The question mark on what next continues to hang over the Valley. As tourists and Amarnath Yatra pilgrims started leaving the region Saturday, a day after the state government, citing security concerns, ordered them to leave immediately, at least six countries issued advisories against travelling to Jammu and Kashmir.
And while J&K Governor Satya Pal Malik said there was no need to panic as the deployment of additional paramilitary forces was purely for security reasons, he underscored there were no plans to repeal Articles 370 and 35A of the Constitution.
Malik also urged separate political delegations led by National Conference leader Omar Abdullah and PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti to tell their supporters to maintain calm and not believe “exaggerated rumours”.
“Nothing will happen secretly, it will come to Parliament…I’ve talked to everybody in Delhi and nobody has given me any hint that we will do this or that. Somebody is saying there will be trifurcation, somebody says Article 35 A, 370…Nobody has discussed these things with me, either the Prime Minister or the Home Minister,” he said.
But with more official orders issued, including calling off the ongoing Machail yatra in Kishtwar and deploying additional forces in the Rajouri, Poonch, Kishtwar-Doda and Ramban border districts, National Conference vice president Omar Abdullah said that “the Governor is not the final word on Jammu and Kashmir”, and sought assurances on these issues from the Centre in Parliament Monday.
“He (Governor) assured us that there was no movement on (repealing) Article 370 or Article 35A or delimitation (of constituencies in the state),” Abdullah told reporters. “We went to Governor sahib to know what is happening because we are not getting the right answer from any side. We told this to Governor sahib that you are accusing us of spreading rumours but the fact is that wherever we want to know the truth, we don’t get it.”
Demanding answers, too, from the Centre, the Congress sought a statement from Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Parliament to inform the country about the unprecedented steps it has taken and said that the BJP government is preparing for some “misadventure” in J&K.
According to Omar, Malik told the NC delegation that a clear statement is being issued to satisfy the people. “But we want that when Parliament is convened on Monday, a similar statement should come from the Centre that makes us understand why the order — ending the yatra and asking tourists to return — was issued. We want to hear in Parliament that there is no need for the people of Kashmir to be frightened,” he said. He also asked party MPs to move a motion in Parliament Monday seeking a statement from the Centre.
The BJP, meanwhile, accused leaders of the NC, PDP and Congress of deliberately trying to trigger panic as they themselves were frightened and asserted that the common man has nothing to fear.
Following the Centre’s advisory – Malik Friday had said that there were serious and credible terror threats to the Yatra – tourists and Amarnath Yatra pilgrims started to leave the Valley Saturday even as the state Tourism Department said about 20,000-22,000 tourists were in Kashmir Friday.
The anxiety within the diplomatic community, too, was visible as six countries from the UK to Australia, Canada to Singapore issued travel advisories with more expected to follow suit.
This is the first time since Balakot airstrikes on February 26 that advisories have been issued by foreign governments on travelling to J&K.
The British High Commission in Delhi said that “UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise(d) against all travel to: the immediate vicinity of the border with Pakistan, other than at Wagah, Jammu and Kashmir, except for (i) travel within the city of Jammu, (ii) travel by air to the city of Jammu, and (iii) travel within the region of Ladakh.”
The FCO also advised against all but essential travel to the city of Srinagar and between the cities of Jammu and Srinagar on the Jammu-Srinagar national highway.
While Germany, Canada, Singapore and Australia, too, issued similar alerts, New Zealand was categorical, saying “Do not travel to Jammu and Kashmir (with the exception of the Ladakh region via Manali, or by air to Leh) due to the threat of terrorist activity and ongoing violence which remains high.”
Foreign governments usually issue travel advisories for its nationals, based on inputs from local government agencies, and such advisories have an adverse impact on the local tourist economy. But, they issue these advisories keeping in view the welfare of their citizens.
Meanwhile, as more orders from the J&K administration — asking the doctors to be ready, students to vacate the hostels — continued to fuel panic, People’s Conference Chairman Sajad Lone said that the Valley has “descended into a state of hopelessness and scare”.
Later, the PDP, after a meeting of top leaders, appealed to the Prime Minister to ensure that no unilateral decision is taken at any level that impinges upon the current constitutional arrangement and complexion of J&K.
(Arun Sharma in Jammu, Manoj C G in New Delhi)
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