A heightened threat perception has begun to affect routine life in Jammu & Kashmir amid an increasing presence of Indian armed forces.
Earlier this week, the Centre had deployed 10,000 additional troops in the conflict-ridden state. On Thursday, 25,000 more troops were pressed into service. On Friday, the annual pilgrimage of Amarnath Yatra was curtailed after a landmine and a sniper rifle were found along the route.
Ali Mohammad Bhat, a 65-year-old shawl weaver from the old city area of Srinagar, has been busy stocking up groceries, milk powder and medicine in his home. With the air of uncertainty and anxiety looming large, he wants to be prepared for any eventuality. He’s not alone. Grocery stores, ration depots and fuel stations in Srinagar are witnessing an unusual rush of people since the Centre has fortified security in the state.
Multiple government orders were uploaded on social media last week, suggesting a major unrest could be in the offing. The visit of National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, deployment of thousands of troops and presence of security forces in sensitive places such as radio and TV stations are being viewed as a precursor of something untoward. There have been reports that Pakistan is planning a major offensive in Kashmir ahead of India’s Independence Day, August 15.
“There is something big going to happen,” Bhat told 101Reporters.
On Thursday, Army chief General Bipin Rawat arrived in Srinagar to review security preparations.
Requesting anonymity, a police officer told 101Reporters the situation looks like a preparation to tackle some major incident. “We have been instructed to stay alert. That is all I can tell you. Kashmir is a place where anything can happen any time,” he said.
Independence Day preparations are in full swing in all the government schools and colleges. While educational institutes remain open, parents are being cautious and are not sending their children to schools and colleges.
“I am a medical student and for me, practicals are an important part of my curriculum. But the current situation is so tense that my parents have asked me not to go to the college for a few days just to be on the safer side,” said Rahila Muzaffer, a college student.
Peoples Democratic Party leader Khurshid Alam said that while Kashmir has been witnessing uncertainty for the past three decades, never has the situation been so precarious as it is now.
“There is panic among the locals. The government is duty-bound to come clean on it. You cannot play mind games with your own people,” he said.
Similar concerns were expressed by former chief minister Omar Abdullah. “What ‘ongoing situation’ in Kashmir would require the Army and the Air Force to be put on alert? This isn’t about 35A or delimitation. This sort of alert, if actually issued, would be about something very different,” he tweeted.
A former independent legislator and senior leader of Peoples’ United Front, Engineer Rashid, criticised the Centre’s handling of the entire situation. “The government has to explain why it is creating fear psychosis in the peoples’ minds,” he told 101Reporters.
The Hurriyat Conference (G) issued a statement: “In response to the global concern about the gross human rights violations in the state, has hit India very hard diplomatically and out of frustration they create fear psychosis and a war-like scenario.”
The Hurriyat spokesperson said that instead of war-mongering, India should take concrete steps to de-escalate the rising tension because their recent stand-off with their nuclear-armed neighbour after the Pulwama incident has been bone-chilling.
Separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said he has no clue about what is happening. “There is confusion, which creates panic. But whatever will come has nothing to do with the Kashmir issue. Nothing will have any impact on it,” he said.
Meanwhile, a Pakistan Army anti-personnel mine, a M-24 American sniper rifle with telescope, IEDs, and caches of explosives, and ammunition were recovered in an extensive search along the Amarnath Yatra route, top army officials said on Friday
Addressing a joint press conference here, Chinar Corps commander, Lt Gen K.J.S. Dhillon said: “Extensive searches resulted in recovery of an anti-personnel mine with a markings of Pakistan Ordnance Factory, one sniper rifle with telescope, Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), IED container, IED circuit board, IED initiating mechanism and a remote control device.”
The officer said an anti-personnel mine could cause grave casualties in a crowded area. “This is an ideal weapon for those areas where large number of people gather or a convoy is moving,” Lt Gen Dhillon said, adding that searches were still going on in the area.
Director General of Police Dilbag Singh said that IEDs attacks have increased.
“But the security forces have also got success when IED expert Munna Lahori was eliminated last week,” he said.
Terming IED threats a very important factor this year, he said the February 14 Pulwama attack targeting the CRPF convoy, that left 40 troopers dead, was the big incident.
“This year, more than 10 serious attempts were made in the Valley, mostly in the districts of Pulwama and Shopian, but it was now shifting to different places in south Kashmir. Five active modules who were expert in such explosives have been busted,” the DGP added.
Eighty-three per cent of local youth who picked up weapons in the Kashmir Valley had a history of stone pelting and many don’t survive long after becoming terrorists, Commander of Sringar-based 15 Corps Lt General K.J.S. Dhillon said on Friday, appealing to the mothers not to allow their children to take up arms.
Addressing a joint press conference which was also attended by Director General of Police (DGP) J&K police Dilbag Singh and CRPF ADG Zulfiqar Hasan here, the Army officer gave details about the terrorists killed in the Valley and said, “83 percent of local youths who picked up weapons in the Valley were stone pelters while seven percent of the terrorists were killed within 10 days of picking up weapons”.
The GoC Chinar Corps (15 Corps) urged the mothers to stop their children from becoming stone pelters for money as the trend showed that these children later became terrorists and got killed.
Giving further details, Lt Gen Dhillon said that nine per cent of youth were killed within a month of joining a militant group while 17 per cent were eliminated in three months, 36 per cent in six months and 64 per cent local youths were killed by security forces in one year of picking up weapons.
Talking about the situation along the Line of Control (LOC), the officer said that it was “under control and peaceful”.
He said Pakistan was regularly attempting infiltration which was being foiled by the Indian side.
“On July 30 three militants were eliminated on the LoC while trying to infiltrate,” he added.
The number of militant outfits has come down to a large extent, DGP Dilbag Singh said. “Several leaders of LeT and JeM have been eliminated and those surviving were very limited. Moreover, several militant groups have been eliminated altogether,” he said.
The number of active militants in the Valley has come down as strong actions were targeted on the terror support networks, he said.
He said that it was good news that many militants have shunned the path of violence and have returned to their home and family and they hoped that many more would leave weapons and reunite with their families. (IANS)