Kashmir highways shut for civilians two days a week
Civilian traffic will not be allowed on the Jammu-Srinagar highway on Sundays and Wednesdays to ensure safe movement of security convoys, an official notification said on Wednesday in a move that came days after an attempted terror attack on the route that was also hit by a suicide bombing on February 14 that killed 40 troopers of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).
A car exploded on the highway on Saturday, causing damage to a CRPF convoy, an incident that security agencies said they are treating as an attempted attack that has similarities to the Pulwama suicide bombing.
“Keeping in view the large movement of security forces on the national highway during the parliamentary elections and associated possibility of any terror attack on security forces convoys, the state government has notified specified days in a week for the movement of security forces on the national highway,” the official notification said.
The traffic will be restricted from 4am to 5pm on the designated days.
The order attracted criticism from the two major political parties in the state. “Last I checked, we were a democracy. But this sounds like a diktat of Martial Law. After bringing Kashmir to the brink, the administration is adamant on ensuring collective punishment for Kashmiris,” Peoples Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti tweeted after the notification was issued.
National Conference leader Omar Abdullah, also a former CM of J&K, called the highway a lifeline.
“Has anyone in the administration applied their minds before planning to issue this highway closure order? J&K is not Chhattisgarh or Andhra Pradesh where there are alternate routes. Here if you close the national highway you shut down all access to the valley…,” he tweeted. There are 6 LS seats in Jammu and Kashmir and the state will go to polls in five phases from April 11 to May 6.
The Anantnag constituency will witness polling in three phases due to security reasons. While announcing the schedule for this summer’s general elections, the Election Commission had said assembly polls in J&K will not be held simultaneously as the security situation was not conducive. Security along all national highways in the state was stepped up following the Pulwama suicide bombing, which was claimed by Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed. The attack led to one of the most serious escalations in tensions with Pakistan, culminating in military action.
On Saturday, a car exploded close to the Banihal tunnel, which forms a crucial link between Jammu and Srinagar and is guarded by security personnel round-the-clock.