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Thursday, Sep 19, 2019

Govt advises Amarnath yatris to leave Kashmir

The cancellation of the Amarnath yatra, and an alert issued to pilgrims and tourists to return home resulted in panic and a scramble for air tickets

india Updated: Aug 03, 2019 20:46 IST
Ashiq Hussain & Shishir Gupta
Ashiq Hussain & Shishir Gupta
Hindustan Times, Srinagar/New Delhi
Amaranth pilgrims rest at a base camp in Jammu on Friday.
Amaranth pilgrims rest at a base camp in Jammu on Friday.(Nitin Kanotra/HT Photo)
         

The Amarnath yatra ended 14 days ahead of its scheduled close on August 15 and the counter-insurgency grid in Jammu & Kashmir was strengthened with the additional deployment of security forces following the recovery of a large cache of ammunition, a Pakistan-made anti-personnel mine, and a US-made sniper rifle along the route of the yatra, and intelligence reports that highlighted the increased possibility of suicide bombing attacks in the Kashmir valley.

The cancellation of the yatra to one of Hinduism’s holiest shrines, and an alert issued to pilgrims and tourists to return home resulted in panic and a scramble for air tickets -- the road from Srinagar to Jammu is closed on account of landslides -- even as it unsettled residents of the valley and intensified speculation of a big move in the offing, perhaps the scrapping of Article 35A which restricts some benefits (such as government jobs and property ownership) to permanent residents of the state. Last weekend, the deployment of 100 companies of security forces (around 10,000 men) set off such speculation; HT learns that at least 150 more companies have now been deployed since.

WATCH | Amarnath Yatra never canceled before: Congress on Home Ministry’s advisory

 

The Union home ministry on Friday issued a guarded statement, saying, “Deployment of paramilitary forces in Jammu and Kashmir is based on the security situation there and requirements of rotation, and such things are not discussed in the public domain.”

In a press conference in Srinagar, the corps commander of the strategic 15 Corps, lieutenant general Kanwal Jeet Singh Dhillon; J&K director general of police Dilbag Singh; special DG, Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Zulfiqar Hasan; and inspector general of police, Kashmir, SP Pani presented the reasons for the scrapping of the yatra, although they sought to play down the increase in deployment.

General Dhillon said searches have underway for the past three to four days after specific inputs of attempts to disrupt the Amarnath yatra by “terrorists, the Pakistan army and Pakistan”. He said that joint teams of the army, police and CRPF carried out extensive searches on both the routes of the yatra and the adjoining areas on the highway as well as the foot track leading up to the holy cave.

“We have major successes in these searches, some improvised explosive devices and caches of weapons and explosives have been recovered on these routes. A Pakistan army mine has been recovered,” he said. The general also showed an M-24 American sniper rifle that was also recovered.

“The searches are still going on,” he said.

The mine, whose pictures were shown to media, General Dhillon said, has “Pakistan ordnance factory markings”.

The decision to curtail the yatra was taken after Indian intelligence picked up heightened activities of Pakistan-based terror groups including the Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). “With major threat coming from Pakistan-based groups, particularly JeM, and recovery of M-24 sniper rifle and an anti-personnel mine along the Amarnath pilgrimage route, the government decided not to take any chance. With personnel freed from yatra duties, the security forces can now concentrate on counter-insurgency grid,” said a senior J&K police offer who asked not to be named.

According to inputs conveyed to the national security establishment, Ibrahim Azhar, elder brother of JeM chief Masood Azhar, was sighted in Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) last month. He is believed to have been headed to Kashmir. Intelligence reports indicate that Ibrahim Azhar, the main orchestrator of the Indian Airlines IC-814 flight hijacking in 1999, wanted to infiltrate into the Valley and lead attacks against the Indian establishment as revenge for the death of his son Usman Haider at the hands of security forces. Haider infiltrated into Jammu and Kashmir in October 2018 and was gunned down by the Indian security forces in Tral, Awantipora, Pulwama on October 30, 2018. Another relative Talha Rasheed, son of Abdul Rasheed, brother-in-law of Masood Azhar, was killed on November 6, 2017, at Kandi Aglar, Pulwama, by security forces.

Intelligence intercepts indicated that Ibrahim Azhar fired up the Jaish cadre by saying that he wanted to die fighting Indian security forces in Kashmir, the same way his son died.

They also indicated that Azhar may have moved to forward Pakistan army post across the Line of Control (LoC) as a precursor to entering the state.

The intelligence reports also spoke of JeM targeting the Indian security forces using IEDs in the Sopore area of north Kashmir; trained JeM cadre being readied in Peshawar to infiltrate into Kashmir and engage the Indian security forces; and other terror groups, including the Hizbul Mujahideen, being

First Published: Aug 02, 2019 23:39 IST