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
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
voices
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
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

KS1 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Supply Teacher re...

KS2 Teaching Supply Wakefield

£140 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

Year 1/2 Teacher

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

Primary Teachers Needed for Supply in Wakefield

£140 - £160 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1&2 Supply Te...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam