As security forces stepped up operations in the Valley and the Army corps commander and police chief spoke of “fresh inputs of increase in violence by terrorists”, the J&K administration, in an unprecedented move, called off the annual Amarnath Yatra ahead of time and ordered yatris and tourists to leave the Valley immediately.
An estimated 11,000 tourists, including yatris and over 200 foreign visitors, are currently in the Valley, government officials told The Indian Express.
In an order issued Friday, Shaleen Kabra, Principal Secretary (Home), said: “Keeping in view the latest intelligence inputs of terror threats, with specific targeting of the Amarnath Yatra, and given the prevailing security situation in the Kashmir Valley, in the interest of safety and security of the tourists and Amarnath Yatra, it is advised that they may curtail their stay in the Valley immediately and take necessary measures to return as soon as possible.”
This comes a day after Army chief General Bipin Rawat, Northern Army Commander Lt General Ranbir Singh and XV Corps GOC Lt General K J S Dhillon met Governor Satya Pal Malik at the Raj Bhavan in Srinagar.
The order asking tourists and yatris to leave immediately led to panic in the Valley and people in Srinagar crowded markets to make emergency purchases and stock essential goods.
NC leader Omar Abdullah, taking to Twitter, said: “Although this unprecedented order would seem to suggest a genuine fear of a massive terror strike directed at Amarnathji yatris or/and tourists, this will do nothing to dampen the sense of fear & foreboding that prevails in the Valley at the moment.”
Responding to the order, PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti tweeted: “You failed to win over the love of a single Muslim majority state which rejected division on religious grounds & chose secular India. The gloves are finally off & India has chosen territory over people.”
An all-party meeting convened by the People’s United Front, an alliance formed by Shah Faesal’s J&K People’s Movement and Engineer Rashid’s Awami Ittehad Party, called for unity among political parties in the wake of “an impending constitutional crisis”.
The BJP gave the meeting a miss. Later, a delegation led by Mehbooba Mufti met the Governor and expressed concern about the situation in the Valley.
Malik, in turn, informed them that there were serious and credible terror threats to the Yatra.
PDP’s Waheed Para said “all parties called for senior leaders Dr Farooq Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti to take the lead in fighting this crisis and the atmosphere of panic following these government orders and troop build-up.”
Stating that an “extraordinary situation” is building up in the Valley, Shah Faesal said “everyone needs to be together and present a collaborative strategy against any possible assault. No party can afford to be alone at this point.”
Speaking to The Indian Express, BJP state spokesperson Altaf Thakur said, “We will not attend any meetings called by any regional party. We are a national party and whatever is the party’s stand nationally, is our stand in J&K. Besides, regional parties are creating a situation of fear and panic which we will diffuse.”
In New Delhi, the Congress, at a meeting chaired by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, urged the Centre not to take any decision “which would precipitate a deep crisis” and asked it to maintain the “constitutional guarantees” given to J&K. The party said the “massive build-up of security forces, the curtailment of the Amarnath Yatra, also the unprecedented advisories being issued to the tourists, yatris and other civilians, are all creating an atmosphere of heightened insecurity and fear”.
J&K officials said the security threat to the Yatra is “significantly high” and despite extensive preparations and high deployment of troops, it is being curtailed after “careful consideration”. This year, within a month of the start of the Yatra, approximately 3.40 lakh yatris have visited the cave shrine, according to official figures.
On Friday, Lt Gen Dhillon, speaking at a joint briefing by security forces in Srinagar, said a Pakistan-made mine and a huge cache of arms were recovered from along the Yatra route.
He said searches were conducted along the route after specific intelligence that Pakistan-based terrorists might target the Yatra using improvised explosive devices and attack pilgrims. The arms seized include a mine with a Pakistan Ordnance Factory stamp and an American sniper rifle M24.
Lt Gen Dhillon said the IED threat is more “pronounced” in the hinterland while the situation along the Line of Control (LoC) remains “largely peaceful”. Regular infiltration attempts, he said, are being made by Pakistan-based terrorists but the Army has been foiling the bids at the LoC.
He said 83% of local people who picked up weapons had a record of stone-pelting. “I request all mothers, if today your child throws stones at security forces for Rs 500, then he will become a terrorist tomorrow.”
“In 2019, 7% of terrorists were killed in the first 10 days after joining militancy. I would request mothers to listen to this carefully… 9% are killed in the first month, 17% within three months, 36% in six months and 64% of terrorists who pick up weapons are eliminated within the first one year. This is the shelf-life of a terrorist who picks up a weapon.”
J&K DGP Dilbag Singh said there were “fresh inputs of increase in violence by terrorists” which made it necessary to “strengthen the counter-intelligence grid” on the ground.