Kashmir pilgrims urged to leave area at once after explosives found


Tensions rise in Indian-administered region following intelligence warning of attacks

Tourists and Hindu pilgrims visiting a Himalayan cave shrine in Indian-administered Kashmir have been advised by the government to leave the area immediately, amid heightened tensions and fears of possible unrest.

Officials said they had recovered a Pakistani-made mine, as well as ammunition, explosives and other weapons, after intelligence suggested attacks were planned on routes used by the hundreds of thousands of people trekking to the Amarnath cave.

Kashmir’s home secretary, Shaleen Kabra, said in a statement: “In the interest of safety and security of the tourists and Amarnath Yatris [pilgrims], it is advised that they may curtail their stay in the [Kashmir] valley immediately.”

It follows India’s announcement last week that it would deploy an extra 10,000 troops in Kashmir, which caused panic in the disputed region.

This year, about 300,000 people embarked on the 45-day annual pilgrimage to the cave shrine, located high in the mountains. It is not uncommon for Hindu pilgrims to be targeted – seven were killed in a bus attack in 2017 – but an order asking people to leave is rare.

Kashmir is claimed by India and Pakistan in full and ruled in part by both. An insurgency has waxed and waned on the Indian-administered side for three decades, and tens of thousands of people have been killed.

On Friday, an improvised explosive device hit an Indian army vehicle in southern Pulwama district while a gunfight raged in nearby Shopian district.

A series of orders leaked last week caused alarm in the region. One told Indian Railways staff in the Kashmir valley to stock enough dry rations to last four months and referred to a “forecast of deteriorating situation”.

Indian army soldiers guard a war memorial in Srinagar last week. Photograph: Mukhtar Khan/AP

The influx of 10,000 extra troops also prompted rumours that Delhi may be preparing to scrap Kashmir’s special status, which prohibits people from outside of the state from buying land in the disputed territory.

“The deployment of troops is a very significant move, and this usually happens when the government is anticipating a law and order situation,” said Khalid Shah, an associate fellow at the Observer Research Foundation. “There is a significant degree of panic among the people because they have no clarity on what is really going to happen.”

Umar, a state government employee who was willing to be identified only by his first name, said people were living in a state of uncertainty. He said he was due to get married later this month but was worried he might be forced to cancel the wedding.

“Within the family we are discussing what to do. We have options to cut short the functions and make the ceremony as quick as possible, but we are also unsure at this point if that is even possible,” he said.

Amid the confusion, residents have rushed to ATMs to withdraw money and long queues have formed outside petrol stations.

Narendra Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) has promised to scrap article 35A of the Indian constitution, which protects the demography of Muslim-majority Kashmir by prohibiting non-state subjects from buying land.

However, analysts say doing so would almost certainly trigger unrest and reignite tensions with Pakistan, and that the government would be unlikely to take such action during the Amarnath Yatra, which ends in mid-August.

In February, more than 40 Indian paramilitaries were killed in a suicide car bombing that brought India and Pakistan close to a war. Since then, there has been a decrease in incidents, but the former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, who headed an alliance government with the BJP, described the situation as “disconcerting” and warned of a misinformation campaign.

On Friday, India’s external affairs minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, again rejected Donald Trump’s offer to mediate in the dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir. The US president’s claim last month that Modi had asked him to intervene was quickly denied by Delhi, where it fuelled anger in parliament.

Jaishankar said he told the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, who he met on the sidelines of an Asian security forum in Bangkok, that any talks over the disputed region would be between India and Pakistan only. Trump had reiterated his offer to intervene on Thursday.

Read more: www.theguardian.com


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here