Caught in the crossfire: Amarnath attack a security lapse?

By Ananya Singh

Kashmir, a hotbed of the grand convergence between political movements and religion, has been simmering under the heat waves of communal tensions for a long while. The recent attack on Amarnath pilgrims by militants has brought the Hindu-Muslim divide to a boiling point and exposed the brittle state of militancy clashes with security forces in the Valley.

The annual Amarnath pilgrimage has always remained a symbolic reflection of communal harmony in the valley. Despite the danger of terror attacks, Amarnath Yatra has continued unabated as millions flock to the holy shrine regularly, their faith shaken but intact.

Amarnath: Sacred pilgrimage to terror attack

A bus carrying 56 Amarnath pilgrims was caught in the crossfire between militants and the police force in Anantnag on July 10. Seven people were killed while nineteen others were injured. Five of the deceased hailed from Gujarat while two were from Maharashtra.

The attack took place at 8:20 pm after the bus had halted for the night due to a punctured tyre. Victims of the terrorist activity were returning from Baltal base to Mir Bazar. The attack was supposedly carried out by members of the terrorist organisation Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). However, LeT denies its involvement.

This is not the first attack on Amarnath Yatra pilgrims, but many consider it as the worst yet. The attack raises questions about the state of security and the gaping holes revealed on this front.

The gaping holes in security

There are various security arrangements in place for the safety of pilgrims. The buses carrying pilgrims are registered with Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) and escorted by security forces. More than 21,000 armed personnel have been deployed for this purpose.

Ministers have claimed that the targeted bus was not registered with the shrine board. It was not part of the regular procession and remained unescorted by security. Further, the bus was travelling after the authorised time of 7 pm when state security for pilgrims is lifted.

Meanwhile, authorities had reportedly been warned of an attack. The Jammu and Kashmir Police, as well as the deployed military units, received an intelligence report dated June 25 that stated that “terrorists have been directed to eliminate 100 to 150 pilgrims and about 100 police.” The Associated Press has verified the authenticity of this document which leads us to the question: Why was this report ignored?

Communal tensions amidst developing insurgency

Posing a great threat to security in the Valley, the death of the Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani unleashed a new wave of the militancy movement in Kashmir. Much ground has been lost to the developing insurgency.

Adding to the apprehension, Left parties accuse that the attack was driven by a direct intention of fanning communal violence. There is growing fear about whether the attack will pit the Hindus in Jammu against the majority Muslim population in the rest of Kashmir. 

Political words of rage and sorrow

While the Valley is erupting and the country is enraged, politicians offer their condemnations and express sorrow. Narendra Modi expressed his grief on Twitter: “Pained beyond words on the dastardly attack on peaceful Amarnath Yatris in J&K. The attack deserves strongest (sic) condemnation from everyone”. Mehbooba Mufti, Chief Minister of J&K, visited injured pilgrims in the hospital and reaffirmed the government’s efforts towards securing justice. Other politicians from India and abroad also condemned the attack and offered their support to the victims’ families.

Militant outfits and separatist leaders have also proclaimed sorrow. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the head of the Awami Action Committee said, “Leadership & people of #Kashmir are deeply saddened…To us, the pilgrims have and will always be respected guests.”

On the other hand, Opposition parties are accusing the BJP government of security lapses and mismanagement. “This is a grave and unacceptable security lapse. The PM needs to accept responsibility and never allow it to happen again”, Rahul Gandhi tweeted. Sitaram Yechury of CPI(M) stated, “The situation in Kashmir has deteriorated under the BJP govt’s watch. Their mishandling of the situation is a matter of grave concern.”

The diatribe on the terror attack is a mixture of accusations and condemnations expressed with bitter anger. A new line has been crossed by militants in attacking pilgrims on a holy journey. Strengthening security is the key to prevent Kashmir and in turn the nation, from erupting into a frenzied state of violence.

Rooting out security threats

Amid strikes in Kashmir and other states, an evaluation of security is of primary importance. Union Home Minister, Rajnath Singh, called a meeting to discuss the current attack and review the situation in Kashmir. It was attended by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval as well as intelligence units, home ministers and paramilitary forces.

Considering that the pilgrimage is a recurring annual event, provisions must be made for stepping up security in the Valley. Heightened security in troubled areas along with better coordination in rooting out threats is vital. The lack of efforts to fortify security for the pilgrims, despite the receipt of the intelligence warning, is a confounding problem. Till this dilemma is solved, minds will continue to buzz with the question of whether increased security could have prevented the Amarnath attack and death of innocent pilgrims.

Public statements, compensations to family victims, and condemnation of the terror attack are all well and good in their place. However, rather than mere words, a detailed review of security lapses is the need of the hour. Until then, communal harmony in Kashmir and the rest of India will continue to hang by a thread.

Featured Image Source: Wikimedia Commons