Pakistan-based terrorists are planning to target the ongoing Amarnath yatra, the Army said on Friday, and, along with this, the Jammu and Kashmir administration has issued a security alert asking pilgrims to “curtail” their stay in the Valley and leave immediately.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), the aviation regulator, has advised airlines to stay ready to operate additional flights from Srinagar airport if the need arises.
The yatra commenced on July 1 and is slated to end on August 15. Leaders of the National Conference (NC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the two principal parties of Kashmir, termed the advisory unprecedented and said it would trigger panic in the Valley.
There have been concerns in Kashmir over the increased deployment of security forces in the past few days, and statements about a possible repeal of Article 35A have added to the tension on the streets.
“Friends staying in hotels in Gulmarg are being forced to leave. State Road Transport Corporation buses are being deployed to bus people out from Pahalgam and Gulmarg. If there is a threat to the yatra, why is Gulmarg being emptied?” the NC’s Omar Abdullah tweeted.
“Complete chaos on the streets of Srinagar. People rushing to ATMs, petrol pumps and stocking up on essential supplies. Is the Government of India only concerned about the safety of yatris while Kashmiris have been left to their own devices?” the PDP’s Mehbooba Mufti asked.
Mehbooba said she would reach out to other Kashmiri political leaders, including NC Patron Farooq Abdullah and Sajjad Lone, “to come together to deliberate on the future course of action”. “You failed to win over the love of a single Muslim majority state which rejected division on religious grounds and chose secular India. The gloves are finally off and India has chosen territory over people,” she tweeted.
The PDP and NC could also call an all-party meeting, sources said. Jammu and Kashmir is under President’s Rule.
Earlier in the day, in a joint press conference with state police chief Dilbagh Singh, General Officer Commanding of the Army’s 15 Corps Lt General KJS Dhillon said searches in the past few days by security forces led to the recovery of a Pakistan-made mine and a huge cache of arms, along the yatra route. He said security forces were geared up to foil any attempt to attack the pilgrimage.
The administration has issued a security advisory. "Keeping in view the latest intelligence inputs of terror threats, with specific targeting of the Amarnath Yatra, and given the prevailing security situation in the Kashmir Valley, in the interest of safety and security of the tourists and Amarnath Yatris, it is advised that they may curtail their stay in the Valley immediately and take necessary measures to return as soon as possible," said the advisory by the principal secretary (home).
After the DGCA put airlines on alert, IndiGo, Vistara, and Air India said they would provide a full fee waiver on rescheduling and cancelling all flights to and from Srinagar.
In Bangkok, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Friday made it clear to his American counterpart Mike Pompeo that any discussion on Kashmir, if at all warranted, would be with only Pakistan and only bilaterally. Jaishankar is in the Thailand capital to attend a number of ASEAN-India conferences.
The Congress urged the government not to take any decision that would precipitate a crisis in Jammu and Kashmir and asked it to ensure the constitutional guarantees given to the state are maintained.
The appeal to the government came after a Congress policy planning group on Jammu and Kashmir met under the chairmanship of former prime minister Manmohan Singh.