By Peerzada Arshad Hamid
A Srinagar based human rights group has requested the region’s State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) to investigate the circumstances surrounding the kidnapping and subsequent killing of four western tourists by a militant group in 1995 in Indian-controlled Kashmir.
The request came after a recent book by two investigative journalists claimed the four hostages were retrieved by a group of Indian army backed counter insurgent group and subsequently killed.
The journalists Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark in their book “The Meadow: Kashmir 1995 — Where the Terror Began” claim their investigations are based on the interviews with police officials then investigating the case. The book was released on March 29 in England.
The Police department’s Crime Branch had closed the case terming it as “untraced”. However the book mentions a secret report detailing the circumstances of the kidnapping and killings.
The rights body International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-administered Kashmir (IPTK) and Association of Parents of Disappeared (APDP) has asked SHRC to direct Government to make the report public. “As a part of the ongoing work on the issue of nameless and unmarked graves in Indian- controlled Kashmir, we request SHRC that the case of the four kidnapped persons be considered,” said Khuram Parvez, member IPTK.
On July 4, 1995 during a trekking expedition at tourist destination Phalgam, four foreigners – Don Hutchings of USA, Keith Mangan of England, Paul Wells of England and John Childs of USA were kidnapped by a lesser known militant group Al-Faran, believed to be an offshoot of Harkat-ul-Ansar.
On July 8, 1995 two more trekkers Dirk Hasert of Germany and Hans Christian Ostro of Norway were kidnapped from the same area. However, the fate of four tourists remained a mystery.
Childs escaped on July 8, 1995 and Ostro’s beheaded body was found on Aug. 13, 1995 in the Shael Dar forest of Anantnag District.
The IPTK sought investigation into why after the first kidnappings in July 1995 authorities made no attempt to dissuade foreign and local trekkers from visiting Phalgam to prevent second kidnapping in the same month.
The western tourists had been abducted by Al-Faran to force the government to free 21 prisoners including Masood Azhar, the founder of Pakistan based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed. Azhar was later freed by the Government of India in exchange of a hijacked Indian Airlines plane from Kathmandu in 1999.
According to the book, after the murder of Ostro, Al-Faran was ready to strike a monetary deal to free the hostages and might have been released for 396,859 U.S. dollars. However, the authors claim the deal was deliberately sabotaged. “It appeared 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,” the IPTK quoting the book in its application to commission writes.
“Ghulam Nabi Mir alias Alpha (locally called Naba Azad), a militiaman connected to State agencies from Anantnag District, had signed a secret ceasefire agreement with main abductor Javid Ahmed Bhat,” the application mentions. “The four kidnapped persons were killed in the remote twin villages of Mati and Gawran villages on December 1995. Their bodies were buried in a hole.”
The book also claims that a western female trekker had approached the Indian army camp in Pahalgam to say she had witnessed the kidnapping of Dirk Hasert. “Instead of assisting her, a Major of the Indian army sexually assaulted her,” mentions the book.
The IPTK has also sought investigation against then Inspector General of Kashmir Zone, P S Gill, and then Superintendent of Police of Anantnag, Ashkoor Wani to inquire into their role in the alleged manipulation of the DNA tests of one of the hostages.
An official at SHRC said they have received the application on Friday and clubbed it with unmarked graves case. “The case has been listed for hearing before the division bench of the Commission on April 17,” the official said.