Kashmir on edge as parties, people brace for “existential threat”

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Pahalgam wears a deserted look as tourists leave in panic. Photo: Sameer Yasir/The Federal.

By the time this write-up got completed, the state transport buses had reached Srinagar’s National Institute of Technology to ferry outstation students from the panic-stricken Valley. The students were being transported from the campus despite the state administration maintaining that everything is hunky-dory.

On Friday, Jammu and Kashmir’s ex-chief minister Omar Abdullah’s queries over the move to ferry tourists out of Gulmarg and Pahalgam, was dismissed as rumour-mongering. However, what is happening in Kashmir now is far from what Governor Satya Pal Malik called rumours.

To counter what bureaucrat-turned-politician Shah Faesal called an “existential threat” to Kashmir, mainstream leaders met at Sajad Gani Lone’s official residence on Friday (August 2) night before turning up at Raj Bhavan to seek answers from the Governor about the prevailing tense and speculative situation in Kashmir valley.

Governor Malik once again played peacemaker, telling the delegation led by former chief minister and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leader Mehbooba Mufti that they should not heed to rumours and that the emerging situation was security-driven. But the explanation did little to allay the growing anxiety and hysteria in the Valley.

Also read: Panic grips Kashmir as Amarnath pilgrims, tourists told to leave state

Before going to Raj Bhavan, Kashmir’s mainstream parties which, many believe are facing New Delhi’s indifference, had voiced their unhappiness over the slew of government orders. Fresh from his meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Omar Abdullah questioned the government’s move to put the Army on standby mode. He ruled out the possibility of abrogation of 35-A or trifurcation — the twin rumours haunting the Valley.

The Friday afternoon presser by Corp commanders along with Jammu and Kashmir Police brass conveyed a threat to the Amarnath Yatra. Shortly a government circular asked pilgrims and tourists to leave the Valley. To facilitate their return, airlines were asked to act with speed.

Tourists are seen leaving Dal Lake in Srinagar. Photo: Sameer Yasir.

The order made it certain that the Centre is planning something big in the Valley. Though the administration tried to placate the panic, their body language defied the statements. “It never happened even during peak militancy in Kashmir that the government ordered tourists and pilgrims to leave Kashmir. What misadventure is Centre mulling now?” asked Abdul Rashid, a National Conference worker from Srinagar.

The panic was visible in Srinagar on Friday with the city witnessing long queues outside petrol pumps, ATMs, grocers and chemists.

“It may be just another psychological operation to test waters in Kashmir, but we can’t take a chance. Whatever they are up to, will hardly change any reality of Kashmir,” said Khursheed Rangrez, a Srinagar resident standing in a queue to get medicines for his ailing parents.

Even the brass in state administration conveyed a blank sense over the emerging situation. “I am as clueless as the commoner on the street today,” a senior police officer told Firstpost. “It can be anything—abrogation of Article 35-A, 370 or UT status to Kashmir.”

Another senior policeman posted in Srinagar said that even police has been left guessing about the situation. “But one thing is for sure that something is surely happening in the Valley,” the official said.

Also read: Govt cites terror threat, asks Amarnath pilgrims, tourists to curtail Kashmir stay

In the middle of troop buildup and tension in Valley, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has issued a whip for its Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha MPs to be present in the Parliament from 5 to 7 August. The order issued late Friday night fueled rumours.

“I’m sure nobody in J&K knows what precisely this military buildup is for [he was talking about the additional 40,000 troops that MHA sent to the Valley from last fortnight] and why this unprecedented exodus of pilgrims/tourists by government. I’m sure UT and trifurcation are merely rumours. But I can’t rule out abrogation of 370/35A by a Parliamentary legislation,” tweeted Ahmed Ali Fayyaz, a senior journalist from Kashmir.

“Given how US president is reiterating Washington’s offer to mediate on Kashmir, New Delhi will least afford that,” said Tahir Mirza, a Srinagar-based commentator. “But then, BJP has its own method behind its madness. The party supporters take huge pride in the slogan:‘Modi hain tou Mumkin hain’ [With Modi, everything is possible]. Let’s see how things turn in the state.”