Conflict in Kashmir has been back in the news recently.What is striking about recent events and seems to be a particular throw back to earlier times, is the apparent brutality with which two Indian soldiers involved were killed. One was reportedly beheaded, whilst another ‘mutilated.’ This particular detail seems to belong to an earlier time highlighted in Adrian Levy’s and Cathy Scott-Clark’s book about the kidnapping of a group of western tourists in July 1995 in Kashmir, when the full insurgency was underway between Pakistan and India over the disputed province.
The portrait that Levy and Scott-Clark paint of the 1990s insurgency in Kashmir is a brutal one: locals living in fear as groups and alliances shift around them. No one is certain who is on whose side, as idealistic Kashmiri freedom fighters are manipulated by Pakistani ISI agents and their families are punished by Indian authorities. Local warlords change sides regularly, turning on each other with ready brutality at the right price. Police and intelligence agents on the same side end up working against each other, each with a different goal in mind. And caught up in the middle of this is a group of foreign hikers, drawn by the beauty of the countryside and kept in the dark about potential danger by inept local authorities eager for the much-needed tourist revenue.
The Meadow is written in the style of a thriller, with an investigative journalist’s eye for detail. It uncovers new information, offering definitive conclusions about what happened to the unfortunate foreigners entangled in the kidnapping.
Intrepid journalists, Levy and Scott-Clark rounded up as many different contacts as they could, but patching together what happened to the hostages while they were in captivity is something that is always going to be shrouded in mystery and reserved primarily to the hostages and their captors, none of whom are able to talk now. Using interviews with locals, family members, subsequent intelligence reports, and gathering the pieces of information that the hostages managed to leave secreted with locals as they were transported around the region, the authors piece a compelling narrative together.
Drawing on a wealth of primary interviews, it tells a compelling narrative about a specific incident, while also painting a picture of a brutal conflict that, as we saw recently, has all the kindling in place to light up again.
That is where Levy and Scott-Clark jump right in, and to my mind, produce some first-rate reporting on the ambiguous nature of the Indian authorities’ response to the kidnapping. The authors managed to get a number of the key players to talk. We learn how the authorities bundled the escaped hostage, John Childs, out of Kashmir and back to America, rejecting his offer to help lead security forces back to the spot where the other backpackers were held. We learn about the leaks which arrived just in time to blow up deals for the hostages’ release. The authors also raise a question which should have occurred to reporters at the time: what were the travellers doing in the middle of such a dangerous conflict in the first place? I wish, though, that the authors had more detail on how much influence was exerted by Western governments to try to win the hostages’ release. One of the last calls by the kidnappers to the outside world before executing the hostages was to the British embassy to demand a ransom payment, although the book doesn’t get into that.
…It takes a long time for Levy and Scott-Clark to come to their conclusions, and they raise a lot more questions than they provide satisfactory answers for along the way. I’m not even entirely sure the authors were convinced themselves – their conclusion is buried by a mass of detail. In the end, that didn’t make much of a difference to my enjoyment of a meticulously researched, fast-paced book on the Kashmir hostage crisis. But I’m still looking for closure.”
Simon Denver writes: This is a detailed and compelling account of the kidnapping of six Western backpackers, including two Americans, in Kashmir in 1995 by Pakistani-backed Islamist militants. Although one hostage escaped, another was beheaded and the remaining four never found again. The authors argue that the incident paved the way for the kind of terrorist tactics and kidnappings that have now become common from Pakistan to Afghanistan to Iraq.
More controversially, their meticulous investigation concludes that Indian security forces knew where the hostages were throughout the ordeal, but declined to rescue the — and even sabotaged negotiations for their release — to prolong the adverse international publicity for Pakistan. They also argue they were finally captured by an Indian-backed mercenary group, who executed them for the same reason.
Dilip D’Souza writes: [in their] diligent and wide-ranging effort to uncover the truth about a great Indian tragedy, Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy turn up so many stones that you begin to wonder, what is life like at all, in this benighted land we call Kashmir? It astounds me that this book hasn’t yet had hyper-nationalists demanding that it be banned. For it leads, through 500 inexorable pages, to a conclusion that can only cause hyper-nationalists to froth at the mouth: that while Pakistan-supported thugs who styled themselves Al-Faran abducted six men in July 1995, while those same thugs beheaded Hans-Christian, it was men answering to the Indian police and military who ultimately took charge of the remaining hostages. It was these men who eventually shot those hostages.
By itself, this is a conclusion horrifying enough to anyone who believes in this country; horrifying enough, perhaps, to dismiss it as anti-India propaganda from “leftists” or some such. But if you dismiss it, there’s the inexorability you must deal with. Levy and Scott-Clark don’t arrive at this conclusion lightly or off the cuff. It comes at the end of their detailed recounting of the kidnapping: the negotiations, the failures, the hopes of the families, the multiple frustrations and betrayals. One theme runs through it all: the determination of Indian authorities to keep things opaque, to obfuscate, lie, delay, and paint Pakistan black.
I find it impossible to write about this book that it is “well-written” or some such phrase appropriate for a review. Though it is that, and it is meticulously researched and investigated — but those are almost laughably trivial details. Hyper-nationalists will fume at this book, but how will they plausibly explain so much that’s in here? The Meadow is overwhelming for the implications, the magnitude, of what it says about India. So call me silly, melodramatic even, but this is why I’ve always seen that sad sunlit scene outside the High Court as a metaphor. And this book, it leaves me with questions about this country’s very soul.
This riveting book reminds me of the best of western journalism, which in its heyday produced works of contemporary history, for it unravels every complex detail of a tragic and misunderstood story. The ability of journalism to produce works like these is something I had forgotten in the cacophony of sound bites and unsubstantiated opinion that characterises our reporting of Jammu and Kashmir.
Beautifully written, The Meadow deals with the kidnapping and murders of a group of foreign tourists, American, British and Norwegian, by the Al Faran militants in 1994. Their families’ painful search for them lasted for an inordinately long seven years, and was given up in 2000-01; their quest for the truth, you could say, never really ended. The Meadow is a tribute to that ordeal.
The only people to emerge untainted in the story are the victims’ families, whose search is the narrative on which the other accounts in the book are pegged. That is as it should be. As an Indian, I am truly sorry for the needless pain they had to suffer in their search; surely, this could have been avoided.
The gripping tale of the abduction and killing of five foreign tourists in the Valley in 1995, recreated by two British journalists Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark in a recently published book The Meadow, raises many questions that need answers from the Indian State. It is a heart-rending tale of deceit and treachery in which not only is the complicity of the Pakistani-sponsored militants established, but also that of the Indian State agencies.
This 500-page book drips with blood of innocent Kashmiris, caught in the crossfire of Pakistan’s designs to dismember India, and the Indian State’s brutal response, for whom the aspirations of the local populace for azadi is met with murderous intentions with no respect either for the law of the land or human rights. It is all too shocking for words.
The Kashmir of the 1990s, as recreated in the book, can leave anyone shaken to his bones, especially if he happens to be an admirer of Indian democracy and the integrity of its armed forces.
The Meadow – a compelling account of the 1995 kidnapping of six westerners in Kashmir that may have sparked the rise of Islamic terrorists. Bravura reporting. Levy and Scott-Clark — who have worked together as authors and journalists for more than a decade — are nonpareil investigators.
This book is a bravura piece of reporting, and an insight into the dark heart of modern terrorism.
A bone-chilling portrayal of militancy-torn Kashmir…unputdownable…That’s the only word befitting The Meadow, the third best-selling work of Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark. Racy from the word go, the book reads like a gripping crime thriller with one difference: Both the situation and characters are real…
A remarkably crafted investigation into the kidnapping of six foreign tourists in the Kashmir Valley in 1994, the authors bring us up close to the bone-chilling developments of the militancy-torn state, telling us of mindless blood-letting, cynical conspiracies and jihadi terror in all its macabre manifestations as well as the reckless manipulations by myriad Indian agencies involved in counter-terror operations. By the time the novel ends, readers are left confused as to
who the good guys are and who the bad…
This work of meticulous investigation, written in the style of a novel…tells us many unknown stories…The Meadow makes superb reading and the authors must be complimented for narrating a convoluted story in a manner that compels readers to finish the book at one go.
In The Meadow, investigative journalists Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark brilliantly evoke the besieged landscape of Kashmir in the 1990s. It’s not a pretty picture they draw, and it couldn’t have been easy for them to negotiate it either. But they wade in with tenacity and emerge with a meticulous narration of the tragic kidnapping, and a clear-eyed account of the Kashmir in which it was staged.
Levy and Scott-Clark deftly locate the formidable array of opponents facing the kidnappers: footsoldiers from the Crime Branch; the vast tentacles of the Intelligence apparatus; the brute muscle of the Army and paramilitary forces; and everything under the transfixed white-heat glare of the international press.
While their status as ‘foreign’ journalists has clearly opened up areas that are totally opaque—or potentially too dangerous—for local journalists in Kashmir, Levy and Scott-Clark also bring to the table almost forensic investigative skills, and a robust reputation for ferreting out the forgotten secrets of our time.
t’s possible to read The Meadow as a thriller, although it’s not a who-dunit (we know it was the Harkat); or even a why-dunit (the release of Masood Azhar). Instead, the often heartstopping tension in the narrative comes from trying to figure out how, despite being tantalisingly close to it for so many months, the men were never rescued. In teasing out the story of the kidnapping, Levy and Scott-Clark create a picture of a brooding and oppressive time, not so long ago, when Kashmir itself was held hostage. Such a chronicle has so far existed mostly in the traumatised hearts and minds of Kashmiris who lived through the terrible years of the 1990s, and it has only now begun to be alluded to in some of their recent writing. But in its unmatched access to points of view from inside the security state, in its ability to create the comfort that allows the apparatchik to proudly expose themselves, The Meadow is clearly destined to become a landmark narrative.
The authors’ own clear-eyed insight into this dystopia is almost casually scribbled in the margins of their big kidnapping story, as they note the effects of the proliferation of army, paramilitary, intelligence and police outfits, each with a different set of goals. When they recognise, in a matter of fact way, that “kidnapping of a local for money was so regular” that it “barely raised an eyebrow”; when they refer to various agencies “sponsoring sectarian hits and fomenting betrayals”; when the Inspector General of Police admits that under Governor’s Rule, “it was the spies who really governed”, we know then that The Meadow breaks a tortured silence on those years, in a way that is quietly deafening.
In the operatic scale of the book, with its twisted, byzantine subplots, the finale surely deserved Anantnag. This was not just any town in the Kashmir of the early 1990s: breaking open this doughty bastion of the armed resistance had proved to be one of the most difficult tasks before the Indian security apparatus. But finally they had, through the application of the “reckless lack of precision” of the Rashtriya Rifles, and the ruthless use of the Ikhwan. With a carte blanche to do what it took to pacify the area, they started the disciplining with strong-arm tactics, through informers, and by looting. But eventually the Rashtriya Rifles ended up enforcing their writ via a straightforward deal with the Ikhwan: cash-for-corpses.
If Srinagar, with its multiple power centres and agendas, seemed difficult and opaque, then the naked cruelties of Anantnag left little to the imagination. Hutchings, Mangan, Wells and Hasert were being moved towards this area not because it was a militant stronghold (as the media and the families were being told) but because it was not. It was run by the Ikhwan militia. It turned out that ‘Sikander’, the Kashmiri face of Al Faran, had all along been an old comrade of ‘Tiger’, the renegade whose merry band controlled the area around Warwan. Their friendship was as old as their days together in the Ikhwan-ul Muslimoon, the first militant group to surrender to the Indian Army, giving the Ikhwan their name. A second renegade commander, ‘Alpha’, also turned out to have signed a secret ceasefire pact with ‘Sikander’. Suddenly, even the Al Faran didn’t seem to be what it was.
The abduction had now entered a porous, suppurating zone, where it was no longer possible to distinguish between insurgent and counterinsurgent, and the differences between the two were papered over with a brutal criminality. It’s into this vortex of renegades, coldblooded killers, secret arrangements and enormous duplicity that the four men finally disappeared, never to emerge again. In the mountains of Pahalgam, and in the bylanes of Anantnag, Srinagar, Lahore and New Delhi, the endless human capacity for malevolence had once again been demonstrated.
With the sharp beam of its focus on the kidnapping, The Meadow shines a light on the most secret terrors of the 1990s, a decade in which Kashmir’s armed insurrection was brought to heel. This book will be read for many reasons: its publication is in itself an achievement in the exacting process of putting together the history of that tortured valley.
The Pioneer – kidnapping that changed Kashmir forever
…a must-read book, writes Ved Marwah. The book is a gripping account of the kidnappiCaravang of six foreign nationals from the hills of Pahalgam in Jammu & Kashmir in July 1995. The authors — Adrian Levy and Cathy Scot-Clark — have so far written three books, including the best-seller Deception, an account of how Pakistan got its nuclear bomb. The authors’ blow-by-blow account of the kidnapping is based on interviews of various actors in this tragic story.
The authors have exposed the glaring faultlines in the Indian state’s handling of the Kashmir issue. With no clear-cut strategy in place, the various agencies in the State tended to pull in different directions. When a security adviser to the Governor, whom the authors interviewed and who, the book says, openly displayed contempt for the Governor, Delhi needed to review its policies, strategy and selection of its team to handle the deteriorating situation in the State….This fascinating book should be read by our policymakers and the lay-reader.
If you’d care to follow this up with forensic reportage, I should mention that I haven’t read anything more terrifying than The Meadow, by investigative journalist team Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark; a narrative non-fiction book about a bunch of hapless tourists who go to Kashmir only to get kidnapped by militants—reading this will prepare you for a genuine worst-case holiday scenario
Basharat Peer writes: I stood at the market outside my ancestral home in Seer village in Kashmirs Anantnag district. Villagers had gathered, and spoke in grim voices: How could they do this? This is inhuman, unheard of. The previous morning, Pakistani militants from Harkat ul-Ansar had beheaded Hans Christian Ostro in the neighbouring village of Vael Nagbal. Ostro was a young Norwegian training as a kathakali dancer in Kerala before he headed on the fateful trek to Pahalgam.
Village women collecting firewood had found Ostros body, his head severed and the name of the Harkat front Al-Faran written on his belly with a knife. Five years into the insurgency and counter-insurgency, Kashmiris were familiar with brutality. But the manner of Ostros killing shocked us….
The Meadow, a remarkable, thorough work of investigative journalism by British journalists Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark peels off the layers of deceit, falsehoods, and manipulation to reveal the startling truth of what really happened to the hostages. After hundreds of interviews with families of the hostages, diplomats, policemen, bureaucrats, intelligence officials, and former counter-insurgents in Kashmir, the authors reveal that the hostages were not killed by Al-Faran or Harkat, but by Nabi Azad or Alpha, a dreaded counter-insurgent who operated from the mountain villages of Anantnag and worked with the anti-militancy Special Task Force (STF) of Kashmir Police, intelligence agencies, and the Rashtriya Rifles of the Indian army.
Scott-Clark and Levy show that all along, the central government and intelligence agencies knew about the whereabouts of the hostages in a remote mountain valley in Warwan. The government, meanwhile, continued telling the press, foreign diplomats and families that it knew nothing and was trying its best to find the hostages. Scott-Clark and Levy recreate the secret talks between Rajinder Tikoo, an inspector general of Kashmir police, and an Al-Faran negotiator. Following negotiations, the latter agreed to free the hostages for a mere Rs. 1 crore.
The prolonged hostage crisis served a strategic purpose: to show the western powers that Pakistan, the epicentre of terrorism, was behind the insurgency in Kashmir. Both Tikoo and the tenacious detectives of his department realised that the government did not want to save the hostages.
Hindustan Times - the banality of evil
Manisha Gangahar writes: Locating answers in Kashmir is more than an ordeal, one can’t help but get lost on the way. In fact, even asking the right questions become quite a task in the conflict zone, where words are loaded with meanings that go beyond their literal denotations. The Meadow is then a feat, for it not only asks appropriate questions but reaches out to a few answers as well.
Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark in their book, The Meadow, spell out the “why” and unravel, with little ambiguities, the case that became more of a Game for different authorities involved. The ordinary people, foreigners in this case, paid a price. And, as they maintain, the incident changed the face of modern terrorism. In Kashmir too, an unspoken law was broken. Unconventional and confronting, the book neither beats around the Kashmir politics nor reverberates the errors of history to understand and explain what happened. It hits at the incident, a crime that was organised and carried out neither to uphold anything Kashmiri nor to serve a religion. The reason was personal: “Master Alvi was desperate to secure the release of his golden child Masood Azhar.’ The Movement owed his son.” Kidnapping westerners was the only means to this end.”
The revelations are not a byproduct of pure assumptions or a scholarly reading into what exists on the surface. Rather, through the access to diaries, letters, classified police reports and secret tape recordings of Indian government negotiations, and interviews with some jihadis, Levy and Scott-Clark attempt at resolving one of the mysteries of the region. What makes the book a compelling read is the narrative that not only connects events discerningly but also doesn’t make the reader feel any gaps in the story. The book is thought provoking, piercing in parts, and at the same time it is heart-rending to know how the fates of young men from different parts of the world become bargaining chips for a struggle not their own.
London Sunday Times – pick of the summer
Ed Caesar writes: A compelling account of the group of westerners kidnapped in Kashmir in 1995 claims to reveal, at last, their grisly fate. Levy and Scott-Clark — who have worked together as authors and journalists for more than a decade — are nonpareil investigators. They have spoken to everyone, read everything, tracked every lead.
As a result, their account is comprehensive and laced with telling detail. Moreover, their work in the field lends the book moral weight. If they are discussing a character — be it a Pakistani jihadi, an Indian policeman or a distraught English parent — you can be sure they know where that person went to school.
The relationship between the kidnappers’ negotiator, Jehangir, and the Indian police negotiator, IG Rajinder Tikoo, is thrilling — from a glacial beginning, it warmed to something like intimacy, before disintegrating. This book is a bravura piece of reporting, and an insight into the dark heart of modern terrorism.
Most explosively of all, though, the authors claim that far from being utterly clueless, the security forces identify the hostages’ exact location early on, but choose not to act simply to prolong the adverse international publicity for Pakistan, which is fingered as having backed the plot. They further allege that for the same reasons, a rogue Indian police unit then had the hostages killed.
While such a theory may seem far-fetched, the level of research put in by authors Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark, who both covered the kidnapping as foreign correspondents in India, lend it plausibility. The passage of time has helped loosen tongues, and an impressive cast helps tell the story, from the whisky-drinking Indian policeman who acts as chief negotiator, through to his Scotland Yard counterpart, Roy Ramm, who feels the posh mandarins in the Foreign Office put far too much faith in the Indians. It also lays bare the pain for the families of the four missing men. When Paul Wells’s father, Bob, comes to Kashmir looking for answers, an Indian police chief shows him a picture of a decomposing head which he insists is his son’s, only for DNA tests to prove it to be that of an unidentified local.
Azhar was eventually freed in exchange for 178 Indian Airlines passengers whose jet was hijacked and flown to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan in 1999. His followers are later said to have trained two of the July 7 bombers, and today he continues to cyber-sermonise via YouTube, outlasting bin Laden et al. The key to a long life in jihadism, it seems, is to preach, not practise.
Jonathan Mirsky writes: The authors of this book have attempted a difficult thing: to ‘write about something that could never be known’. Here is a terrific and scary story about a group of American, British and European trekkers kidnapped by jihadists in Kashmir in July 1995 and slaughtered in December. Their wives were allowed to go free, and one of the men escaped. Another was decapitated. Four were reportedly, but only reportedly, shot dead. At the book’s core, the authors remark, ‘is an event that only one person survived’.
The Meadow is ‘gripping’, a ‘frightening and depressing narrative’ penned by ‘two experienced foreign correspondents’. Inside the 500-odd pages they pack ‘plenty of oomph and clever analysis’.
As the book makes shockingly plain, it suited India and Pakistan far more for the trusting westerners — who had been encouraged by opportunist Kashmiris and lured by kidnappers into their ill-fated and wholly inadvisable trek — not to be freed. Each country could blame the other. Long after the hostages were killed — their graves have never been found — the Indians freed Masood; unlike Osama and other important jihadists mentioned in the book, he remains at large.Even without the authors’ big claim, therefore, their immediate subject itself is sufficiently gripping.
The kidnapping and its significance are well described, and menace hangs over the story from the moment the trekkers start their ascent through delightful scenery up towards the Meadow, a famous beauty spot. Although kidnappings of foreigners had already occurred, and Kashmir was aflame with the murders of thousands, greedy local officials, tour guides and drivers assured the eager trekkers that all was well.
Aditya Sinha writes of a ‘racy and absorbing book’.
I had friends at the IB’s Kashmir group, and while I read The Meadow I felt deep shame at not having come close to the real story. Not that any of them would have disclosed it — such operations never get talked about. And in retrospect, it is no wonder none ever encouraged me to go to Kashmir and follow the story (in those days, I would hop onto a Delhi-Srinagar flight at the drop of a hat). The funny thing is that I often asked my IB friends for the story of one secret operation or another that I would try and turn into a John Le Carré type novel. This kidnapping would have been perfect, but they never did. India has still not mastered the art of revealing its intelligence secrets as heroic tales of propaganda in the stunning way that the Americans do.
It makes you wonder: do journalists, who are considered among the more informed members of our society, really know what is going on? (At least we’re better than academicians.) Some journalists may seem to thrive on conspiracy paranoia, but then why are there so many unexplained events in our public life? What happened, for instance, to those of Robert Vadra’s family members who died early deaths? Perhaps the old saying is true: paranoia is just a state of heightened consciousness. Maybe journalists don’t get the whole picture, but we get enough of a glimpse to know that something is rotten at the core of reality.
That rot is just this: power is ruthless, and the government of India is no less ruthless than other governments, be they Chinese, Israeli, Russian or American. And perhaps all we journalists do is serve as a distraction so that citizens, oblivious to the darkness that is perpetrated in their name, go about their happy little lives.
Literary Review – Hostages to Fortune
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, where upon 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 Scott-Clark have pieced together a multi-stranded narrative of the events that triggered the seizure, the military and police response, and 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 that remained unsolved for seventeen years.
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.
Royaz Wani writes, After four years of dedicated research in New Delhi, Kashmir, Pakistan and the “so-called G4 countries — Britain, the USA, Norway and Germany”, investigative journalists Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark conclude that the four westerners were killed by forces loyal to the Indian Army.
The book’s baffling denouement rationalises itself as a part of the ongoing “Game” in Kashmir. But its strength lies in the long, inexorable build-up to this finale that runs the full gamut of the state’s conflict, and the unsparing operation that has, in two decades, claimed nearly 70,000 lives. The game continues still…
The Meadow makes a crucial departure from other Kashmir narratives. There is no all-encompassing frame to comprehend the dizzying diversity of violence, its contentious historical explanation and contemporary geopolitics. It is a refreshing effort to nuance the debate with the myriad narratives that clash, overlap and merge into a frightful, muddled reality. The investigation reveals the kidnapping as a treacherous play of the conflict. Hidden in dark recesses, identities of victims and perpetrators fuse. The conclusions turn on their head conventional wisdom and the received truth of many well-documented, high-profile events.
The Meadow shines a bright torch on the cross-border sources of the violence — Pakistan’s Binori town and Afghanistan’s Yawar camp, staging posts of Afghan jihad through the 1980s… The authors’ Kashmir is not a simple moral world. Dominant discourse no longer dictates conventional roles for perpetrators and victims.
On the Valley’s chessboard, each pawn can become a king and every square is a shade of grey.
Arifa Akbar writes, Barack Obama has pledged to “finish the job” and bring an end to combat in Afghanistan on the first anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death. But the authors of this book – a veteran investigative reporting duo – suggest that the job is unfinished on the part of the rebels who started a mission of international terror from one corner of the Kashmir hills 17 years ago. Bin Laden may be buried deep beneath the sea, but Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark point out that Masood Azhar, the Pakistani mujahedin leader around whom the central events of this book revolve, is still out there, preaching on YouTube.
The Meadow focuses 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. The authors argue that these militants sowed the seeds of modern terror.
The book features parallel stories: Azhar’s conversion to militancy, and the lives of the backpackers who, in July 1995, trekked to the Himalayan spot called the “meadow” where they were taken. One hostage (Hans Christian Ostro) was beheaded. Four are missing to this day.
We are given the back-story of each hostage and a blow-by-blow account of the kidnap. Every mindset is explored, from the Indian negotiators to the rebels. One American prisoner escaped, and from him we get the sense that the authorities just wanted him to “shut up”. A resolution never came for the hostages, though a prison release for Azhar was secured when an Indian airplane was hijacked. A question-mark hangs over why the hostages were let down, and by whom.
It is a gripping human story. The in-depth research and journalistic colour mean that even Azhar becomes larger than life. If the story could have been as powerful in shorter form, or might have offered a broader analysis of the region and of terrorism to justify its length, this is to quibble. The Meadow is as long as it is fascinating, minutely re-enacting a horrifying moment that was to send out ripples for decades to come.