Focusing on the 1995 kidnappings
By Viju Cherian
02nd June 2012 10:12 PM
In their latest investigative book, The Meadow, British journalists Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark focus on one defining moment: when Kashmiri militants took five Western hostages and attempted to use them as bargaining chips for securing the release of Pakistani prisoners — including Azhar — from the Indian authorities in their battle for Kashmir. Excerpts from an interview with Viju Cherian:
What made you probe the 1995 kidnappings?
We have been working in Kashmir (and across South Asia) as writers and foreign correspondents, for The Sunday Times and then The Guardian since the era of the kidnappings. We covered Pakistan’s intervention, its backing of the armed struggle and its subtler steering of the political scene, as well as its increasing use of jihadi fronts. We also covered massacres and killings perpetrated by militants, Kashmiri jihadis, foreign fighters, and Indian soldiers and spies.
After 2005 when the earthquake opened up vast areas of the Valley, rose the first accounts of unmarked and mass graves. By 2008, it became clear that the two issues were likely inter-related, leading to the first credible reports on the missing and the unlawfully buried. A sea change also took place within the Indian establishment where former and serving police and agents began to open up. For some the Al Faran case represented justice delayed, for others, justice denied, and for another faction it was a myth that needed to be dispelled. People we tracked down said they had been sitting guiltily on secrets for 16 years.
Only six people were directly affected in this case, and many tens of thousands have been victims of the Kashmir crisis. Why pay undue attention to these six only? We sensed that the numbers were not the story and that through this one small case of six trekkers who were abducted a reader could see much of the entire Kashmir imbroglio.
What is the essence of the book?
The crux of the book is that Pakistan enabled an act of terror, which India recognised as a useful tool to expose its neighbour’s proclivity, at a time when the West was reticent to get involved, and perceived Kashmir as a human rights issue. Rather than solve the crime, a clique within intelligence and the army made it run long so as to eke out maximum pain for Pakistan, fulfilling a key plank of the Rao doctrine, to frame Pakistan as a sponsor of terror.
How much time and work did it involve?
We spent several years on this, dipping also into 18 years of prior work in the region that has aided us in developing really good contacts on both sides. We matched interviews, findings as many eyewitnesses or versions, until we could find commonalities. It took a very long time to patch these accounts together and build a credible narrative, balancing the different viewpoints.
What problems did you encounter during your investigations?
Finding the truth in Kashmir is extraordinarily difficult. Even finding one version of a name can be difficult, be it a village, street or family. We were also under pressure from all sources not to reveal their identities. A project of this size is also exhausting, but we pressed on, mindful of that wonderful William Gladstone quote used in the formal submission to the State Human Rights Commission in Kashmir last year when it gave the go-ahead to probe unmarked graves: “Show me the manner in which a nation cares for its dead and I will measure with mathematical exactness, the tender mercy of its people, their respect for the law of the land, and their loyalty to high ideals.”
How do you compare India’s response to the 1995 hostage crisis with the IA hijacking in 1999?
In Kashmir, in 1995, the government was suspended. Politics with its eye on the constituency vote was in abeyance. Governor’s Rule was in place. Politicians were sidelined as were seasoned bureaucrats. The army and intel gave advice and acted on their own advice with no oversight.
In 1999 the politicians were in charge, and were deaf to entreaties by the IB and RAW, some of who—paid as they are to think the unthinkable—advised the politicians to sacrifice all of the passengers on the jet, as “that many people die every month in India”.
As a matter of fact, kidnappings in Kashmir had been dealt with successfully by the police. There was a history of compromise and prisoner releases. But not with the Al Faran case, which also made it worth looking at again. Why had it failed so dismally? Was it set up to fail, or too hard to crack? That was another motivation to look at the story.
Some of those referred by you have denied meeting you. Your comment.
We have tapes and/or transcripts, long hand and short hand for every meeting – some of them done illicitly as insurance. But we have not officially said who the principal sources are, as we promised not to.
We are researching and writing a new book on the Mumbai attacks, looking at the backdrop to them, accessing brand new source material in Pakistan and the US. We are reconstructing the raids as well retelling stories of the ordinary heroes.
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