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Hostages to Fortune The Meadow: Kashmir 1995 – Where the Terror Began
By Adrian Levy & Cathy Scott-Clark
(HarperPress 510pp £16.99)
On 4 July 1995, a gang of armed men abducted four Western backpackers from a campsite in Kashmir known as ‘the Meadow’. One of the hostages soon escaped, whereupon the gang abducted two more trekkers. Of these five prisoners, one was later found beheaded; the others are still missing.
Using an enormous range of first-hand testimony, Adrian Levy and Cathy ScottClark have pieced together a multi-stranded narrative of the events that triggered the seizure, the military and police response, the privations endured by the hostages, the abortive negotiations with the kidnappers, the impact on the hostages’ families, and the media circus that accompanied the whole affair. The Meadow also provides a definitive end to the story, which has remained unresolved for seventeen years.
While the timeline of the hostage drama drives the book forward, the authors are careful to place developments in context within the long-running insurgency in Kashmir, explaining how Indian security forces were ranged against several types of armed militants, including local Kashmiri separatists and various factions of foreign mujaheddin, often funded by or controlled from Pakistan. It was one of these ‘guest’ jihadi outfits that snatched the Westerners. The book then explains the apparent paralysis of the Indian authorities during the abduction by showing how strategic imperatives – known locally in Kashmir as ‘the Game’ – dictated that it was in the interests of the Indian government to let the crisis ‘run long’; the longer it went on, the worse Pakistan was made to look. More coldly, the same mindset also recognised that once a ‘moral advantage’ had been gained, it was not in India’s interests to relinquish it.
Effectively, Levy and Scott-Clark accuse the Indian authorities of making no attempt to resolve the crisis, despite knowing exactly where the hostages were from a very early stage, and despite the willingness of the increasingly frustrated kidnappers, who called themselves al Faran, to abandon all their original demands and take a modest cash sum instead.
Most chilling of all is the book’s revelation that, after five months, al Faran passed on the hostages to another insurgent group, who had been ‘turned’ the previous year and were now working for the Indians. By this point the Game also dictated that it was in no one’s interests to release the dishevelled foreigners: the permanent value of their disappearance was more helpful to India’s cause than their release by merciful captors, or even their rescue by brave Indians. The miserable, frozen hostages may also have seen and heard too much by then, and they were shot by their guards on 23 December 1995.
The book relies on a great deal of circumstance and inference to support this version of events. For example, the where, when and how of the hostages’ death come from just one informant. The authors are generally much stronger on accusations about ‘somebody, somewhere’ than they are on solid proof, though this is not unsurprising within Kashmir’s chaotic world of ‘traitors, proxies and informers’, where everything is deniable. What gives the book a compelling authority, however, is that its conclusions are corroborated from within the Indian establishment itself – from the Jammu and Kashmir
Read online: www.literaryreview.co.uk police’s own files, amplified by the suspicions of several senior officers central to the drama, who have contributed interviews to the book. What we have here is not anti-Indian chowk chatter; it is a meticulous, cold-case investigation based on a mountain of official paperwork, revitalised by a key layer of new testimony. Levy and Scott-Clark have dared to follow the pitiless logic of a very dirty war, and have shown where it can lead.
As an investigation The Meadow is detailed and focused; as a book, though, it is a tad confused about itself, repeatedly mixing banal and serious material. Is it hard reportage to be read as history, or an extended Sunday supplement piece about the impact of terrorism on its otherwise unremarkable victims? It even boasts, as announced on its cover, to have traced the beginnings of ‘modern terrorism’ to events in the Meadow that summer. This is scarcely tenable, and the book spends little effort trying to justify the claim, apart from listing the subsequent crimes of Masood Azhar, the Pakistani Islamist radical whose freedom the hostage takers tried unsuccessfully to secure.
Furthermore, as if unaware of its own subtitle, the book thoroughly chronicles two previous (also unsuccessful) attempts by the parent group behind al Faran to spring Masood Azhar by kidnapping Westerners. The beheading of one of the backpackers in 1995 certainly marked a new low in ‘religious’ terrorism, but the cover seems to ignore the authors’ central finding – namely that it was a maverick militia, nominally aligned with India, that actually killed the other four hostages. In fact The Meadow has very little to say about terrorism itself, and is much sharper about the moral corruption of nation-states involved both in fighting it as a matter of self-preservation and in promoting it to further national interests.
The Meadow is a gripping and often emotional read: the improvised notes secretly dropped by the hostages are heartbreaking, both in their desperate tone and in their ultimate futility. Few were read at the time by anyone able to understand them. Worse, no one ever came to rescue their unfortunate authors. To order this book for £13.59, see the Literary Review bookshop on page 9
Literary Review | a p r i l 2 0 1 2 10 f o r e i g n p a r t s j on at h a n m i r s k y
Copycats & Bamboozles hina in Ten Words
By Yu Hua (Translated by Allan H Barr) (Duckworth Overlook 225pp £16.99)
Yu Hua, an author new to me, has written a great deal, sells well in China, and has a sizeable international reputation. This is his first non-fiction work translated – and very nimbly, too, by Allan H Barr – into English. Straightaway, Yu says, ‘when in this book I write of China’s pain, I am registering my pain too, because China’s pain is mine’. It astounds me that he has not already joined Nobel Peace Prize-winner Liu Xiaobo and a growing number of other outspoken intellectuals behind bars.
Readers new to China will find this a gripping introduction to the country, one which clashes on every page with the refrain that China is the new superpower before which all must bend the knee. The essays are based on ten words, such as ‘People’, ‘Leader’, ‘Writing’, ‘Revolution’, and ‘Bamboozle’. Each one is aimed at some aspect of Chinese corruption and disillusion. There is a constant allegation that the horrors of the Cultural Revolution are mirrored in China today. If true, this is terrifying in a way that champions of China will hate. And it is a daring claim: in 1982 the Communist Party proclaimed that the Cultural Revolution was the ‘greatest catastrophe’ to afflict China since the founding of the new state in 1949, and even laid the blame at the feet of Mao Zedong.
I can imagine the narrowed eyes of the censor when, in ‘People’, he reads about the protests in Tiananmen Square from April to June 1989. Even today, merely to mention online this ‘counterrevolutionary incident’, as it is officially dismissed, can prompt a knock on the door. Yu’s description is exactly as I remember the event:
Beijing in the spring of 1989 was anarchist heaven. The police suddenly disappeared from the streets, and students and locals took on police duties in their place. It was a Beijing we are unlikely to see again.
A common purpose and shared aspirations put a police-free city in perfect order … Beijing then was a city where, you could say, ‘all men are brothers’. By October, when Yu returned to the capital, the previous passions had been ‘replaced by a passion for getting rich’. The people – workers, scholars, peasants, soldiers and so on – had given way to ‘netizens, stock traders, fund holders, celebrity fans, laid-off workers, migrant laborers’. And how quickly the regime manipulated education so that young people, Yu notes, recall Tiananmen only as ‘a lot of people in the streets’.
His memories of Mao during the Cultural Revolution, in ‘Leader’, include not being able to say, ‘the sun went down’, because that would insult Mao, who had to be hailed as ‘the bright red sun in our hearts’. Only ‘it’s getting dark’ would do. There has been a new ‘miracle’, Yu says: it is economic, and just as under Mao there were consequences, today there is ‘environmental degradation, moral collapse, the polarization of rich and poor, pervasive corruption … so intense is the competition and so unbearable the pressure that, for many Chinese, survival is like war itself.’
The chapter ‘Revolution’ includes Yu’s memories of the steel-making frenzies intended to demonstrate that the makers were real revolutionaries, whether or not the steel was needed or indeed any good. Today,
that same type of development keeps rearing its head in our economic life. One sees signs of it in the frenzy to construct airports, harbors, highways … impractical, extravagant, and duplicate initiatives are common, and they are pursued as vigorously as a revolutionary campaign … Behind all the glorious statistics in China today, crises tend to lurk. My two favourite chapters, ‘Copycat’ and ‘Bamboozle’, underline the fact that anything in China can be knocked off. Any product, be it electronics, instant noodles, milk, medicines, cell phones or clothes, can be replicated, faked and labelled as real.
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