorious for the terror he spread in the mid to late nineties, ‘bought’ the four Western hostages from Al-Faran and held them for months prior to shooting them.
In a conflict zone like Kashmir, where hidden secrets are in abundance, the revelations do come as too startling. Apprehensions to that extent had been cast for a long time. The book, however, has added evidence to a belief that was already popular in this part of the world. Quoting the Kashmir police’s crime branch squad, the two authors write that the investigators had been convinced that the Indian-controlled renegades had the control of four Westerners after Al-Faran dropped them. The authors write, "The squad reported some of its thoughts to its seniors, ‘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. Sikander has given up. Al-Faran is finished. Embarrassingly, India controls the renegades." The book also quotes a crime branch source, who followed the hostages, in custody of the STF boys and renegades, to the isolated twin villages of Mati Gawran and witnessed them being shot dead and buried in the snow on December 24, 1995.
The pattern followed is all too familiar. Security forces and their patronised gunmen have been accused of thousands of such brutalities – killings, torture and rapes. It is not just the story of foreign hostages. It is a common saga in every second home in Kashmir, some of whom rise up in resistance to seek justice and some who just sit back quietly muted by the giants of an unjust system or disgusted by the entire denial of realities and the institution of justice. The mystery of the kidnapped foreigners followed the norm, caught between the brutality of the militants and the security forces. But there is now, thanks to the book, a more concrete evidence about the shady counter insurgency war that has been fought by Indian security agencies in the last two decades, patronized by unknown remote controls in Delhi to perpetuate a cycle of lies, propaganda, fudged investigations including medical tests, sabotage, intriguing golden handshakes with militant groups, confusing and dangerous mesh of double agents, co-opting civilians in war or victimising them, pitting a section of community against another and converting people into dehumanized and brutalized hordes. All methodologies followed show a scant respect for human lives and human dignity.
The tactics are not exclusively followed by the Indian State, trying to hold on to Kashmir at a cost that is brutal and dangerous. Most establishments across the globe are fed by a similar gene that inspires the belief that demonising a potential enemy and maintaining strategic diplomatic relations are considered far more significant than ensuring safety, protection and dignity of human lives. Roy Ramm, a British investigator and expert on negotiations in hostage crisis, reveals about the Al-Faran kidnapping, that during the meeting of the diplomats and investigators of the G-4 countries, whose citizens were abducted, it seemed that the entire focus was on what impact any action would have on the relations with India, than about saving the lives of the hapless backpackers caught on the hills. And back then, neither the very lethal form of jehadi terror nor the consequent America-led War against Terror had begun.
So what really is the war against terror about? What is the war to free Kashmir of militants about? Is it to reclaim a piece of land? Is it a psychological victory through assertive maligning of militants groups and consequently the entire community? What do people, reduced to some lifeless mechanical toys that can be slayed, used or taken for granted, mean to the various key players in this war, those who are rebels against the State and those who profess faith in the law of the land that holds human dignity central to the essence of democracy? Where do they stand in this dangerously ugly ‘Game’ of fighting terror with bigger terror and wrapping up everything in lies genetically modified by brains behind this counter insurgency operation? The tactics don’t change even as terror from either sides ebbs a little – war of lies and victimization, though transforming from more physically violent means to more psychological methods – continue as ever. As, an anonymous officer of the Crime Branch Squad told the authors of the Meadow: "It is only when you are out of it that you realise what this Game is doing to the people."