Alert or Not: Could Amarnath Terror Attack Have Been Prevented?
Pilgrims embark on the annual Amarnath Yatra from Nunwan Pahalgam base camp on 29 June 2017. (Photo: IANS)
Pilgrims embark on the annual Amarnath Yatra from Nunwan Pahalgam base camp on 29 June 2017. (Photo: IANS)

Alert or Not: Could Amarnath Terror Attack Have Been Prevented?

The bus ferrying Amarnath yatris was on its way to Jammu when it was caught in a crossfire between suspected militants and security forces in south Kashmir last evening. The pilgrims on board had paid obeisance at the cave shrine located in the upper reaches of Pahalgam on 8 July and visited Srinagar the following day for sight seeing.

Four militants, believed to be from Lashkar-e-Taiba, lay in wait near Botengu of Anantnag, a highly garrisoned area housing an Army camp.

“Yatris weren’t the target. They fired on a bullet-proof vehicle of the forces. The bus, which was just behind the vehicle, got caught in crossfire,” a senior J&K police officer said.

Also Read: India Won’t be ‘Bogged Down’ By Such Acts: Modi on Amarnath Attack

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A woman pilgrim on board the bus was woken up by the sound of gunshots shattering the glasses of the vehicle as her fellow passengers screamed in horror.

"We were going for Mata Vaishno Devi yatra in Katra (of Jammu). Most of us were sleeping when the bus began to fall apart. People were screaming for help. The bus was getting hit on both sides. I thought this was the end. But the firing stopped suddenly,” the woman, who didn't reveal her identity, told reporters at a hospital where the injured were taken for treatment.

One man and five women – from Gujarat and Maharashtra – were killed. Another woman succumbed to injuries at the hospital, and 19 others were injured.

"Eight injured have suffered bullet injuries while the rest were injured due to shattered pieces of glass," a senior J&K police officer said.

Also Read: Amarnath Yatra Attack: Leaders Across the Spectrum Express Shock

By the time help reached the Batengoo area where the incident had occurred, a group of local Muslims had arrived at the scene along with a CRPF and police party escorting the pilgrims, witnesses told The Quint.

The injured were rushed to Anantnag district hospital from where some were referred to Srinagar in a critical state.

Security Lapses

The pilgrimage – discovered by Kashmiri Muslims some 150 years ago – is seen as an easy target for militants in the insurgency-wracked Kashmir.

In the run up to the pilgrimage, more than dozen meetings of state police, army, central forces and state and central intelligence agencies are held every year to finalise the security arrangements.

Ahead of the pilgrimage, in a letter sent to various security agencies last month, including the army, Muneer Khan, Inspector General of Police, Kashmir, had warned of an imminent threat to policemen and people undertaking this year's pilgrimage.

The attack may be in the form of stand-off fire on Yatra convoy which they believe will result in flaring of communal tensions throughout the nation.
Muneer Khan

The letter was leaked, and later circulated generously on social media. Was it ignored?

With their leaders vanishing one after another, militant groups are under immense pressure to make their presence felt in the Valley. Things will get worse before they get better. We will take each one of the perpetrators of this ghastly crime.
Khan to The Quint

Nevertheless, the attack will raise questions on the preparedness of security agencies who were alerted about possible terror attacks.

Also Read: Amarnath Yatris Have Faced Attacks Before: A Short History

Also, security deployment had been heightened, especially in south Kashmir, where more than 21,000 additional troops have been deployed for the last four days in the run up to the first death anniversary of slain militant leader Burhan Wani.

Could the attack have been prevented?

Unanimous Condemnation

Calling it “an assault on the cultural ethos and values of humanity”, Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti visited the injured at the hospital. Naeem Akhtar, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) ideologue and Kashmir’s public works minister, termed it "a dark patch" on the state's history.

The National Conference working president Omar Abdullah, too, condemned the killings.

The separatist groups, including moderate Hurriyat chief Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, also condemned the "cold-blooded murder" of the pilgrims.

The joint resistance leadership of Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Mohammad Yasin Malik has expressed deep sorrow and grief over the killing of Amarnath Yatris in Anantnag.
The Hurriyat in a statement

Also Read: 7 Dead in the Biggest Terror Attack on Amarnath Yatra in Years

Communal Backlash?

The attack, according to the ruling PDP, will result in a backlash against Muslims, and especially against Kashmiris who will become more vulnerable to hate crimes and communal attacks perpetrated in the name of protecting cows across the country.

This is a carefully planned strike aimed at creating discord between different communities and to fan communal flames in the country. The best revenge and answer to the perpetrators will be to carry on the yatra, despite this tragedy.
Muzaffar Hussain Beg, PDP

However, tensions are on the rise. Already, different social and religious groups have called for a bandh in the Hindu-majority Jammu region on Tuesday in protest of the killings.

The National Conference has extended support to the call. Will it end up dividing the two culturally distinct regions of the state? Will it push Kashmir to the margin, again?

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