Terrorists, shaken by brisk apple trade in Kashmir, shoot dead Punjab dealer; transport companies seek convoy escort

  • Terrorists, shaken by the brisk apple trade in Jammu and Kashmir, and desperate to stop any semblance of normalcy returning to the Valley, have targetted migrants.

  • The killing of a truck driver on Monday was followed by an attack on two Punjab-based apple traders on Wednesday in which one was killed and other taken to the hospital in critical condition.

  • Motor transport companies have demanded special security provision for vehicles carrying goods to Kashmir as they fear that terrorist groups may try to orchestrate similar attacks in the future.

Terrorists, shaken by the brisk apple trade in Jammu and Kashmir, and desperate to stop any semblance of normalcy returning to the Valley, have made a concerted effort to target migrants. The killing of a truck driver on Monday was followed by an attack on two Punjab-based apple traders on Wednesday in which one was killed and the other is in critical condition.

At 7.30 pm on Wednesday, Charanjeet Singh and Sanjeev were shot by three to four militants in Shopian district. Charanjeet succumbed to his injuries and Sanjeev was shifted to Pulwama district hospital.

Monday's killing of Shareif Khan, a truck driver from Rajasthan is being seen as a warning from terror groups to transport companies located outside Kashmir to stay out of the Valley.

“It seems that the attack was carried out to disprove the Central government’s claim that normalcy has returned to the valley. The incident may cause damage to the business of transport companies as not many truck owners and drivers will be willing to travel to Kashmir,” said IK Chadda, a truck owner from Jaipur.

 Terrorists, shaken by brisk apple trade in Kashmir, shoot dead Punjab dealer; transport companies seek convoy escort

Seeking a secured route. AFP

Significantly, the attack occurred at a time when the number of trucks going to Kashmir increased after a brief drop post abrogation of Article 370.

The truck which was attacked had a Rajasthan registration number and its driver also was from the state.

“Several thousands of trucks from Rajasthan carry goods to the Valley every month in normal course. Only from Udaipur, nearly 1,000 trucks every month carry dairy and other products to Kashmir. But after the abrogation of Article 370, the number of trucks going to Kashmir dropped drastically. In the last few days it had picked up again and now this incident happened,” Chadda said.

The terrorists not only killed the truck driver but also set the vehicle carrying apples on fire in Shopian district on Monday. In a bid to create fear, the apple merchant from whose orchard the apples were loaded on the truck was also thrashed. The truck which was attacked was among the few goods carrying vehicles from outside Kashmir to resume operations in the Valley after the abrogation of Article 370.

This is not the first time that terrorists have systematically targeted migrant workers in Kashmir. In 2007, after the rape and murder of a twelve-year-old girl in Langate, Two of the accused in the case were from outside the state. Subsequently, unidentified militants shot at Abdul Kalam, a migrant worker from Malda in West Bengal, as reported in an article in Frontline. At the time, separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani claimed, "Lakhs of non-state subjects had been pushed into the Valley under a long-term plan to crush the Kashmiris...The majority of these non-State subjects are professional criminals and they should be driven out of Kashmir."

Methalal Kripalani, president of Kashmiri Apple Merchant Association, who runs a wholesale business of apples in Azadpur Wholesale Market interpreting the drop said that after abrogation of Article 370, the number of trucks from other states going to Kashmir dropped drastically as there was fear that they may be attacked by underground groups.

“Though we are not aware of any threats from the underground groups to the truckers, but we saw that number of trucks going to Kashmir decreased drastically after 5 August this year,” he said.

Kripalani also said that thousands of trucks from Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and Rajasthan usually transport various kinds of articles for the markets in Kashmir and return laden with apples.

“During this part of the year Azadpur wholesale market would normally see 350 trucks laden with Kashmiri apples entering its premises daily which decreased to 250 this year and most of these trucks belong to the local transport companies in Kashmir,” he added.

As per another source, only 92 trucks laden with Kashmiri apples entered the Azadpur Market on Tuesday. However, the source did not attribute the drop in number of trucks on Tuesday to any threat from terrorist group rather it said that a landslide in Ramban area in Kashmir is what has restricted the number of trucks.

But sources in Kashmir say that though truckers were not threatened by terrorist groups, posters warning the Kashmiri people to severe all ties with India were seen on the walls.

Despite these threats from underground groups, the trade and transport of apples from the Valley picked up as local transport companies cooperated and began transporting apples to Delhi.

An article published in Firstpost says that figures for trucks with cargoes of apples, maintained at the Lakhanpur excise barrier, show 34,599 trucks crossed Jammu and Kashmir’s largest commercial transit point until 9 October, carrying over 440,000 metric tons (MT) of fruit to nation markets: 124,000 MT of that since 1 October alone.

The number of trucks carrying apples to other parts of the nation would have further increased as fleets of trucks from other parts of the country too lately began adding to the existing force of trucks in Kashmir.

Also read: Kashmir situation leaves apple orchards in the lurch; cultivators say clampdown has hurt business, govt says just 'matter of days'

Apple traders fear that killing of the trucker on Monday might again deteriorate the supplies in the days to come as it many transport companies see the incident as a warning not to let their trucks into Kashmir.

On account of the fear caused by the incident, All India Motor Transport Congress demanded that the government should take special steps for the security of truckers in hostile regions like Kashmir.

“In restive regions, there is a provision to escort a convoy of trucks to their destinations. This measure should be introduced in Kashmir also,” said Naveen Gupta, secretary-general of the organisation.

“Before the attack on the truck, a number of terrorists had beaten a group of people with sticks for not following their orders. They then hijacked the truck towards Pulwama. The truck was stopped after travelling for nearly 4 kilometres where the driver was shot and the vehicle with apples set fire to,” said a source based out of Kashmir.

Apart from providing convoy security the transporters organisation also demanded secured parking lots in every 50 kilometres and disbursal of prior information to the truckers about any possible danger on the route.

With inputs from News18 and agencies

Updated Date: Oct 17, 2019 07:09:40 IST