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.
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.
"Eight injured have suffered bullet injuries while the rest were injured due to shattered pieces of glass," a senior J&K police officer said.
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.
The pilgrimage – discovered by Kashmiri Muslims some 150 years ago – is seen as an easy target for militants in the insurgency-wracked Kashmir.
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 letter was leaked, and later circulated generously on social media. Was it ignored?
Nevertheless, the attack will raise questions on the preparedness of security agencies who were alerted about possible terror attacks.
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.
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 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.
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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