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HVK Archives: Release from the jaws of death (Part III of IV)

Release from the jaws of death (Part III of IV) - The Sunday Observer

Kim Housego ()
31 August -

Title: Release from the jaws of death (Hostage in Kashmir - Part III of IV)
Author: Kim Housego
Publication: The Sunday Observer
Date: August 31 - September 6, 1997

Kim Housego says the Al-Faran hostages could have been freed. The third of
his four-part account.

It was in Anantnag that David and I had been released, on 23 June 1994. Two
days earlier, large crowds had taken to the streets, angrily protesting
against the murder of Dr Qazi Nissar, the mirwaiz (religious leader) of
south Kashmir. He had been a key figure in the negotiations for our
release. David and I did not know it at the time, but he had put himself
at risk as a secret intermediary between the Harkat-ul-Ansar and my father.
As a moderate political leader, he felt obliged to arrange for my father
to meet the HuA. Three days later he was murdered.

On the night before our release, we were held in a small, decrepit room in
the back streets of Anantnag. Heavy curtains were drawn across the window.
Around midnight I was called ,in alone to another room where two senior HuA
commanders sat on the floor. Their faces were fully masked and their
revolvers lay beside them. It was the first time that our captors had
hidden their faces.

The interrogator had fiery green eyes and spoke fluent English. He asked
for my name and address, and then said, "What kind of books do you mod?
Spy stories? Is it not possible that the Indian Army would be training
foreigners to come and spy on us?"

I replied that I did not read spy stories and that I did not know.

"Why do you believe that you were kidnapped? Did they steal from you?"

I replied, "We were told that they wanted us to help in releasing their
commanders. They took some of our clothes and watches at the beginning, but
these were later returned to us." My voice was trembling badly. I tried to
avoid saying anything that could be used against me. But my interrogator
was relentless.

"Under our law, if a member of our group is found guilty of stealing, he
will have his right hand cut off. We need to hold you for a while longer so
that we can have an internal investigation. You were never kidnapped, you
are being detained because you are suspected of spying. How does your
country deal with spies? Anyway, do you really believe you Are more
valuable than our commanders, hain ?"

It lasted for two hours. Then David went in and was questioned for another
couple of hours. Without David, his strength and level-headedness, I would
certainly not have come out of the ordeal unscathed. The next morning, when
they brought us new clothes, David jokingly remarked, "Why would they buy
us new clothes if they are going to shoot us?". The interrogation was part
of a carefully planned manoeuvre - a face-saving device - that prepared the
way for our release. The HuA sought to condemn us before public opinion as
spies. They also wished to portray the stealing of our property as a
misunderstanding over which they were now instituting an internal

The following morning' as part of their manoeuvre, they organized a press
conference in an abandoned factory on the outskirts of the town, the
success of which would determine our release. The HuA told us to deny that
we had ever been kidnapped. We were also told to express sympathy for the
group and for the cause they were fighting for.

It was a dangerous and tense moment. Anything we said that offended the HuA
could give them cause to hold us longer. So we told the press what the HuA
wanted to hear - much of it lies. They freed us and gave us souvenirs -
including a clock which compared the ,Indian forces to the Nazis. The
inscription on the timepiece read: "Teacher - Hitler, Pupils - Indian
Occupational Forces. With best wishes to Kim Housego from Harkat-ul-Ansar

Arriving back in Anantnag last November, I met Mohammed Amin Shah, the
former superintendent of police who had been an important player in
negotiations for my release. He believed that our kidnapping was
spontaneous, not a premeditated act on the orders of the HuA's high command
in Pakistan. But the HuA on this occasion was completely unprepared for the
backlash, in particular the widespread public condemnation abetted by the
press campaign launched by my father.

This isolated the group from its allies in Pakistan as well as other
militant groups and lost them sympathy among the Kashmiris. It also
increased pressure on Indian and Western governments to push for a
release.... By contrast, the relatives of the four hostages still held in
Kashmir did not seek wide press coverage for their cause until a year after
the kidnapping.

Back in the dark, cold and dusty control room of the Anantnag police
headquarters, preparations were being made to escort us to Pahalgam, a
three-hour walk from the village of Aru where our kidnapping had occurred
two years earlier. The situation turned comic when it emerged that the
officer on duty was baffled who I was. Why was I so young? If I was a
journalist why did I need such heavily armed security? Some were convinced
I was a British secret envoy. To add to the confusion, my name had been
left at the control room as "Kim Hostage".

The road was in a terrible condition. It was now winter and unrecognizable
as the road we had taken two years earlier. The security escort left me
feeling embarrassed, and nervous that the convoy might be attacked. Not for
the first time, I found myself asking what the hell I was doing there.

Pahalgam was a ghost town. Wooden planks were nailed over the doors of
most homes, hotel signboards were broken, and the streets were deserted. I
was looking for the pony-men who had accompanied us on our fateful trek, or
for anybody else who had been present at the time of the kidnapping. None
came forward.

On my return to Srinagar, I went to the Criminal Investigation Department,
the agency co-ordinating inquiries into abductions. In contrast to my
apparently unplanned seizure, the CID believed the kidnapping of the
current hostages was. planned down to the last detail. They thought some of
those involved in my case were also involved in the current kidnapping.
This includes the HuA Anantnag district commander. He recently
accidentally killed himself when testing some explosives.

The CID believes Hans Ostro was killed because he had "created trouble and
tried to escape several times". According to the testimony of villagers in
whose houses the militants had stayed, the kidnappers regularly argued with
Ostro, who apparently refused to co-operate, unlike the others. He had been
separated two weeks before his death from the other hostages by four
militants, including their "hot-headed" chief, Abdul Hamid Turki, and later
killed in a forest near Anantnag, far from where the others were being held.

According to one Western intelligence agency, the killing was not
premeditated. Those who carried it out were criticized by other members of
the group for the brutal and "irresponsible" act. The fact that there have
been no other beheadings suggests that Ostro's murder .was an isolated
event. According to the same agency, Pakistan angrily reprimanded the
Harkat at this point.

(to be concluded)
(Courtesy: Kashmir Times)

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