Srinagar: The Jammu and Kashmir government on Friday curtailed the Amarnath Yatra and asked pilgrims to leave the state immediately after the Army revealed intelligence inputs confirming the possibility of a terror attack.
The announcement came hours after the Army said it had information that Pakistan was planning to disrupt the annual pilgrimage.
In the order issued by the state Home Department on Friday afternoon, the government cited intelligence inputs of possible terror attacks as the reason for the move.
“Keeping in view the latest intelligence inputs of terror threats, with specific targeting of the Amarnath Yatra, and given the prevailing security situation in the Kashmir Valley, in the interest of the safety and security of the tourists and Amarnath Yatris, it is advised that they may curtail their stay in the Valley immediately and take necessary measures to return as soon as possible,” the order read.
Top government sources told CNN-News18 that it wasn't "a normal advisory".
"The government had to issue the Amarnath Yatra advisory as the situation in the state is now extraordinary... it requires extraordinary measures to be taken," they added.
After the directive, a spokesperson of the Airports Authority of India said that the director of the Srinagar Airport has called a meeting of the Special Airport Security Committee.
Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh directed the Pathankot district administration to make all arrangements to ensure the safe return of pilgrims from Jammu and Kashmir in the wake of the advisory to cut short their stay. An official spokesperson said Singh had directed the DC to coordinate the operations for the safety of the pilgrims once they cross the border into Punjab. He has also asked all concerned departments to cooperate with the district administration in this regard.
The Amarnath Yatra, which started on July 1 and would have ended on August 15, was earlier suspended till August 4 in view of inclement weather forecast in the Valley.
A record number of 3.5 lakh devotees have performed the annual pilgrimage so far — this is 30% more than last year.
General Officer Commanding of Army's 15 Corps Lieutenant General KJS Dhillon said Pakistan was trying to disrupt peace in the Valley, but their attempts would not be tolerated. His statement came after searches over the past few days by security forces led to the recovery of a Pakistan-made mine and a huge cache of arms from along the Amarnath Yatra route.
The Corps commander said Pakistan and its army were desperate to disrupt peace in Kashmir Valley.
"Last three to four days, we were getting specific and confirmed intelligence inputs that terrorists led by Pakistan and Pakistan Army are trying to target the Shri Amarnathji yatra which is going on," Dhillon told a joint press conference with Jammu and Kashmir Police chief Dilbagh Singh in Srinagar.
Dhillon said joint teams of security forces launched searches along the twin routes of Baltal and Pahalgam leading to the holy cave shrine and recovered weapons, ammunition and explosives in the operations that have been going on for the past three days now.
"We had some major successes during the searches. Some Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) were recovered, which have been neutralised. The searches have yielded an American M-24 (sniper) rifle and an anti-personnel mine with Pakistan Ordnance factory markings on it, which clearly indicates that Pakistan is involved in terrorism in Kashmir," he said.
"I can assure you on behalf of the security forces here that this will not be allowed to happen. Designs of Pakistan and its army will be foiled at all costs. Nobody can disrupt peace in Kashmir. This is our promise to people of Kashmir and everyone in the nation," he added.
Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah said the "unprecedented order" to curtail the Amarnath Yatra would "do nothing to dampen the sense of fear and foreboding" prevailing in the Valley at the moment, particularly since the Centre decided to deploy additional troops.
Although this unprecedented order would seem to suggest a genuine fear of a massive terror strike directed at Amarnath ji yatris or/and tourists this will do nothing to dampen the sense of fear & foreboding that prevails in the valley at the moment. https://t.co/qF99X0nAx6— Omar Abdullah (@OmarAbdullah) August 2, 2019
Last week, the government had pushed at least 100 companies (10,000 personnel) of central forces into the state, which are in the process of reaching their destinations. On Thursday, there were reports of additional deployment as well as the withdrawal of security from a number of shrines, mosques and even some courts.
DGP Singh said reports about massive deployment of security forces in the state were exaggerated. "We have had number of tasks over the past nine months like elections to panchayats, ULB (urban local bodies) and Parliament. Then the Amarnath Yatra is also going on... so the forces did not have any rest during this period. So some forces are being de-inducted while some are being inducted as replacement. The numbers in the media are exaggerated," he said.
Dhillon said the situation along the Line of Control (LoC) is under control and peaceful as of now.
"Infiltration from the Pakistani side is being attempted but these attempts have regularly been foiled. In one of the incidents on July 30, three terrorists were eliminated in Gurez sector. Yesterday night also an infiltration attempt was made in Kupwara sector," he said.
The officer said according to available intelligence reports, all the launch pads in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) are full and infiltrators are attempting to enter through the LoC in Kashmir.
"It is also happening in Poonch-Rajouri. Even infiltration is happening in Jammu to Pathankot sectors. This is in addition to other routes through other countries. Infiltration is not down, attempts are being made but they are being dealt with at LoC," he said.
Singh said the Pakistan Army had resorted to ceasefire violation after a gap of four months targeting civilian areas.
"There have been ceasefire violations on July 30, Pakistan army resorted to unprovoked artillery firing, which was retaliated in a befitting manner and thereafter they have been quiet. In case they attempt again, it would again be replied in a manner better than the previous time," he said, adding the previous ceasefire violation to this was on March 12.
On the counter-insurgency operations in hinterland, he said the focus has been on eliminating the leadership of the terror outfits. "In the last six seven months, we have been able to eliminate most of the top leadership and the job is still in progress," he said.
Officials said the IED threat and activities have been on the increase in the last year.
Kashmir Inspector General of Police SP Pani said 10 IED attempts were made in the past several months. "We have busted five IED modules and arrested several persons. The noose has been tightened around the theft of explosive materials available locally," he said, adding that a few of the top IED experts among the militant ranks, including Munna Lahori and Fayaz Panzoo, have been eliminated during operations last week.
(With inputs from agencies)