Srinagar: On Sunday 8:30 pm, JK chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti received a call from top police officer informing her about the tragic attack on Amarnath yatra bus few kilometres ahead of Anantnag town at Butengoo. As the news was emerging and nobody was sure about the actual death toll, however this news left chief minister in a panic mood and perturbed. She knew how difficult it was to handle this when already people were questioning her maturity and style of running the government. The attack had all the potential to trigger a communal flare-up in an already charged up atmosphere and Mehbooba Mufti who is in coalition government knew how it was going to rollout for her government in coming days.
By the time J&K chief minister was informed that seven yatris had succumbed to injuries and 19 are still battling for their life, Mehbooba Mufti without seeking permission from her security officials was already heading towards restive Anantnag town despite there were reports that national highway is not safe for travel of any high profile visitor. Mehbooba ignored warning of security officials as she knew how important it was for her to be with injured who must have been feeling scared.
And when Mehbooba Mufti reached district police lines she couldn’t control her emotions after seeing pilgrims many of whom had a close shave in the attack. Being a chief minister and a politician she tried to console the victims of the attack and assured every possible support.
Though top police officials said the attack was not on pilgrims but on police. However, the yatris were scared and wanted to leave Kashmir. But after the arrival of chief minister, not only injured pilgrims but those who had survived seeing chief minister among them gave them a sense of relief and confidence. Not only chief minister was apologetic for the attack but she was herself monitoring everything from treatment of injured yatris to ferrying of all pilgrims to their native States. And remained there throughout the night and when injured and bodies were taken to Srinagar technical airport, chief minister along with Governor N N Vohra was there to send them off. This time again apologetic. This was a great gesture from the chief minister that was even acknowledged by her foes and for Delhi it was a big gesture from any chief minister of border state.
Though police say that attack could have been averted had the bus with 56 pilgrims on board had been part of the regular yatra convoy. At the time of attack on the bus around 8:15 pm, the regular convoy had already crossed Banihal tunnel. The yatris on the ill fated bus said that due to flat tyre their bus got delayed and when they reached near Bemnoo village right on the national highway barely 5 kilometers away from the town, the bus came under attack from two sides by two to three militants. Some eyewitness said the militants were wearing army or police uniform while other said they were wearing Khan dress and escaped within a minute after the attack.
The driver of the bus didn’t stop the bus instead ran fast towards the Khanbal. Despite the place of attack being only 300 meters away from the big police and army camp. The bus stopped near the office of DIG South Kashmir around1:3 kilometers from the spot where it came under fire. It was from here the injured pilgrims were first taken to MI army hospital and then to district hospital Anantnag. By the time injured yatris reached hospital large number of civilians had already reached hospital some with money and many had come to donate blood for the injured.: ”This people came to hospital, some with money and many offered blood for the injured. Since hospital was well equipped and had facilities. We just used the locals for crowd control. Even our staff also rushed to hospital when they heard about the attack,” MS District hospital Anantnag said.
He said most of the patients were treated by the doctors and all were discharged in the morning as they had to board special flight for their native places.” Locals who were eyewitness to the attack said that they first thought people were bursting crackers, however, when people started running for cover they realized something big had happened as they had seen the tourist bus passing through the national highway when attack took place. Police and Army arrived on the spot after 20 minutes and started harassing people who were living in the vicinity of the spot. Even six people were picked up, who were later released. Though villagers don’t have much information the attack, however, the place where this attack took place is connected to three districts – Kulgam, Shopian and Pulwama. Police and the spokesman of the J&K government has already named Lashkar e Toiba commander, Abu Ismail for the attack.
Though investigators and members of Special Investigating Team (SIT) that have been constituted by the government say that investigation is still in its initial stage and they can’t say with concrete proof who is responsible for this attack. However, the officials say this attack could have been avoided had yatris and officials on duty on the national highway shown some responsibility because when the vehicle was targeted the Road Opening Party (ROP) had already left the highway as the official convoy had passed.
It now remains to be seen whether people who had shown any neglect will be punished for taking things slightly. In the aftermath of the attack on the tourists, the people in one voice condemned the attack and termed it against the ethos of Kashmir and Muslim culture. Not only separatist’s leadership but all the militant outfits either based in Kashmir or Muzuffarabad condemned the attack and no militant group claimed responsibility for this incident. Even Lashkar e Toiba that always takes responsibility for the attacks also condemned it.
On the social media this attack was condemned on the large scale and people expressed their unhappiness over this incident. Not on government or the government bodies, the civil society of Kashmir and those associated with J&K’s Tourism Industry condemned the act. A protest in which prominent members of civil society participated held a demonstration and candle light protest in solidarity with Amarnath pilgrims a day after the incident took place.
This was first time when any incident was being condemned at a huge scale and everybody in Kashmir stood behind yatris. Such was impact of the condemnation that Minister of State in PMO Dr Jatendra Singh congratulated the civil society for its role and termed it as a real sense of Kashmiryat.People of the Valley have never been against the yatra infact ordinary Kashmiri’s have always helped people who came from different parts of India for pilgrimage.
Infact, it was the Kashmiri Muslim family that had discovered the original route to the cave. The Maliks of South Kashmir were even part of the annual pilgrimage till Shrine Board took over all the arrangement of this yatra.
Even today at Baltal or Pahalgam it is the common Kashmiri who is helping pilgrims in performing yatra without any problem. Though there have been incidents aimed at to create communal divide by attacking the pilgrims, however, it never worked. Last year soon after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen, commander, Burhan Wani when Valley was in chaos and security forces were on the back foot, there was not a single attack on yatra despite several killings. For the ordinary Kashmiri people who come for yatra are the real guests, even separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani described the pilgrims as the guests of Kashmir. This incident has again failed to divide the people on communal lines, even those pilgrims who survived in the attack promised to come again for yatra after seeing the hospitability of Kashmiri people.
This incident has also given a chance to the state and centre government to take decision visa vis Kashmir situation that has been on boil since the killing of Burhan Wani. Even at a recently held meeting at New Delhi in which all the major political parties participated, the main opposition parties suggested government of India to use the aftermath of yatra attack as a goodwill gesture towards people of Kashmir and initiate dialogue with separatists.
A good suggestion that should be considered as separatists’ leadership sincerely had shown their concern towards yatris. Now all depends upon the Government of India. Any delay will only worsen situation while as dialogue and reach out to the common masses could again build bridges of peace for which common masses in Kashmir are craving for. The defeat of the forces inimical to peace offered the hope by the real Kashmiriyat.
The story appeared in print edition of 19-25 July 2017.