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Despite Assurances of Safety, What Explains the Attack on Amarnath Pilgrims?

There has been unanimous condemnation of the attack on Amarnath yatris in Kashmir, and an outpouring of support and solidarity for the victims.

Chief minister Mehbooba Mufti meeting victims of the attack on Amarnath pilgrims in the Anantnag district hospital. Credit: Special arrangement

Chief minister Mehbooba Mufti meeting victims of the attack on Amarnath pilgrims in the Anantnag district hospital. Credit: Special arrangement

Anantnag: The broken glass scattered on the road is the only remnant of Monday’s terror attack that left seven Amarnath pilgrims dead on the Srinagar-Jammu highway, threatening to stir tension in a state already divided on religious lines.

Nobody in the Valley expected the attack on yatris, despite the region witnessing a flare up in violence recently. For Kashmiris, Muslim and Hindu, the pilgrimage to the Amarnath cave of Hindus from around India symbolises the legacy of a composite culture and communal harmony. And that explains the anger on the streets today.

Show of solidarity

The attack spot is barely 200 m away from the army’s sector headquarters and the joint interrogation centre of the police in the Khanabal locality of Anantnag town. It is also less than 2 km away from the office of the deputy inspector general of police, South Kashmir.

The fact that the attack took place late in the evening didn’t deter people from coming out of their houses and helping the injured yatris in whatever way possible. “Just minutes after the injured were brought to hospital, many local youth volunteered to donate blood while others chipped in with monetary support to buy medicines and other equipment to help the injured yatris, who were in a state of shock,” said Dr Azad Malik at the district hospital in Anantnag.

Mehbooba Mufti in the Anantnag district hospital on the day of the attack on Amarnath pilgrims. Credit: Special arrangement

Mehbooba Mufti in the Anantnag district hospital on the day of the attack on Amarnath pilgrims. Credit: Special arrangement

The entire medical team at the hospital worked overnight to treat at least 20 injured yatris, ten of whom had bullet wounds. Two victims were operated on overnight for their grievous bullet injuries. “As a Kashmiri, it was our obligation to help the yatris. This is what defines Kashmir,” said a volunteer, Nasir Ahmad, who along with his friends remained with the yatris in the hospital till late into the night to comfort them.

“We really appreciated the support and love that we got from people here. Though all of us were petrified after the attack, the doctors and the young boys didn’t let us feel even for a moment that we are away from home,” said Pushpaben Goswami, an injured yatris from Maharastra who is undergoing treatment at SKIMS Tertiary Care Institute in Srinagar.

She was hit by a bullet on the right side of her back, bruising her spinal cord. “I will visit Kashmir again,” she said as she smiled, lying on a bed at the hospital.

 

Security personnel frisking Amarnath yatris and locals before they head towards the holy cave shrine following the militant attack on a bus in which seven pilgrims were killed and 19 others injured, at Nuwun base Camp in South Kashmir on Tuesday. Credit: PTI/S. Irfan

Security personnel frisking Amarnath yatris and locals before they head towards the holy cave shrine following the militant attack on a bus in which seven pilgrims were killed and 19 others injured, at Nuwun base Camp in South Kashmir on Tuesday. Credit: PTI/S. Irfan

The attack and the blame game

The bus carrying pilgrims was on its way from Baltal to Jammu when it came under militants’ fire. Both the Jammu and Kashmir police and the CRPF, however, said that the yatris had not registered themselves and weren’t part of the yatra convoy, which is escorted by security forces. According to the police, they had also violated the 7 pm curfew on the movement of yatris.

The attack took place despite intelligence input that the yatra could become the target of militants to “flare up communal tensions throughout the nation”.

The alert, titled “most urgent,” was sent to top police and CRPF authorities, and subsequently leaked on social media. “The militants might strike in form of standoff fire on the yatra convoy to kill 100 to 150 yatris and about 100 policemen,” reads the alert.

Kashmir police chief Muneer Ahmad Khan blamed the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Tayyaba for the attack. “There are credible inputs about the LeT outfit carrying out the attack,” said Khan.

Government spokesman Naem Akhter said on Twitter, a “gang of gunmen belonging to LeT and led by Ismail from Pakistan have been identified as perpetrators of [the] yatri attack”.

In a statement issued to a local news agency, the LeT, however, termed the attack a “highly reprehensible act” that was against the teachings of Islam. “Islam does not allow violence against any faith. 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 commiting heinous acts against humanity,” LeT spokesman Abdullah Ghaznavi said.

In the past two months, the security forces have intensified their counter-insurgency operations, killing at least 30 militants.

On the other hand, the killings have brought into focus once again the discourse around ‘new-age militants’, who have of late made the local police their target. Six policemen were killed in the Achbal area of Anantnag and one policeman each in Srinagar and Kulgam recently.

Could the attack have been prevented? There are no answers as of now. But the security agencies will need to put their heads together to find out how the lapse occurred even after 21,000 additional troops had been deployed in the run up to the first death anniversary of slain militant commander Burhan Wani.

Unanimous in condemnation

In a joint statement, top separatist leaders Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Mohammad Yasin Malik expressed “deep sorrow and grief over the killing of yatris and strongly condemned it”.

“This incident goes against the very grain of Kashmiri ethos,” the statement read.

In a tweet, Mirwaiz said the leadership and the people of Kashmir are deeply saddened by the attack and strongly condemn it. “For us, the pilgrims are and will always be respected guests,” he said.

On July 11, people assembled in Pratap Park, in the heart of the summer capital Srinagar, to condemn the “barbaric act”. Students, academics, writers, doctors, lawyers, traders and members of different civil society forums were part of the protest.

“We are here to condemn the attack and also raise the larger question of what should be done next. Incidents like this one have happened in the past and the government, after assuring a transparent probe, has only ended up shelving the cases. We demand a UN-monitored probe into the attack,” noted lawyer Parvez Imroz told The Wire.

Condemnation has also been pouring in from across the political divide in Kashmir. While chief minister Mehbooba Mufti called the attack “an assault on the cultural ethos and values of humanity,” National Conference working president Omar Abdullah tweeted that “every right thinking Kashmiri must today condemn the killing of the Amarnath yatris and say, unequivocally – this is #NotInMyName.”

Chief minister Mehbooba Mufti at a wreath-laying ceremony for the victims of the attack on Amarnath pilgrims. Credit: Special arrangement

Chief minister Mehbooba Mufti at a wreath-laying ceremony for the victims of the attack on Amarnath pilgrims. Credit: Special arrangement

What does the attack indicate?

Days before the pilgrimage began this year, hardline separatist leader Geelani, on June 19, reiterated that the pilgrims were “our revered guests,” while denying the yatris faced any threat.

Though the Valley has time and again erupted in mass protests, be it the 2016 unrest or three consecutive summers of mass protests beginning 2008, the pilgrimage to Amarnath, one of the most revered Hindu shrines deep in mountains of South Kashmir discovered in 1850, has almost always been a peaceful affair.

Even militants have, in the past, assured yatris that they will be safe during their pilgrimage. And that is why the attack has baffled people, who have come forward to show their solidarity with the victims.

According to political analyst Noor M. Baba, the attack could be an “aberration and not part of lthe arger militant discourse” in Kashmir or the “result of influence from outside as some militant individuals have been speaking the language which is not in tune with the militancy operating in Kashmir”.

“But it may also be an indication of the hardening of the position by militants and a reaction to the hardened stand of New Delhi in Kashmir, as we have been witnessing that the government is more and more depending on tough measures to tackle the militancy,” said Baba.

Security personnel keeping a vigil as sadhus gather to head towards Kashmir to pay obeisance at the Amarnath shrine cave, days after a militant attack on pilgrims in Anantnag, in Jammu on Wednesday. Credit: PTI

Security personnel keeping a vigil as sadhus gather to head towards Kashmir to pay obeisance at the Amarnath shrine cave, days after a militant attack on pilgrims in Anantnag, in Jammu on Wednesday. Credit: PTI

This attack is the second strike on Amarnath yatris. In August 2000, militants attacked a yatra camp in Pahalgam, killing 27 people including 21 pilgrims. The government blamed the LeT at that time. Prior to the attack, militants had called for a ban on the yatra in 1994 and 1995.

The biggest tragedy to hit the yatra was in 1996, when close to 400 pilgrims, who were caught in heavy snowfall, died en route to the cave.

  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

    — Top separatist leaders expressed grief and strongly condemned this dastardly act.
    — People assembled in Srinagar to condemn the attack.
    — “Amarnath pilgrims are our revered guests” – Syed Ali Geelani.
    — 50 yatris were saved by the presence of mind of the bus driver, a Kashmiri Muslim.
    — People came out of their houses and helped the victims.
    — Many local youth volunteered to donate blood.
    — Others chipped in with monetary support.
    — The entire medical team at the hospital worked overnight.
    — “We really appreciated the support and love that we got from people here….I will visit Kashmir again”: an injured yatri.

    Kashmiris showed their humanity and compassion.
    Isnt it time WE did the same towards THEM?

  • ashok759

    The way ordinary citizens have come forward to help is very heartening. It should shame people who have been asking for a ” cull “.

  • alok asthana

    Kashmiris have shown themselves to be far superior to the typical hindu of India. They’ve stood up against the attack on an ethnic group. HIndus had never stood up against attacks on muslims in India. They’ve stolen the march. What a shame for BJP and RSS – and for the average hindu of India. Look in the mirror.

    • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

      So true.
      Not a finger being lifted to save Junaid Khan on a crowded train being a glaring example.

  • alok asthana

    Well, at least, some kashmir Muslims did stand up. Hindus didn’t have even that number, despite the size on Hindu population.
    The toxic RSS factor has screwed good Hinduism. Only the rabid ones remain.

  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

    And what does this conversation gain by doing that, other than providing you with the passing pleasure of a “gotcha” moment?
    Any discussion these days – on Kashmir or communalism or majority/minority issues – rapidly degenerates into these petty “gotcha” exchanges:

    “Oh, so you say that Muslims stood up for Hindus? So where were they when Ayub Pandit was getting lynched? Gotcha!”
    “Oh, you say that Kashmiris came forward to help the yatris? Where were they when the Kashmiri Pandits were being driven out? Gotcha!”

    ….and on it goes.
    No root cause analysis ever gets done. No solution – or the road to a solution – ever gets discussed.
    Just whataboutery and the sweet success of the “gotcha”, followed by a quick end to the conversation. What a waste of all the intelligence and wisdom that this platform brings together!

    Do we want to solve the Kashmir problem and bring our soldiers home or not? Do we want to stop lynchings or not? Do we want to preserve the marvel that our wonderfully colorful society is or not?

    IF your answer to these is “yes”, then lets stop trading injustices, actions and reactions – past and present. Because that gets us nowhere and simply keeps us stuck in the mud (and the politicians happy).
    Yes, we acknowledge those injustices, reiterate that justice must be done to EVERYONE who was sinned against, and with that as the basis FIND A SOLUTION that is fair and equitable.
    Otherwise, whats the point of being educated, informed and “enlightened”?

  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

    “worship kashmiris and demonising Hindus”:::: My goodness, that’s quite a leap of semantic interpretation!

    “There have been tremendous efforts by Kashmiris to hide religious character of their demand.”:::: You are so wrong. So far, their demands have had NOTHING TO DO with religious ideology – all along, it has first been justice, and when that has been denied to them, it has become more and more a call for azaadi or autonomy. But if we continue messing around and inflicting more damage, I am afraid that a demand which has been purely political thus far will take on ideological color, as Zakir Musa has already given warning about. And if and when that happens, dont even hope for a solution in our generation (or the next, or the next).

    Anyway, you obviously have little understanding of the genesis of the Kashmir problem, nor do you really care to dig deep and find out. Which is EXACTLY why we are losing Kashmir.

    Btw, read this article that was published just today on The Wire: https://thewire.in/159343/us-policy-yemen-redux-iraq-will-create-terrorists/

    As for “you will remain tiny minority frustrated by more triumphs of incumbent government”:::: Well my friend, the incumbent government got only 31% of the popular vote in 2014, so perhaps it is YOU who is in the “tiny minority” frustrated by the disasters overseen by this government?

  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

    I am neither “completely ignorant” nor “pretending”.
    You said “history”?
    I have enough unbiased awareness to know that Kashmir’s history through the last few centuries is one of occupation and oppression – starting from Akbar’s Mughals in 1586, to Ahmad Shah Abdali’s Afghans in 1753, to Ranjit Singh’s Sikhs in 1819, to Gulab Singh’s Dogras in 1846 (who bought Kashmir from the British East India Company for 75 lakh rupees), to the present day Indian army. It has been one unbroken story of disempowerment, maltreatment and discrimination against the majority Muslim community, aided and abetted in no small measure by the minority Hindu community who occupied positions of power throughout and yet never ever raised a voice against the tyranny.
    Most of this is well documented and I can point you to much literature on the subject. However, I doubt I can sell historical facts to someone already sold on one single narrative of convenience about Kashmir, and for whom Kashmir’s history perhaps starts on 19th January 1990. So I wont even bother.
    Hate that is uninformed and refuses to be informed (or prefers not to be informed) is impossible to converse rationally with.
    Goodbye, Mr Khemraj. I am signing off this discussion.