Amarnath attack

The militant attack on a bus carrying Amarnath pilgrims in Kashmir’s Anantnag district is prima facie the result of security lapses and possibly also deliberate violation of restrictions rather than it being a success for militancy.

Reports suggest that the bus in question was originally registered in Sabarkantha district of North Gujarat and was sold to Jawahar Desai, a resident of Valsad in Gujarat. The process of transfer of ownership was also apparently not complete.

While that seems to indicate there may have been pressure on the operator to build business, what is more disconcerting is that neither the bus nor its passengers were registered at the security checkpoints on way to Amarnath and it was running well past permitted hours of operation.

Under the circumstances, it appears the work of militants was made easy by lapses in adherence to standard operating procedures.

Amarnath has been in the cross hairs of militants for long. Terrorists had massacred 30 pilgrims in August 2000 at Pahalgam in Anantnag district. Similarly, eight pilgrims were killed in August 2002. There were also other attacks during the pilgrimage, although the death toll in those instances was lower.

With an escalation in violence in the Valley in recent times, it was vital that security agencies kept their eyes and ears open and ensured that procedures were followed to the dot. In this case it is being said that intel input was clearly available with both the state and central governments that an attack was imminent.

This incident is yet another wake-up call for the security forces and people alike to be more cautious and to remain alert. There is a generally high tendency among us Indians to break rules and regulations for the sheer thrill of doing it. In the present instance, the bus in question may have violated one of the key ‘don’ts’ — that of not operating during restricted hours.

It jeopardised the lives of the entire group, although the bus driver did well to drive away from the spot and helped reduce the number of casualties. But it is not justification for the foolhardiness of driving through a danger zone at night when even fully armed security personnel can be vulnerable in the face of an attack.

Some unverified sources claim that the bus drove into an ongoing battle between a group of militants and security forces. No one is yet certain whose bullets felled the innocent pilgrims. Both the terrain and conditions in Anantnag are against such travel.

The outrage over the incident is understandable. But it must also be recognized that if regulations in such sensitive areas are violated deliberately, the consequences, too, could be harsh. The security lapse in the entire episode is undeniable. The forces have failed miserably in keeping the pilgrimage under tight control.

The incident calls for a thorough probe into the lapses that have come on the part of security forces in the entire incident. While Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi was always shrill in his condemnation while such incidents happened during the UPA rule, he has been very quiet and not accepted any responsibilities in the same manner that Manmohan Singh used to do earlier.

It may be mentioned that the BJP rules not only at the Center but also in both the states involved, namely Jammu & Kashmir where the incident took place and Gujarat from where came the pilgrims. The breach in security is all the more worrisome as the forces are reported to have received intelligence inputs on possible militant attacks in the area.

It must also be investigated whether a police patrol was escorting the bus when it was attacked. If a patrol vehicle was indeed accompanying the bus, the reason behind such an action should also be understood.

The general picture of the incident indicates not mistakes on the part of security forces and the bus operator but also smells of high level foul play. It will indeed be extremely sad if later investigations unearth any political designs behind such an attack.

More so as Gujarat is boiling over with anti BJP feelings and an attack against Gujarati Hindoos by Moslem terrorists prior to the state assembly elections could unfold into serious games being played out at the cost of the lives of innocent citizens. It is premature, therefore, to read the incident in the context of militancy alone. Some very bitter home truths must be acknowledged first.

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