Amarnath Yatra attack puts focus on Pakistan-sponsored terror
New Delhi: The attack on Amarnath Yatra pilgrims on Monday night leading to the death of seven people and injuries to 19 others, has once again put the spotlight on cross-border terrorism sponsored by Pakistan.
Authorities confirmed the attack on a bus ferrying 58 passengers bound for the Amarnath hill shrine from Baltal to Mir Bazar in Kashmir was carried out by Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).
The attack was collectively condemned domestically by all political parties and internationally by India’s neighbours Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and other countries such as Mauritius, Russia and the US. In all 15 countries condemned the attack.
Given the simmering tensions between India and Pakistan, the Amarnath pilgrimage was especially vulnerable to a cross-border terror attack this year, senior intelligence officials said.
The officials said the terrorists had carefully studied the blueprint of the security deployment before carrying out the attack. With the Union home ministry diverting security forces to beef up security for the Yatra, intelligence officials claim that some pockets in Kashmir had become vulnerable to terrorist infiltration from across the border.
“Thousands of troops have been deployed to secure the Yatra. So when you move troops, some areas which were earlier being watched will have lower deployment. They took advantage of that and moved inwards with the aim of inflicting maximum damage on civilians,” said a senior intelligence official, requesting anonymity.
Monday’s attack, government officials claimed, reflected a shift in tactics by terrorists.
“In Kashmir, the security forces have cornered the militants and started wiping them out. This is an act of desperation by the terror outfit that is now trying to settle scores by hitting out at innocent civilians,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
This, however, was not the first time that Amarnath pilgrims had been attacked. On 2 August 2000, the Hizbul Mujahideen killed 30 pilgrims in Anantnag district; on 20 July 2001, a grenade attack on a group of pilgrims close to the Amarnath shrine killed 13; in 2002, an offshoot of the LeT attacked the Nunwan camp close to the shrine, killing eight and injuring 30 pilgrims.
Intelligence officials also debunked a claim that Monday’s attack by LeT was an attempt at targeting the Special Operations Group (SOG) camp.
Defence experts also allege the tacit involvement of China, which is engaged in a face-off with India in Bhutan.
“China is now putting pressure on Pakistan to put pressure on India. Since Pakistan cannot do it through diplomatic or trade channels, it is doing it through state-sponsored terrorism,” said Gaurav Arya, a defence expert and former Indian Army officer.
Meanwhile, the government has taken strict measures to ensure the attacks did not trigger any backlash against Kashmiris settled elsewhere in the country.
Home minister Rajnath Singh, who convened a high-level meeting to review the security situation, took to social media to make his point. “All Kashmiris are not terrorists,” he tweeted, before adding, “The people of Kashmir have strongly condemned the terror attack on Amarnath yatris. It shows the spirit of Kashmiriyat is very much alive.”
Similarly, the Gujarat government recommended a bravery award for Salim Shaikh, the driver of the bus that was attacked. Shaikh drove the bus despite the gunfire, thereby minimizing the loss of lives. Five of the dead were pilgrims from Gujarat.
Meanwhile, pilgrims appear determined not to allow the attack to disrupt their journey—the Yatra resumed on Tuesday as usual, with a total of 2,389 pilgrims making their way to the shrine.