''What kind of books do you read? Spy stories?'' asked my masked interrogator. ''You are being detained because you are suspected of spying. How does your country deal with spies?''
Of course, it was all untrue. I was simply a British teen-ager on vacation, and the men who'd kidnapped me knew that perfectly well. They were just trying to terrify me and get me to break down.
It was the fanaticism of my abductors that scared me most. Anything was justified in the name of jihad, or holy war, and their blind obedience seemed to make them capable of anything. They displayed little fear of dying.
Only a few of the 22 armed fighters who seized me and my parents as we trekked through an isolated valley in Indian-controlled Kashmir showed any sign of hesitation or of compassion.
The militants separated us, and put me in a small house with another kidnapped Briton, 36-year-old David Mackie. Then they left my parents behind, along with a crumpled note demanding that India free three of their top commanders.
As they led me and David away, I felt the butt of a Kalashnikov in my back.
''We are Islamic fundamentalists, and you are our guests -- our guns are for the Indian army,'' said Rashid, an ethnic Pashtun from the Pakistan-Afghan borderlands who bore scars from the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan.
I was frozen -- shivering from cold and fear -- and I could not make out their faces in the blackness of the night. Rashid's calling us ''guests'' provided little comfort.
We walked all night, stumbling over rocks on steep mountain paths, our legs soaked from wading across icy rivers.
They had stolen all our jackets and sweaters and Rashid was wearing my father's boots. I cried when I first saw the familiar footprints in the mud.
My kidnappers, I later learned, were members of Harkat-ul-Ansar, a group known for its ruthlessness and its resources. The group, which later renamed itself Harkat-ul-Mujahedeen, was branded a terrorist organization in 1997 by the United States because of its links with Osama bin Laden.
Some of my abductors spoke of meeting each other in Khost, a place in Afghanistan that meant nothing to me then but I now know as the site of a terror training camp run by bin Laden's al-Qaida network.
My abductors didn't name their leader. But a few months later, when Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh was jailed for kidnapping an American and three Britons, those former hostages told me Saeed bragged he also was behind my kidnapping. Indian intelligence officials in Kashmir -- a Himalayan region divided between Pakistan and India -- also told me they thought Saeed had been involved in my abduction.
My captors had been sent to wage holy war against what they see as the infidel, India, and unite Kashmir with Pakistan. They talked of going to Bosnia next, or fighting alongside the Palestinians against Israel.
Wahid, an ethnic Pathan with a badly pockmarked face, once jumped up in a frenzy and pushed me off the rock I was lying on. My backside had been toward Mecca, Islam's holiest site thousands of miles away in Saudi Arabia.
We slept in makeshift huts close to the snow line high in the mountains, wrapped in coarse blankets. The little food we had was taken from tribal herders, and usually consisted of lentil soup, rice and ''chapatis,'' a flat, circular bread. My captors once slaughtered an old sheep, but I couldn't eat it. The tough meat ripped out the wires on my braces.
The kidnappers got edgy when rumors of Indian troop movements crackled across their walkie-talkies, and we would rapidly move on, usually at night. ''Quick! hurry up!'' they snapped.
As we huddled by a small fire one night, Hassan, a sympathetic 16-year-old Kashmiri, gestured to a nearby gun and indicated we should take it and run.
But where would we go? How could we escape 22 pursuers? What if they opened fire? The risks were too great. And I was terrified about how they might punish us for trying.
Some days we just sat by a river, and I'd watch my captors clean their prized weapons. They questioned us about religion and world affairs. ''Why don't you wear a beard, your prophet (Jesus) had one,'' Wahid asked David as he was about to shave.
They would sometimes demand that David take pictures of them, posing with their guns raised high, a battle cry on their lips -- occasionally with me forcibly rigged up with gun and bandoleer as the centerpiece.
Though we spoke to each other in English, I was able to eavesdrop on my captors because I had learned some Urdu while living in India, where my father was a correspondent for the Financial Times. I never let them catch onto this.
The days we just sat and waited were sometimes the worst. There was too much time to think, too much time to wonder if we would ever be free. The cold and physical hardship of the night walks, at least, blocked out those thoughts.
My father believed that the only way to free us was to pressure the Harkat, isolating them from their sponsors in Pakistan and turning public opinion against them.
He pitched a tent close to where I was held and told nearby residents: ''I don't understand how in the name of Allah these people can kidnap a 16-year-old schoolboy.'' Sympathy grew.
My captors contacted him, and a meeting was arranged in the house of a respected cleric to discuss their demands -- which included safe passage around the Indian military.
The cleric's bullet-riddled body was found in a ditch two days later. In retrospect, his death probably did not result from negotiating for our release. But the thought haunts me today.
On the 17th night, I was interrogated. They accused me of spying. The questioning lasted two hours, after which I broke down. For the first time, I believed I was going to die. But when they brought us new clothes the next morning, David whispered: ''Why would they buy us new clothes if they are going to shoot us?''
He was right. Later that day, with no explanation, we were handed over to journalists on the outskirts of Anantnag, Kashmir's second-largest city. We posed for pictures, and the man who had interrogated me gave me a clock as a souvenir.
''With best wishes to Kim Housego from Harkat-ul-Ansar International,'' said the writing on the clock.
Published in www.zwire.com/