Amarnath Yatra attack marks crucial turn in Kashmir militancy: What will govt do to assert relevance in Valley?

The terror attack on Amarnath pilgrims on Monday night, killing seven (five of them women) and injuring 19 others, by suspected Kashmiri militants has raised new questions about the nature of militancy in the Valley. The militants attacked a bus full of pilgrims in Jammu and Kashmir's Anantnag district at around 8.20 pm on Monday, while they were returning from Baltal to Mir Bazar after the pilgrimage.

This is only the second time Amarnath pilgrims have been fired upon and killed; the first time such incident happened in the year 2000, when the base camp for the pilgrimage located at Pahalgam was attacked, in which 32 people including 21 pilgrims were killed.

Amarnath. Representational image. IBN

Representational image. IBN

A later inquiry into the killing, however, revealed that the main target of the militants were the security forces deployed to provide protection to the pilgrims; though many pilgrims became victims when they came under the indiscriminate firing by the militants.

But Monday's attack was clearly intended to kill and wound Hindu pilgrims, as security forces were not present there to provide cover. This has raised questions over the composite culture that Kashmiris have been proud of for generations.

The attack also poses questions about the security set-up in Kashmir to provide protection to the pilgrims. The official version of the incident so far tells us that the bus attacked by militants was not registered nor were the pilgrims travelling in it. The official account says that the registered pilgrims and buses had moved in a convoy along with the security cordon on Monday afternoon.

How were unregistered pilgrims and buses allowed to travel, despite several security check posts? How was the bus allowed to travel well after 7 pm deadline fixed for the movement of pilgrims? This raises a question on the oversight exercised by the security set-up.

The security apparatus will, of course, now move into a higher gear to hunt down the specific militants involved in this terror attack and bring them to justice. But the question is: How does the state deal with the rising militancy, which is seemingly spiralling out of control?

As Monday's attack showed, Kashmiri militants are now operating in autonomous zones of their own – autonomous in terms of both organisation and space. They owe no allegiance to any leader or organisation. The public face of the Kashmiri militancy, Hurriyat Conference, has categorically condemned Monday's attack.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the Hurriyat leader, minced no words when he said: "As the unfortunate news of the yatris' killing reaches us, leadership and people of Kashmir are deeply saddened and strongly condemn it. To us, the pilgrims have and will always be respected guests."

This is a sentiment that had prevailed in Kashmir for generations. That explains why the Amarnath pilgrims were not set upon by the aggrieved Muslim youth even in the tense after years of the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Pakistan-based militant organisation Harkat-ul-Ansar had given a call in 1994 to all Kashmiris to disallow the Amarnath pilgrimage until their demand for the removal of bunkers at Hazratbal Shrine in Srinagar was conceded by the government.

The government agreed to remove the bunkers but the Pakistani militant group raised further demands, which many Kashmiris found egregious. They disregarded the Pakistani boycott of the pilgrimage call and instead extended cooperation to the pilgrims.

In fact, in all the years the Kashmiri militancy was at its peak – in 2008, 2010 and 2016 – the Amarnath pilgrimage has had a successful run without any kinds of man-made disruption. In fact, many pilgrims had nice things to say about the hospitality they received from the local Muslim population (the only major incident in which large-scale deaths were reported was in 1996, when uninterrupted rain in the region resulted in a freezing cold wave that killed more than 200 pilgrims and paralyzed hundreds of others, some permanently).

In that regard, the 10 July attack marks a new chapter in Kashmiri militancy. How the people of Kashmir deal with it would determine the future of Kashmiri sub-nationalism (Kasmiriyat, as they say). If they come out on the streets in large numbers to unequivocally condemn this attack and demonstrate their solidarity with the Amarnath pilgrims, they will succeed in reaffirming the spirit that embodies the much-vaunted composite culture of Kashmir.

If the people of Kashmir refrain from exhibiting their popular anger against the dastardly act of a few militants that has besmirched their long-held beliefs and actions, then they would possibly drive Kashmir into a cul-de-sac of communal inferno with severe repercussions for years to come.

It is also a testing time for the Hurriyat Conference to establish its credentials as the protector of Kashmiri interests. The Hurriyat leaders have, time and again, asserted that their fight is against the security forces, which they accuse of resorting to severe human rights violations; the Hurriyat leaders are also ranged against the existing political establishment which, they insist, has deprived them of genuine political rights.

But if Kashmir as a melting pot of cultures, religions and beliefs has to be protected, then the militant attacks on pilgrims, in fact on any innocent congregation, must be condemned without any reservation. If the Hurriyat fails to do so, it would fail in its duties to the Kashmiris and would be pushed towards further marginalisation in Kashmiri affairs.

The role of the state and the central government is also crucial at this juncture. It is a matter of strange coincidence that the militant attack on the Amarnath pilgrims has happened twice in our history, both times when a BJP-led government has been ensconced in power at the Centre.

It serves a greater irony that the first attack against the pilgrims occurred when Atal Bihari Vajpayee – who had coined the famous words 'Kashmiriyat (Kashmir’s composite culture), insaniyat (humanism) and jamhooriyat (democracy)' as the governing principles of Kashmir – was the prime minister.

The second attack has taken place when Prime Minister Narendra Modi – who has called for sterner state action to curb militancy, compared to Vajpayee – is holding absolute power. Modi carries an additional burden on his head as his party is also sharing power in Jammu and Kashmir.

The Modi government would be tested in the days to come and would have to decide if it would dismiss the state government and impose governor's rule in Jammu and Kashmir – to deal with the rising menace of militancy.

Updated Date: Jul 11, 2017 12:20 PM

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