Fresh militant attacks cast shadow over Assembly election in Jammu and Kashmir

The PDP and NC have urged the NDA government to hold dialogue with Pakistan.

Published : Jun 15, 2024 17:09 IST - 6 MINS READ

The damaged bus after it plunged into a gorge following an alleged attack by suspected militants, in Reasi district of Jammu and Kashmir on June 9.

The damaged bus after it plunged into a gorge following an alleged attack by suspected militants, in Reasi district of Jammu and Kashmir on June 9. | Photo Credit: PTI

A spurt in militant attacks in Jammu and Kashmir has cast a shadow over the upcoming impending Assembly election in the region as well as the Amarnath Yatra.

The Supreme Court has directed the Union government to hold the Assembly election in the region before September this year. The Amarnath Yatra, an annual pilgrimage to a cave shrine in Kashmir, is likely to begin on June 29 and conclude on August 19. Both events are large and call for heavy security. Terror attacks at this time could divert security resources away from elections and the yatra. The Centre has reportedly deployed an additional 500 companies (approximately 50,000 personnel) of the Central Armed Police Forces in the region as Prime Minister Narendra Modi plans to visit Srinagar on International Yoga Day, June 21.

In 2019, the special constitutional status was taken away from the State of Jammu and Kashmir, which was bifurcated into two Centrally administered Union Territories (UT). The recently concluded Lok Sabha election was the first election since then, and saw the highest voter participation in 35 years.

“The combined voter turnout at the polling stations for the entire Union Territory (5 Lok Sabha seats) was 58.46 per cent in the General Elections 2024,” the Election Commission of India stated, describing the overwhelming voter turnout, especially in Kashmir valley, as “a massive stride” for India’s electoral polity. “This active participation is a huge positive for Assembly elections to be held soon so that the democratic process continues to thrive in the Union Territory,” the commission said in a press statement.

Also Read | Kashmir’s revolt at the ballot box

The Amarnath Yatra, a significant pilgrimage for many Hindus, has not been conducted regularly since 2018. Security concerns, followed by weather concerns, have seen the yatra either fully cancelled some years or abruptly terminated some others. And, of course, there was no question of the yatra during the COVID-19 years. This year could have seen the revival of the yatra.

Terror strikes in peaceful zones

An hour before Narendra Modi was sworn in as Prime Minister for the third consecutive term on June 9, at least seven pilgrims from Uttar Pradesh and Delhi, including a two-year-old child, were killed when the bus they were travelling in was ambushed by militants. The militants fired gunshots into the bus, the driver was killed and the bus plunged into a gorge. The militants continued firing even after the bus crashed. This happened in Reasi district, a region that has been peaceful for the past 15 years.

In the 48 hours after this attack, at least two militants and a jawan from the Central Reserve Police Forces were killed, and seven security personnel were injured, in three different encounters in Kathua and Doda districts. As troops continue their combing operations, a police spokesperson said that at least 50 people have been detained in connection with the investigation into the Reasi attack.

Locals in Reasi and other areas have complained about being harassed by security forces. “The reports from Chenab Valley and Pir Panjal, where ordinary people are being harassed, detained, and arrested, are profoundly distressing. This must be halted immediately,” a spokesperson of the National Conference (NC) said in a statement. The Chenab Valley comprises the Doda, Kishtwar, and Ramban districts while the Pir Panjal region includes the border districts Rajouri and Poonch in Jammu division.

A series of terrorist events

In recent months, there have been several infiltration bids from across the border with Pakistan. In an apparent case of mistaken identity, a 28-year-old cook hired by a construction company working at a border outpost in Samba district was shot dead by the Border Security Force on June 7. Three local residents had died in Army custody; they had been taken for questioning after militants had ambushed two Army vehicles, leaving four soldiers dead and three others injured in December 2023.

Even during the Lok Sabha election, terrorists had attacked an Indian Air Force convoy in which a corporal rank personnel was killed and four soldiers were injured. Earlier in April, a 40-year-old man was killed by unidentified gunmen in Rajouri district and a non-local cab driver was shot at in Kashmir’s Shopian district. Meanwhile, a member of the Village Defence Guards, a group of civilians provided with weapons to tackle militants, was killed in an exchange of fire with militants in Jammu’s Udhampur district.

National Conference party president Farooq Abdullah. Abdullah said that problems such as the recent spate of terror attacks “will not be solved by military action”.

National Conference party president Farooq Abdullah. Abdullah said that problems such as the recent spate of terror attacks “will not be solved by military action”. | Photo Credit: Imran Nissar/ANI

Following the recent spate of terrorist attacks, the communally sensitive Jammu region has seen several anti-Pakistan protests. Of course, political parties have been quick to respond. The Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) and NC have urged the BJP-led NDA government to hold dialogue with Pakistan. “We have problems with our neighbours. These problems will not be solved by military action. The terrorists sneak in through the border and they will continue to do so,” said NC president and former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah. Apprehending that terrorists could target the upcoming Amarnath Yatra, Abdullah added: “Any small incident that might take place will be blown up in the rest of the country. We Kashmiris have never favoured such things.”

Prime Minister Modi has directed officials to deploy the “full spectrum of counter-terror capabilities” in Jammu and Kashmir. Ravinder Raina, president of the BJP’s Jammu and Kashmir unit, slammed Abdullah’s calls for dialogue. “He should stop advocating for Pakistan as no talks can be held with an enemy nation that is rogue and hell-bent on destroying peace and prosperity in Jammu and Kashmir,” Raina told Frontline. “BJP strongly believes in the nation first policy and our government would respond to Pakistan only in the same language that it understands.”

Did abrogation increase militancy?

Notwithstanding the ruling BJP’s hawkish stance, questions are being asked if the abrogation of the semi-autonomous status of the former State had a connection to the security challenges on the ground. On June 14, the PDP held a protest demonstration in Jammu to condemn the recent terrorist attacks. The party demanded an explanation from the Modi government over the “disturbing” security conditions, which contradict the government’s assertions of peace restoration in the Union Territory following the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35(A).

The Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party (Bhim) has blamed Pakistan for recent targeted attacks in the region after the Lok Sabha election was successfully conducted here. “The UT administration has left the leaders of the party at the mercy of God, failing to provide security to our leaders despite an increase in terror activities,” Vilakshan Singh, the party president, told Frontline.

Also Read | ‘The election is an opportunity to end silence in Kashmir’: Waheed-ur-Rehman Parra

Former Army chief General V.P. Malik suggests that the upcoming Assembly election be deferred for a year. “Don’t rush to hold elections in Jammu and Kashmir by September. Focus on consolidating gains in Kashmir. A few terrorist successes in Jammu could incite further terrorism in the Valley,” he said in a TV interview. “More important than the Assembly election by September is ensuring the security of Jammu and Kashmir. Postpone the election by a year.”

The NC has sharply reacted to Gen. Malik’s statement. Former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah warned against giving in to threats. “Yes, please feel free to give in to these extremist forces so that they have a sense of achievement. You have no gains in Kashmir if militant outfits are able to derail the elections that the PM, HM & Election Commission have committed to holding before the SC deadline of 30th September,” he posted on X.

Unlike previous elections, the BJP did not contest from any of the three Lok Sabha seats in Kashmir Valley in the recent election. While the saffron party retained both seats in Jammu province, it lost Ladakh to an independent candidate, Mohmad Haneefa Jan.

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