New Delhi: Even as a manhunt has been launched to nab Laskhar-e-Taiba (LeT) operative Mohammad Abu Ismail, information provided by authorities suggest Monday’s terror attack that killed seven Amarnath Yatra pilgrims could have been averted.

The bus, carrying 58 passengers, which came under attack on Monday, broke protocol and was moving without any security cover, a senior security official told Mint.

Pilgrims must always move with a security convoy, the official mentioned above said. The protocol requires that every vehicle be registered with the Amarnath Yatra Shrine Board and is cleared for movement only after the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) has sanitized the route.

“We need to check the movement of unauthorized (non-registered) vehicles to the shrine. Every vehicle—whether a bus or a taxi—needs to move between 10am and 7pm when the CRPF secures the highway and it is the job of the state police to ensure that vehicles are registered," said another senior official, also requesting anonymity.

The attack was designed to send a message to the Union government and by extension, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Jammu and Kashmir, officials said. The government has in recent months stepped up counter-insurgency operations.

“The terrorists are frustrated at the back to back losses suffered by them during counter-insurgency operations over the past month or so and have now resorted to attacking civilians and tourists," a government official told Press Trust of India.

“The Yatra is a matter of prestige for the government; external forces want the government of India to be left red-faced because innocents dying is a huge embarrassment for any government," said Lt. General H.S. Panag, defence expert and former Indian Army officer.

The attack breaks an unspoken code of not harming the pilgrims, and, therefore, the state’s tourism-dependent economy, said Gurmeet Kanwal, defence expert at the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses. This, he said, is a signal that Pakistan is upping the ante.

However, LeT has sought to distance itself from the attack. Its spokesman Abdullah Ghaznavi, while condemning the attack on pilgrims, has said,“The attack on the pilgrims is a highly reprehensible act. Islam does not allow violence against any faith."

One former government official who asked not to be identified suggested that India needs to get tougher with Pakistan and more sincere about building bridges with the local population.

“We are too worried about what the United Nations will say and the sanctions that our allies will impose," this person added. But “we need to accept the fact that we can’t have a relationship with Pakistan. Any democratically elected leader there who talks peace with India is removed," he said.

The former official also stated that the persisting hostility between the people and the armed forces needed to be addressed urgently. It is also time for the government to tap into the growing disillusionment with Pakistan among ordinary Kashmiris, the former government official added.

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