US pressure on Bhutto 'saved Kashmir hostages'

TIM McGIRK

New Delhi

Intense, last-minute pressure by the White House on the Pakistani premier, Benazir Bhutto, managed to save four Western hostages, including two Britons, held in the Himalayas from being killed on Sunday by Kashmiri kidnappers.

All hope for the hostages - Britons Keith Mangan, 33, of Tooting, and Paul Wells, 23, of Nottingham, along with an American and a German - faded on Sunday when Indian intelligence picked up a radio command from Al-Faran rebel leaders, believed to be across the border in Pakistan, ordering the kidnappers to execute their captives and escape over the Himalayas, authorities in Srinagar said.

In the radio message, Al-Faran's commanders ordered the kidnappers not to kill the hostages until they heard a pre-arranged signal, according to Indian officials and other reliable sources. That was to be an Al-Faran communique aired by the BBC and Voice of America in which they vowed to execute their captives by 6am on Monday morning because of the Indian government's "stubborness" during negotiations.

Sure enough, a messenger from Al-Faran late on Sunday dropped off copies of the kidnapper's communique at the offices of Kashmiri journalists. Within minutes, and thankfully before either the BBC or the VOA could broadcast the code to kill, a caller from Al-Faran demanded that the journalists withdraw the communique, and so the murder of the four hostages was narrowly averted. An Indian official said, "the radio message was definitely a signal to kill them and run".

What caused Al-Faran to back down was "intense diplomatic pressure" put on Ms Bhutto. It also may have helped that the Kashmir state governor, General Krishna Rao, several hours after the radio intercept, publicly denied reports Indian was planning to mount a rescue raid on the rebel kidnappers.

Indian sources close to negotiations claim that this "intense diplomatic pressure" took the form a direct telephone call from the White House to Ms Bhutto. Although diplomatic sources in Washington confirmed yesterday that intelligence operatives had learnt of the existence of the message ordering the executions, the White House denied that President Clinton, who is on holiday, had called Ms Bhutto.

Officially, Pakistan has condemned the kidnappings and Al-Faran's execution of a Norwegian hostage. But the Americans reportedly urged the Pakistani premier to plead for the hostages lives through a close political contact of hers, Maulana Fazhul Rehman.

A fundamentalist Muslim clergyman and leader of the Jamat-ulema-Islami party, Maulana Rehman is known to have close ties with Kashmiri separatist groups, including Harakat-ul-Ansar. In New Delhi and Srinagar it is thought that Al-Faran may be a splinter group of Harakat-ul-Ansar. An Indian official said: "It was a direct consequence of pressure put on Benazir Bhutto that the hostages were saved."

Meanwhile, officials in London and in Washington were frantically trying to stop the story from being aired. A VOA correspondent said: "We were getting calls from the Assistant Secretary of State telling us not to run a story from Kashmir we'd never even heard about."

On Monday officials in Srinagar were told by a reliable go-between that the hostages were still alive. The crisis had past. In Srinagar yesterday, an Indian government spokesman said, "We believe the hostages are safe. We now are in constant touch with Al-Faran on the phone and through other means."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Richard Norris in GQ
mediaGQ features photo shoot with man who underwent full face transplant
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Your picture is everything in the shallow world of online dating
i100
News
The Swiss Re tower or 'Gherkin' was at one time the UK’s most expensive office when German bank IVG and private equity firm Evans Randall bought it
news
Life and Style
Attractive women on the Internet: not a myth
techOkCupid boasts about Facebook-style experiments on users
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Reconciliation Analyst

£200 - £250 per day: Orgtel: Reconciliation Analyst Gloucestershire

Soutions Architect TOGAF - Reading

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Excellent Corporate Benefits: Progressive Recruitm...

CAD Design Engineer

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Progressive Recruitment: CAD Design Do you have a...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on