Srinagar/New Delhi: The local administration in Jammu and Kashmir state issued a newspaper advertisement on Tuesday warning residents to build bomb-proof basements, collect two weeks’ worth of food and water and be prepared for a possible nuclear war, stoking fears that tensions between India and Pakistan may escalate.
“This is fuelling an atmosphere of fear. Educating people is fine but not this brazen way,” said Fayaz Ahmed, a Srinagar resident. The lengthy notice also provided advice on how to survive attacks with chemical and biological weapons. The advertisements were placed in local newspapers by the state disaster response force (SDRF).
Local officials did not answer calls asking why they were suddenly concerned about a nuclear attack in the region, repeatedly fought over by nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan. However, a series of deadly skirmishes along the ceasefire line in recent weeks has heightened tensions between the two countries.
In New Delhi, senior home ministry officials downplayed the advisory. “The timing of the advisory has created some confusion. But it has nothing to do with present tensions with Pakistan. These tensions are localized and are being addressed at that level only. No one should read beyond this point,” said an official, who refused to be named.
The notice advised people to build toilet-equipped basements large enough to house the entire family for two weeks. If there is no basement, residents should construct bunkers in their front yards, the notice advised. The shelters should be stocked with candles, battery-operated lights and radios and non-perishable food and water that is regularly replaced to ensure it is fresh, it said.
During an attack, it advises drivers to dive out of their cars towards the blast to save themselves from being crushed by their soon-to-be tumbling vehicles. It also warns residents to keep contaminated people out of their shelters.
“Expect some initial disorientation as the blast wave may blow down and carry away many prominent and familiar features,” it advises.
While authorities did not return phone calls for comment, Yoginder Kaul, inspector-general at the civil defence and state disaster response force, told the newspaper that it was a “normal exercise to raise general awareness among (the) public about disaster management”.
“It has nothing to do with anything, and it should not be connected with anything,” Kaul said.
Both India and Pakistan claim the divided Kashmir region in its entirety and have fought two wars over it. Earlier this month, three Pakistani soldiers and two Indian soldiers were killed in the worst bout of fighting in Kashmir since a ceasefire accord was signed by the countries in 2003.
In light of the violence, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Sunday he was reviewing future ties with Pakistan. The nuclear war advisory and its timing surprised many residents in Srinagar.
Meanwhile, external affairs minister Salman Khurshid continued with the tenor of his remarks on Monday that seemed to be aimed at lowering tensions in the neighbourhood.
“We did hear some statements about giving access to third parties in this affair (resolving tensions between the two sides). I think we have moved away from that,” Khurshid told reporters. He said there has been a “clear reaffirmation” of the bilateral process.
“I think that the contacts between the DGMOs (directors general of military operations) of both sides have indicated that the bilateral process remains in a sustained and steady manner,” he said.
Khurshid added: “We haven’t heard anything more about statements that obviously are not acceptable to us. We do reiterate our position that these are bilateral issues and they should be settled bilaterally. We have a history of being able to work bilaterally and would want to maintain that. We need to contain this in bilateral purview.”
Elizabeth Roche of Mint contributed to this story. Aijaz Hussain is with AP.