New Delhi -°C
Today in New Delhi, India

Nov 15, 2019-Friday
-°C

Humidity
-

Wind
-

Select city

Metro cities - Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata

Other cities - Noida, Gurgaon, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Bhopal , Chandigarh , Dehradun, Indore, Jaipur, Lucknow, Patna, Ranchi

Saturday, Nov 16, 2019

Pakistan’s BAT attack foiled, thousands of tourists leave Kashmir

The army said it had repelled an attempt by a mixed group of Pakistani soldiers and terrorists to attack an army post along the Line of Control (LoC), inflicting heavy casualties.

india Updated: Aug 04, 2019 09:57 IST
Mir Ehsan , Ashiq Hussain and Sudhi Ranjan Sen
Mir Ehsan , Ashiq Hussain and Sudhi Ranjan Sen
Hindustan Times,Srinagar
Students leave the NIT Srinagar campus on Saturday, a day after the government issued a security advisory asking tourists and pilgrims to curtail their stay in Kashmir.
Students leave the NIT Srinagar campus on Saturday, a day after the government issued a security advisory asking tourists and pilgrims to curtail their stay in Kashmir.(PTI photo)
         

Thousands of tourists and Amarnath worshippers left Kashmir on Saturday as security was reinforced across the Valley by additional troops, a day after the state administration cut short the annual pilgrimage to the Himalayan cave shrine by a fortnight and asked vacationers and pilgrims to leave the Valley because of a perceived terrorist threat.

The army, meanwhile, said it had repelled an attempt by a mixed group of Pakistani soldiers and terrorists to attack an army post along the Line of Control (LoC), inflicting heavy casualties. Critically, the army said that “in the last 36 hours Pakistan has desperately tried to revive terrorism and push terrorists” into Kashmir. Separately, in joint counter-terror operations in the hinterland, the army, Central Reserve Police Force, and Jammu and Kashmir police killed one suspected Hizbul Mujahideen and three Jaish-e-Mohammed militants in Shopian and Baramulla districts in the last two days.

Watch | ‘Pakistan based terrorists plotting attack on Amarnath yatra’: Army

 

Around 95% of the estimated 20,000 tourists, both Indian and foreign, and pilgrims who were in Kashmir late Friday had already left by late Saturday, on board heavy-lift Indian Air Force aircraft that first dropped off security reinforcements, on commercial flights run by airlines that steeply raised fares and by state transport corporation buses, tourism department officials said. Around 25,000 -30,000 troops have already been deployed in the state over the last four-five days, police officers aware of the deployment said.

Also read: ‘Such a thing has never happened’: Congress on Centre’s J-K advisory

Amid panic buying of groceries, fuel and medicines by local residents unsure about what to expect, political parties accused the administration of creating disquiet and demanded that the central government clear the air on what’s happening in the Valley. Governor Satya Pal Malik said the deployment of additional forces was a security measure, and urged politicians and the people not to link it to other issues.

Malik told National Conference vice-president Omar Abdullah, who met him in Raj Bhavan on Saturday, that no preparations had been made for an announcement on Article 35A and Article 370 or on the trifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir by creating three states of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, as has been rumoured in the state. Article 35A reserves government employment and property ownership to permanent residents of the state. Article 370 confers special status on Kashmir.

“We met him to know what is happening in Kashmir. Governor Satya Pal Malik reiterated yesterday’s assurance. We asked governor about 35A, 370 delimitation and trifurcation of the state. He (governor) assured that there is no forward movement on these issues. To assuage people, the governor is going to issue a statement,” said Abdullah.

He said he wanted an assurance to that effect by the Narendra Modi government in Parliament on Monday because “the governor’s is not the final word on Jammu and Kashmir”.

Watch: ‘Pakistan based terrorists plotting attack on Amarnath yatra’: Army

 

“The final word on Jammu and Kashmir is of government of India,” he said. Governor Malik’s office released a statement after the meeting, saying the security situation in Kashmir had developed in a manner that required immediate action. On Friday, the security forces claimed to have found improvised explosive devices, and caches of arms, and an American-made sniper rifle after searching areas around both routes leading to the Amarnath cave shrine.

“There were credible inputs which were available to the security agencies regarding terrorist attacks on the Amarnath Yatra. There has been intensified shelling on the LOC {Line of Control} by Pakistan which was responded to effectively by the army. The seriousness of the threat required immediate action.’’ It was in this context that the government had issued the advisory asking pilgrims and tourists to return as soon as possible, the statement said.

Also read: Decoded: Why the government decided to curtail the Amarnath yatra

“These are a vulnerable group of people who do not know the area and are extremely vulnerable to a terrorist or a fidayeen attack. It is the responsibility of the state to provide security to all its citizens. Therefore, as a precautionary measure, yatris and tourists have been asked to return. This is to ensure that no terrorist attack takes place on them. Therefore, security to its citizens has to be provided by the State, even at some inconvenience which is being done.’’

Governor Malik told the NC delegation that the state has no knowledge of any changes to constitutional provisions. His statement said: “Therefore, no panic should be created by unnecessarily linking this security matter with all kinds of other issues. A pure security measure is being mixed up with issues with which it has no connection. That is the cause of the panic. The Home Secretary and the Divisional Commissioner have clarified this yesterday.”

The attack on the Indian army post along the LoC by Pakistan’s Border Action Team (BAT) and terrorists “was carried out on at the Keran sector on the night of 31 July and 1 August,” the army said in a statement. Keran sector is opposite the lower Neelam valley and is a traditional infiltration route because of the terrain and weather. “Our soldiers foiled the attempt inflicting heavy casualties on the infiltrating team,” the statement said and added: “four bodies of Pakistan SSG commandos or maybe some of the terrorists have been seen close” to the Indian army post. SSG is short for Special Service Group. “Attempts to recover the bodies are being continuously interfered by Pakistani troops” deployed across the LoC, the Indian Army said.

In a related development, the army strongly denied using cluster bombs in cross-border firing – an allegation made by Islamabad. In a sharp response, the army described the claims of Pakistan Army as “lies, deceit and deception”. Cluster bombs eject explosive bomblets that are designed to kill personnel and destroy vehicles. The statement came as pilgrims and tourists scrambled to get out of the Valley following the advisory which ended the Amarnath pilgrimage two weeks before its scheduled close on August 15. No new pilgrims have been allowed to move towards the two base camps in Pahalgam and Ganderbal since July 30; the yatris who were already in the Valley have been ferried back in buses.

“Most of the pilgrims left by early morning while there are a few hundred people like employees or those making arrangements for the yatra who would leave by the evening,” said additional deputy commissioner, Ganderbal, Shafqat Iqbal.

Everyday, anywhere between 3,000 and 20,000 pilgrims would visit the holy cave in the south Kashmir Himalayas after the yatra started on July 1. This year, some 342,800 people performed the pilgrimage to the cave shrine.

“Almost 95% tourists have left. Those who could afford to buy tickets went by flights while those who could not were sent in air force planes,” said director of tourism Nisar Wani.

He said that 32 fully booked flights from Srinagar International Airport mostly flew the tourists out of the Valley.

Airfares shot up. The one-way Srinagar-Delhi flight that otherwise costs between ~3,000 and ~5,000 shot up to ~37,915 for Vistara Airlines Saturday’s 12.40pm flight via Jammu on goibibo.com.

“Airfares from Srinagar have gone up due to the sudden rush of tourists to cut short their plans and get out of Srinagar,” said Sharat Dhall, chief operating officer (business-to-consumer) at Yatra.com.

The UK issued an advisory, warning its citizens against travelling to Jammu and Kashmir, except Jammu city and Ladakh. It advised against “all but essential travel to the city of Srinagar and travel between the cities of Jammu and Srinagar on the Jammu-Srinagar national highway”, and also advised against travel to the tourist destinations of Pahalgam, Gulmarg and Sonmarg.

“If you’re in Jammu and Kashmir, you should remain vigilant, follow the advice of local authorities and keep up to date with developments, including via this travel advice,” the advisory said.

Migrant workers employed in the Valley and students joined the exodus. The National Institute of Technology (NIT), Srinagar, suspended its classes until further orders because of the uncertain situation in Kashmir. The institute, which has 1,400 students, said most of them had left for their hometowns by bus.

In the Valley, queues formed outside petrol pumps and grocery shops as people stocked up on essentials. The health department issued an advisory to staff to store fuel for emergencies and not to leave their stations without permission. “An atmosphere of fear and apprehension has seized the Kashmir Valley today as everybody there is in a state of panic worrying if there would be any attack or something else. In the last few days, over 30,000 additional troops have been sent there,” said former Union minister and senior Congress leader Karan Singh. “In my 70 years of public life, I have never seen a situation like this in J&K where even the Amarnath Yatra had to be called off. This will leave a deep impact on Lord Shiva’s devotees, who have come from all parts of the country. This is unprecedented.”

The Congress party warned the Bharatiya Janata Party-led central government against undertaking any “misadventure” in Jammu and Kashmir. “Let us wait and see what they (the Centre) are doing. But it is clear to me that they are preparing for some misadventure. I would warn them not to embark upon any misadventure,” party leader and former home minister P Chidambaram said at a press conference at the party headquarters. The Congress sought a statement in Parliament by the central government.

Peoples Democratic Party leader Mehbooba Mufti said all political parties in Jammu and Kashmir should come together to send a message to the central government that it cannot tamper with the state’s special position.

“Yet again the Valley is on edge. It’s a travesty that the central government hasn’t made efforts to reach out and clarify recent developments,” she tweeted.

The BJP hit out at the NC, PDP and Congress, accusing them of trying to trigger panic in the Valley. “Some politicians in the valley are knocking the door of the governor (Satya Pal Malik) in the dead of night because they are frightened...The governor had also made it clear that those who are corrupt cannot save themselves. Those who have ill intentions, involved in betrayal and looted the money of poor people and filled their coffers are a worried lot,” the party’s state unit president Ravinder Raina said in Jammu. He was referring to a delegation of Kashmiri parties led by Mufti that called on the governor on Friday night.

(With inputs from agencies)