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Amarnath yatri killings reveal a new Kashmir where all bets are off

Riyaz Wani | Updated on: 11 July 2017, 18:41 IST
(Arya Sharrma/Catch News)

Though the militant discourse in Kashmir has hardened in the recent past, nobody in Kashmir even in their wildest imagination, expected Amarnath yatris to be targeted.

Lately, some of their actions, like the killing of six policemen at Achabal, have underlined the abandonment of the old restraint. Monday saw that old restraint, observed strictly for the past 17 years, being discarded as militants fired indiscriminately at a bus carrying yatris. They killed seven of them, five of them women. Twelve others have been injured, four of them grievously.

The bus had come from Baltal. The pilgrims were on their way back after visiting the Amarnath shrine.

In 2000 on a night when more than 100 people lost their lives across Kashmir in a series of militant attacks, more than 20 yatris putting up in tents at Pahalgam were also killed. Incidentally, the killings were carried out following the announcement of a ceasefire by Hizbul Mujahideen commander Abdul Majid Dar.

Ever since that fateful night, militants had strictly refrained from attacking the yatris.

Often in their statements, the militant leadership had assured yatris a safe pilgrimage. And occasionally, the separatist leaders have also visited the yatris at the base camps of Pahalgam and Sonamarg to tell them that they are welcome in Kashmir and in turn have sought their cooperation to spread awareness about Kashmir situation in the country.

And as the past many years have demonstrated – these assurances were not false. Ensuring the safety of yatris was not only seen as a collective responsibility but doing so was being considered as a helpful strategy to spread goodwill about Kashmir among the people of India.

This explains why when last year, despite 100 people being killed and several hundred were blinded, the Amarnath yatra passed off absolutely peacefully. Earlier as well, during the three successive summer unrests up to 2010, that saw the death of almost 200 youth, the yatra was the only aspect of Valley’s life left untouched by the swirling mayhem.

But then Kashmir has a knack of constantly unsettling you.

The bets are off

Every time, you tend to become accustomed to its perennially troubled situation, something much more violent comes along that forces you to revise your opinion. In fact, if the past is anything to go by, the more you try to overlook the Valley’s turmoil the more will it force you to take note.

And perhaps this state of affairs hasn’t been more true than it has been during the term of the Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre. The more it has used force to curb the violence and the more it has withdrawn from a political outreach towards the state – the more violent Kashmir has become.

Monday’s attack followed immediately after the Inspector General of Police Muneer Khan held a triumphant press conference to announce the arrest of Sandeep Kumar. Kumar, a resident of Uttar Pradesh, who was allegedly active in Kashmir as a militant of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). Khan said that Kumar was a close aide of the slain LeT commander Bashir Lashkari and had been involved in the recent killing of six policemen including an SHO at Achabal.

Kumar is the first Hindu militant from outside J&K who was part of Kashmir militancy. Earlier, some local Hindus, all of them from Chenab Valley in Jammu province, have been part of the separatist jihad in Kashmir. So far only a few Muslims from outside J&K has been a part of the militancy in the state. In October 2008, police killed two militants in Kupwara and later identified them as Abdur Rahim from Malappuram and Muhammad Fayaz from Kannur in Kerala.

Triumphant presser? Well...no

Within hours of the IGP’s presser, militants struck at Khanabal in South Kashmir, firing at a police party in Bantigoo area besides targeting a bus carrying the yatris.

The attack took place despite the police having intelligence input that the militants might attack the pilgrims to flare up “communal tensions throughout the nation”.

The plan, the intelligence report read, was to “eliminate 100 to 150 yatris and about 100 police officers/officials”. It added that “the attack may be in the form of stand-off fire on yatra convoy”.

However, the security agencies failed to pre-empt the “sensational attack”.

The intelligence report

The police said that the bus driver had violated rules laid down for the pilgrimage, by plying his vehicle after 7 PM. They also said that the bus was reportedly not a part of the main yatra convoy and was not registered with the Amarnath Shrine Board which looks after the two-month long pilgrimage.

The yatra convoy is escorted by the Central Reserve Police Force to the base camps at Baltal and Pahalagam in central and South Kashmir respectively.

Blame game

Soon after the attack, LeT has condemned it by saying it is against the Islamic teachings.

LeT spokesman Dr Abdullah Ghaznavi said in a statement issued to news agency GNS that attack on Amarnath pilgrims is highly reprehensible act. “Islam does not allow violence against any faith. We strongly condemn such acts,” he said.

Ghaznavi said that “India wants to sabotage the freedom struggle of Kashmiris, therefore it uses such attacks to fulfil its nefarious agenda”.

“At times, India uses Hindus of Uttar Pradesh to hide its terror face, and when it fails, they use false flag attacks against Amarnath Yatris,” he claimed.

The LeT spokesman said no Kashmiri has ever targeted any pilgrim and “this barbarity and atrocity is trademark of Indian forces”. “They have no match when it comes to commit heinous acts against humanity,” he added.

In a bizzare and oulandish allegation Ghaznavi alleged,“Ajit Doval is frustrated due to his failed policies, therefore he has turned to such dastardly acts. India wants to pave way for its anti-Kashmir policies by using such acts but, it is bound to fail like in past. May Allah be our protector and guide.”

However, Muneer Khan told ANI on Tuesday morning that the attack was carried out by the LeT and masterminded by a terrorist from Pakistan who has allegedly been active in the Valley for three years.

Nothing is sacred, or safe any more

The attack has revolted Kashmir where people took the safety of the yatris far granted. There is now a sense of foreboding about what might happen next.

The opposition parties including National Conference has called for a Jammu bandh on Tuesday. The political leaders and civil society organisations have condemned the attack.

Former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah was among the first to tweet his condemnation.

Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti termed the attack as “an assault on our values and traditions”.

Separatist leaders also condemned the attack.

“As the unfortunate news of the Yatris Killing reaches us leadership & people of #Kashmir are deeply saddened & strongly condemn it. To us the pilgrims have and will always be respected guests,” Mirwaiz tweeted.

In a joint statement, separatist trio Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik expressed grief over the killing of seven pilgrims.

“The incident goes against the very grain of Kashmiri ethos. The Amarnath yatra has been going on peacefully for centuries and is part of the yearly rhythm and will remain so,” the statement read.

“Our heart goes out to the families of the bereaved and we express our heartfelt condolences.”

Former Union minister Saifuddin Soz released a statement, condemning the attack, on Tuesday:

"The killing of several Amarnath Yatris by the marauders, the other day at Anantnag, constitutes a heinous crime against humanity.

This barbaric act is against the very grain of the Kashmir’s ethos (Kashmiriyat) and I strongly condemn it. In fact, words fail me to express my grief adequately.

I have a feeling that the general run of Kashmiris feel a deep sense of mourning on the assassination of innocent human beings including women.

The J&K police have been performing a commendable role under the very trying times and the people of Jammu and Kashmir State genuinely look to this disciplined force for dealing with all kind of violence decisively.

I would urge the J&K police to rise to the occasion and bring the remorseless and senseless killers to justice immediately. My heart goes out to the bereaved families who have suffered the pain of this grievous criminality."

Edited by Jhinuk Sen

First published: 11 July 2017, 11:39 IST