New Delhi: Officials manning the security apparatus in Jammu and Kashmir have warned that the annual Amarnath Yatra, which is scheduled to start on 30 June and will continue until 11 August, faces the imminent risk of a significant terror attack. Officials have said that the government should consider scaling down the Yatra by curtailing both its duration and the number of yatris to prevent a mishap.
Official sources said that it will become difficult to provide full-proof security to the pilgrims during the rush and given the present situation in the union territory where both locals and non-locals are being killed by terrorists, most security forces have shifted to the cities and towns.
“Truth be told, as of today, it is difficult to guarantee full-proof security. Those who sit on discussion tables with ministers may shy away from stating the factual position, but in private, they agree that the threat of a terrorist attack on the yatra is at an all-time high and considering the huge number of pilgrims expected to arrive this time, it would be prudent to cut down the numbers,” a senior official with one of the intelligence gathering apparatuses who is posted in Kashmir, told The Sunday Guardian.
The yatra was suspended in 2021 and 2020 due to the pandemic, and was curtailed two weeks before scheduled time in 2019 due to security reasons. As per government estimates, at least 8 lakh people are expected to enter the holy cave shrine situated in South Kashmir this year as part of this 43-day yatra.
According to these officials, the wave of terror attacks, especially against Hindus, is part of a design that has been conceived by the “India desk” of the Directorate of ISI, 414 INT desk of Directorate of Military Intelligence (GHQ, Rawalpindi) and leaders of terror groups based in Pakistan which is being executed by local and foreign terrorists along with support from a few local overground workers.
The Sunday Guardian reached out to Yatish Yadav, media advisor to Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha, seeking details of the steps being taken by the administration to tackle these increased attacks on civilians and whether any accountability was being fixed in the matter. No response was received till the time the story went to press.
On Thursday, a bank manager, Vijay Kumar, originally from Rajasthan, was shot dead by a terrorist in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kulgam in the second targeted attack on Hindus in the valley in three days. The attack came just two days after a Hindu teacher from Jammu, Rajni Bala, was killed by terrorists outside a school, also in Kulgam.
On 6 April, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had informed the Rajya Sabha that 14 Kashmiri Pandits and Hindus were killed in the Kashmir Valley after Article 370 was abrogated by Parliament in August 2019. There have been more killings in the month of April and at least six civilians and three off duty policemen have been shot dead since 1 May till Friday morning.
The security forces, too, have hit back by eliminating 27 terrorists in the last one month, but the targeting of civilians has not gone down. Another official with an intelligence gathering set-up said that the recent attacks were waiting to happen as the terrorists have been preparing for these attacks since one year.
“Last year, their hands were tied due to less finance and unavailability of weapons. This season, due to the early melting of snow, lots of weapons and narcotics have been smuggled into Kashmir from Pakistan. Smuggling has also happened through the International Border in Jammu and Punjab. This will not be accepted by the government and the forces, but that is the truth,” the officer said.
According to multiple officers who are tasked with keeping an eye on the security related developments in the state, the measures that the Union government has taken in the state like hoisting of the Tricolour, Operation Sadbhawna, jobs for Pandits, the elimination of terrorists almost on a daily basis and the plans of the government to conduct the Amarnath Yatra on a grand scale this year, have pushed the “India desk” at the ISI Directorate to put more efforts into spreading disturbance in the valley again and derail the government’s plan for Assembly elections.
“The troublemakers are marketing the government initiatives as an act to change the demographic character of the valley and sadly and unfortunately, many locals are falling for this propaganda. It is also a reality that these terrorists are getting support of some of the locals who are providing them with shelter, information and money. The grand design behind these terror attacks on Hindus and the imminent attack on the Amarnath Yatra is to target the ‘normalcy’ factor. And as you can see, this plan is already having an effect, with the Hindu Pandits being forced to flee their present homes,” the official said.