Sudhanva Shetty Shetty
Writer, coffee-addict, likes folk music & long walks in the rain. Firmly believes that there's nothing more important in a democracy than a well-informed electorate.
Seven pilgrims returning from the Amarnath Yatra were shot dead in a terror attack in Anantnag district, Jammu and Kashmir on Monday, 10 July. 19 pilgrims were injured. The terrorists fired on the pilgrims’ bus as well as a security vehicle.
The region is highly attack-prone, being a focus of militancy and unrest in recent years. This time, the victims were seven innocent citizens, en route to a popular pilgrimage destination. Their deaths and the incident itself have shook the nation, and while grieving and empathising are important, questioning why such an attack was allowed to happen is all the more important, particularly for covering up any loopholes and ensuring that such an attack does not take place again.
Accountability is crucial, and we as responsible citizens should hold the concerned authorities accountable at all times. With that in mind, here are some questions that need to be answered by concerned authorities immediately and clearly.
The bus carrying the pilgrims left late, was unregistered with the Amarnath Shrine Board and was escorted by only one CRPF police jeep ahead. The bus was traveling after 7 PM – again, this is not allowed by authorities. Why was this security lapse allowed to happen?
The route taken by the bus in Kashmir is protected by over 3,000 troops during the day – how can one police jeep protect a bus-load of pilgrims during nighttime?
Police claim the bus driver had violated rules for the pilgrimage, which state that no yatra vehicle should be on a highway after 7 pm. According to a CRPF statement, the bus was not part of the official yatra and not registered with the Amarnath Shrine Board.
Furthermore, Om Sai Travels, the agency whose bus came under a terror attack in Anantnag, was not a member of any of the four tour and travel operators’ associations active in Gujarat and the rest of the country. Without the proper registration, how was the bus able to cross so many security checkpoints?
Speaking to CNN News 18 channel, Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu said that the bus the pilgrims were in was not registered with the Amarnath Yatra Board. “This is something everyone knows, that you are not travel without security and yet this happened. The government is investigating how it did,” the minister said. Why was such a questionable bus allowed to travel in such an attack-prone area?
As early as 25 June, intelligence reports indicated that terrorists had been directed to eliminate 100 to 150 pilgrims and about 100 police officers and officials. This report was reported by the mainstream media; it is obvious that it reached the authorities as well. And yet the attack happened. Why were the necessary precautions not taken and security beefed up in light of the intelligence report?
“Intelligence input received from SSP Anantnag reveals that terrorists have been directed to eliminate 100 to 150 pilgrims and about 100 police officers and officials,” IGP Kashmir Zone Muneer Khan said in a letter which was sent to the Army, the CRPF, and range DIGs in the state.
Asked about the intelligence issue then, Special Director General of CRPF, S N Shrivastava said, “I will not like to discuss the issue in public but you are aware about the situation in Kashmir. We have taken measures as per the these intelligence inputs and have made appropriate security arrangements … This (yatra) is a big challenge to us. Elaborate security has been put in place for an incident-free yatra and to ensure safety and security of pilgrims and camps.”
And yet the Yatra was not “incident-free”. How could this happen?
This year’s Amarnath Yatra was reportedly the most protected in the pilgrimage’s history. The police had used drone-mounted surveillance cameras, jammers, dog squads, bullet-proof bunkers, satellite tracking devices and other gadgets to secure the pilgrimage in view of increased militancy and violence in Kashmir.
Replying to questions on security last month, the Special DG said, “All security arrangements have been made in view of the threat perception.” Despite the heightened security measures how could such a disastrous attack have happened?
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is in power both at the centre (as part of the National Democratic Alliance) and Jammu and Kashmir, where it governs with the Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). But this relative political homogeneity has not transpired to stability or constructive action on the ground.
Why is Kashmir in a continuous state of escalating unrest? There has been a growth in home-grown militancy and radicalisation of the Kashmiri population. Several reasons for this trend have been cited – absence of a political dialogue, the lack of economic opportunities, frustration due to high unemployment, and continued prevalence of the AFSPA in the region.
The government’s Kashmir policy is rife with loopholes and flaws. There has been no serious attempt at integrating Kashmir with the rest of India and an increasing anti-India sentiment in the Valley attests to that fact. Why is the government not reviewing and bettering its flawed Kashmir policy that is causing increasing damage?
Infiltration attempts and ceasefire violations along the Line of Control (LoC) peaked in the last two years. Additionally, the army’s combat death toll in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) in 2016 (64) was the highest since 2010, when 69 soldiers died, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (analysis here).
It was found that 28 infiltration attempts took place in 2015 followed by 88 infiltration attempts in 2016. The Minister of State for Defence Subhash Bhamre had told Parliament that a total of 116 illegal trespassing cases along the India-Pakistan border in Jammu and Kashmir were reported in 2015 and 2016, including 88 last year.
In the wake of the Uri attack that killed 18 Indian soldiers, the Indian army conducted surgical strikes on terror launch pads on Wednesday night across the LoC in Pakistan. The surgical strike killed several terrorists causing significant casualties and heavy damages.
However, the India-Pakistan border remains volatile. Why are infiltrations continuing?
These are serious questions and they demand serious introspection and immediate answering. Another Amarnath Yatra attack cannot be allowed to happen. The unrest in Kashmir has been raging for far too long now; the government needs to review its Kashmir policy and ensure that terrorism in the region is brought to a halt. At the same time, infiltrations from Pakistan (and China) have to be dealt with and stopped. The government needs to be accountable to the Indian people and it needs to ensure the safety and security of all its citizens.
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