After Anantnag attack, it is time to engage politically | india news | Hindustan Times
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After Anantnag attack, it is time to engage politically

The Anantnag incident has given a narrow window to chief minister Mehbooba Mufti and the Narendra Modi government to pick up the lost political threads to steer Kashmir out of the vicious logjam in which it has been trapped for three years now.

Kashmir Turmoil Updated: Jul 12, 2017 07:36 IST
Ramesh Vinayak
A deserted street in Jammu after various organisations gave a bandh call on Tuesday against the killings of seven Amarnath yatris in Anantnag on Monday.
A deserted street in Jammu after various organisations gave a bandh call on Tuesday against the killings of seven Amarnath yatris in Anantnag on Monday. (PTI)

Terror has uncannily ominous ways of keeping its date with Kashmir. Monday’s mayhem on Amarnath pilgrims in Anantnag had an element of surprise, but it was not entirely unexpected.

For once, the militant attack underscores how securing the 40-day yatra undertaken by over two lakh faithful is a logistical nightmare that security agencies have to deal with every year. It has also exacerbated the perils of guarding the remaining four weeks of the pilgrimage.

It’s another grim marker of the atrophy afflicting the fragile Mehbooba Mufti-led coalition government. Yet even the grimmest moments of despair in Kashmir are rarely without a sliver of hope. That silver lining lies in a perceptible outrage among ordinary Kashmiris against the militant strike on the yatra.

Significantly, the street sentiment was amplified by frontline separatist leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik. They were uncharacteristically swift and stinging in joining the mainstream politicians’ chorus of condemnation, calling the yatris’ killing “against the very grain of Kashmiri ethos and traditions”.

WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY

In that sense, the terror attack in Anantnag, so far reckoned as the ground zero of a tenaciously virulent local militancy in South Kashmir, may signal new straws in the wind. It offers a tentative but tantalizingly narrow window, for both Mehbooba and the Narendra Modi government, to pick up the lost political threads to steer Kashmir out of the vicious logjam in which it has been trapped for three years now.

Known as the most arduous inland pilgrimage, entailing a 46-km trek through the high-altitude Pir Panjal mountains and sub-zero temperatures, the Amarnath Yatra has been no stranger to human casualties due to fatigue and freak elements. But the fear factor was injected in the mid-1990s when it first came on the threat radar of foreign militants.

Since then, the Yatra has been a high-value target for militant outfits – a propaganda amplifier of their insidious design to inflame communal passions beyond the Valley.

The first major attack — and the worst so far — was in 2000 when militants breached the perimeter security of the yatris’ base camp at the tourist resort of Pahalgam, killing 17 of them.

Since then, security agencies have gradually ramped up and refined the yatra protection drill along its 440-km route through Jammu and Kashmir.

SHIFT IN MOOD IN THE VALLEY

This year, a heightened threat assessment owing to surge in militant violence and relentless cycle of stone-pelting protests in South Kashmir that falls on the yatra route led to curtailing of the pilgrimage to 40 days and deployment of 40,000 security personnel — up from 34,000 last time. Besides, drone surveillance, bullet-proof bunkers and improvised explosive devices (IED) detectors were pressed into service as part of a humongous sanitise-and-secure exercise. To be sure, top police brass in Srinagar, in its intelligence reports, had flagged the yatra’s vulnerability on the Anantnag stretch.

The shadow of violent convulsions in Kashmir has been evident in a decline in the number of pilgrims. Last year, marked by the Burhani Wani’s killing, 2.2 lakh pilgrims — 1.31 lakh less than the number in 2015 — undertook the trek. This year, it is likely to fall further, though 2.15 lakh pilgrims have registered so far.

At another level, the latest terror strike drives home the limits of a security-centric approach that has been the hallmark of a weak and wobbly PDP-BJP government.

Seen in the context of the mob lynching of a Kashmiri policeman and the US designation of Hizbul Mujahidin chief Syed Salahuddin as a global terrorist, an unequivocal denunciation of the pilgrims’ killings, especially by leading lights of secessionism, points to a discernible shift in the mood in the Valley.

As Yusuf Tarigami, a veteran Leftist in Srinagar, puts it: “This is an opportune moment to break the frozen politics. Lack of political engagement is helping extremist elements.” Tarigami may be speaking for a large constituency in Kashmir that is angry and alienated but still yearns for peace.

Post-Anantnag, letting the spasm of terror overwhelm the new portents could well be another episode in Kashmir’s long chapter of missed opportunities.