New Delhi: In a move that caught security forces and defence experts off guard, the Union home ministry on Wednesday ordered security forces in Jammu and Kashmir not to conduct operations during the month of Ramzan.

“The Centre asks security forces not to launch operations in Jammu & Kashmir during the holy month of Ramzan. Decision taken to help the peace loving Muslims observe Ramzan in a peaceful environment. Security forces to reserve the right to retaliate if attacked or if essential to protect the lives of innocent people. Government expects everyone to cooperate in this initiative and help the Muslim brothers and sisters to observe Ramzan peacefully and without any difficulties," the order said.

While home minister Rajnath Singh communicated the decision to Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, the ministry said it was being done to ensure that Ramzan could safely be observed by the people of the state.

“The government wants that during the ensuing month of Ramzan, no section of society and in particular, the Muslim community should face any difficulty. The government has been trying to create an environment free of terror and violence to enable the Muslim brothers to observe Ramzan in a peaceful manner and in conducive environment so that terrorists do not exploit their religious sentiments," the home ministry said.

The ministry however, stated that “…if it is essential for protecting the life of the common people, the security forces will be compelled to take appropriate action."

While J&K police director general S.P Vaid told Mint that he “would merely implement the orders," a senior Indian Army official said on condition of anonymity, “this is a political decision taken by the government of J&K and passed onto the centre."

The official also added that, “in case we are attacked we have right to retaliate. Our convoys will keep moving and we will have to do ROP (road opening parties) and area sanitization exercises. However, SADO (search and destroy operation) and CASO (cordon and search operation) will be stopped."

Defence experts slammed the move saying that it would further embolden militants.

“The home minister is being wrongly advised by a group of people who are not aware of the ground situation in Kashmir. This order is akin to sending soldiers to their deaths. Terror groups in Kashmir are the new ambassadors of the Islamic State and Ramzan has no sanctity for them. They will use this month to regroup, rearm and recalibrate their plans and a long and bloody summer lies ahead," said Gaurav Arya, former army officer and defence expert.

While the order will hold good till 16 June, a central government official familiar with the development said, on condition of anonymity, that “militant groups in Kashmir don’t have stable leadership and one month is too short a time for them to regroup."

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