New Delhi: Last night, terrorists in Kashmir broke an unwritten code of not attacking Amarnath pilgrims, massacring seven of them, including five women. This terror episode, as many Kashmiris are already expressing privately, could further strain relations between those in Kashmir and rest of the country.
The last big attack on pilgrims was carried out in August 2002, in which nine people were killed in Pahalgam. While Pak-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) is believed to have been behind all attacks on pilgrims so far, this time, according to a senior CRPF officer, LeT looks to have been assisted by the local Hizbul Mujahideen (HM). A claim that is lent credence by several group photographs of extremists from both the terror outfits clicked together, released this year.
If true, this will be perhaps the first time that the biggest terror group in Kashmir –HM – is involved in attacking Amarnath Yatris.
The attack happened just hours after the curfew was lifted and social media ban was taken off in the Valley. The restrictions had been placed over the weekend in anticipation of an attack to mark the first death anniversary of Hizbul commander Burhan Wani.
While Amarnath Yatra has been a subject of great controversy and anguish in Kashmir, it remained unobstructed by terrorists for well over a decade till Monday evening.
Hizbul terrorist Burhan Wani, who died almost a year ago, had himself, in a video released in June last year, assured Amarnath pilgrims that they will not be harmed by terrorists. This was a position held by terror groups until now.
In the last several decades, in which devotees have come on an annual pilgrimage from across the country, the yatra has been attacked by terrorists five times.
1. August 1, 2000
The last big attack on Amarnath pilgrims was carried out by Lashkar-e-Toiba in 2000. LeT terrorists had killed 30 pilgrims in Pahalgam, the base camp for Amarnath yatris. The yatra, however, resumed in just a few days under heavy security cordon.
2. July 20, 2001
Thirteen people were killed, including three women pilgrims and two police officers, when terrorists hurled two grenades at a camp where pilgrims were resting. The assailants then opened fire at the camp. 15 pilgrims sustained injuries in the attack which was said to be a handiwork of LeT.
3. July 30, 2002
Two pilgrims were killed and three wounded when grenades were hurled at a taxi in Srinagar, which was on its way to Amarnath cave shrine base camp.
4. August 6, 2002
Three LeT militants entered the Nunwan (Pahalgam) base camp early morning on the August 6 and opened fire, killing nine people and injuring 27, including pilgrims and security personnel. The same year saw two attacks on Jammu’s Raghunath temple as well, which claimed 18 lives.
5. June 21, 2006
Ten pilgrims were injured, though no one was reported killed when militants hurled grenades at their bus in Srinagar.
The 2008 unrest:
Apart from terror incidents, Amarnath Shrine Board has also seen a bloody unrest in 2008 which left 63 people dead. The controversy was about the state government transferring 100 acres of land to Shree Amarnathji Shrine Board. The decision led to huge demonstrations in Kashmir triggering retaliatory protests in the Jammu region.
Since the land row, things have been quiet vis-à-vis the Amarnath Yatra. There have been some very loud protests over the manner in which Yatra is conducted, but calls to attack Amarnath Yatra haven’t been heard from an individual or extremists for years now.
Reaction from Kashmir:
Leaders in Kashmir were quick to dissociate themselves from Monday’s attacks which could engender strong countermeasures by security forces. The government is expected to come down hard on terror groups and their supporters.
Even the Hurriyat Joint Resistance Leadership, led by SAS Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, and Yaseen Malik, called the terrorists behind Monday’s attacks “enemies of humanity and of Islam.”
While investigations will be carried out to find out the people behind the killings, a heightened activity at the Line of Control (LoC) could also be an indicator about a non-local outfit like LeT being part of this terror strike.
Which is why as investigations begin, the focus will not be just on elements within the Valley but on Pakistan as well, whom India has long accused of harbouring people like Hafiz Saeed, the chief of LeT and Jamaat-ud-Dawa and the mastermind of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.
But there is an internal security angle to Monday’s attacks as well.
Security agencies said they have been receiving inputs about a possible terror attack. “We had received information about such attacks happening during Ramzan, which is why we had put our people and vital installations on high alert since then,” said a senior J&K police officer.
The motive behind these attacks was to foment trouble in the Valley, the officer said, in order to create a bigger communal flare up in the rest of the country.