"As we were going up the mountains, we saw lots of other trekking parties, and it seemed safe. It was only after this horrible thing happened we were told about the two British tourists who'd been kidnapped last year from this same spot," said Mrs Mangan.
A tanned woman in her early thirties, Mrs Mangan smoked one cigarette after another and sat huddled on the deck of her houseboat hotel in Srinagar, the capital of Indian-administered Kashmir, waiting for news of her husband. The couple live in Middlesbrough.
Pacing around the Holiday Inn houseboat with her was Catherine Moseley, whose companion, Londoner Paul Wells, was also abducted by the guerrillas, along with two Americans.
The news so far is not good. The four captives are being held by a Kashmiri secessionist group calling itself Al-Faran. Government officials said they had received a message from the group, assuring them that the hostages had not been harmed, but the authorities are unlikely to agree to the militants' demands for the release of 21 top secessionist militant commanders held in Indian jails. And, despite promises by Indian officials on Thursday that a "massive search" for the hostages was under way, witnesses in Pahalgam district, where they disappeared, described the hunt yesterday as just "a few policemen with walking sticks going up into the mountains to talk to shepherds".
Many Kashmiri secessionist groups have condemned the kidnapping as un-Islamic, but it is doubtful that the captors can be persuaded to set the hostages free without some gain. For the past six years, Kashmiri Muslim militants have been waging a secessionist war against Indian rule. Dozens of Kashmir guerrilla groups are split between those who want independence and those who prefer union with Pakistan. Al-Faran is thought to be pro- Pakistani.
Intelligence sources tie the kidnapping to a visit made to Kashmir recently by the US ambassador, Frank Wisner, whom the militants saw as pro-Indian. As the hostages were being led away at gunpoint up into the mountains, their chief gave Mrs Mangan a list of Al-Faran's demands.
British and US diplomats rushed to Srinagar to help in securing the foreigners' release. When two Britons were kidnapped in Kashmir last year, the Foreign Office was about to put pressure on their abductors through Pakistan's Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, whose government has influence over the militant groups. The three trekkers released so far by the gunmen are considering an appeal through leaders of the Kashmiri secessionist movement for the hostages' release. Mrs Managan and Ms Moseley are worried that if the Indian army launches its "massive search",their
loved ones could be killed. The chances of a confrontation between the gunmen and the army may increase over the next few weeks. Indian troops will pour into the Pahalgam district to secure a pilgrimage route for tens of thousands of Hindus who will arrive next month. The army's to
p priority will be to guard the Hindu procession from being ambushed by Muslim gunmen, even if such precautions might jeopardise negotiations to free the tourists. In the meantime, the agent at the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Bureau is still encouraging foreigners to come to Kashmir. "No problem. You can go anywhere. Go trekking in Pahalgam. Very beautiful. Good exercise," the agent enthused.Reuse content