NEW DELHI :
In a sudden turn of events, authorities in Jammu and Kashmir on Friday suspended the Amarnath pilgrimage and told pilgrims to either stay away or cut short their trip, citing a terror alert. The home department of the state, which is under President’s rule, issued an advisory to all Amarnath pilgrims, asking them to “curtail their stay in the valley immediately". The order comes just days after 100 additional companies of paramilitary personnel were deployed in the valley.
The terror threat also prompted former J&K chief minister Mehbooba Mufti to convene a midnight meeting of all regional parties.
The development came even as security forces claimed Friday that over 300,000 people took part in the annual pilgrimage this year under tight security, and that it is continuing undisturbed.
The state government issued the order citing “latest intelligence inputs of terror threats with specific targeting of the Amarnath yatra". It added that the safety of all pilgrims was paramount, instructing them to take necessary measures to return “as soon as possible".
The order comes in the wake of Chinar Corps Commander Lt. General K.J.S Dhillon stating in Srinagar that an “M-24 American sniper rifle along with a telescope had been recovered from a terror cache" along the route of the pilgrimage. A Pakistan Army landmine was also found during a sanitizing operation.
“This clearly indicates that the Pakistan Army is involved in terrorism in Kashmir. This will not be tolerated," Dhillon said.
Lawrence Sellin, a retired US army colonel, said on Twitter: “Pakistan, emboldened by PM Imran Khan’s US visit, has reactivated its terror activities in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir with plans for a major attack. Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar’s brother Ibrahim Azhar had been relocated to PoK to oversee the plans."
A terrorist attack on the Amarnath yatra in July 2017 had killed seven pilgrims and injured 19.
Zulfiqar Hasan, additional director general, Central Reserve Police Force, said: “(This year), Amarnath yatra has seen unprecedented turnout, and, in spite of many threats, it has been peaceful. There have been serious attempts to disrupt the yatra, but (they) were unsuccessful due to the hard work of security personnel, use of technology and cooperation of people."
J&K director general of police Dilbag Singh said the number of active militants in the valley as well as in Jammu region had come down.