Centre is concerned about back-to-back terror attacks in Jammu and Kashmir

Concerns rise over security and tourism impact as back-to-back incidents strike Shopian and Anantnag districts amid election campaigning.

Srinagar: The Centre is reported to be concerned about Saturday night’s back-to-back terror attacks which left a BJP worker dead and a tourist couple from Jaipur injured in southern Shopian and Anantnag districts and has urged the Jammu and Kashmir administration to take steps to bring the perpetrators to justice and ensue no such incidents reoccur.

The bloody incidents took place a day after Home Minister Amit Shah’s unexpected visit to Srinagar during which he discussed various “important issues” including the security preparedness and logistics for the upcoming annual Amarnath yatra with the local authorities.

Both Anantnag and Shopian are part of the Anantnag-Rajouri-Poonch Lok Sabha constituency where polling is scheduled to be held in the sixth phase of the seven-season elections on May 25. The voting was to take place on May 7, but the Election Commission of India deferred it till May 25 owing to connectivity issues set off by inclement weather.

The attacks on BJP worker and former Sarpanch Aejaz Ahmed Sheikh and Muslim couple from Rajasthan -Tabrez Khan and his wife Farha – in Shopian’s Hurpur and Anantnag’s Yannar area, respectively came in the thick of the campaigning in the Anantnag-Rajouri-Poonch constituency.

The BJP called Mr. Sheikh as a ‘brave soldier’ of the party and held a protest against his killing in Srinagar on Sunday. In one of the two videos which have gone viral, Mr. Sheikh can be seen telling a reporter during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Srinagar on March 7 that he was a sworn stone-pelter but he (PM) and his government’s actions and policies vis-à-vis J&K have completely transformed his life and he now considers himself a proud Indian. In the second video captured only a couple of days before his killing, Mr. Sheikh again showers compliments and praise on the Prime Minister and calls him “messiah” of the people of Kashmir.

Mr. Tabrez and his wife are on a visit to Kashmir in a group of about fifty tourists. After visiting the Valley’s one of the premier resorts- Pahalgam, the couple was having dinner at an eatery at Yannar when targeted by two bike-borne gunmen, the police sources said, adding that the couple was quickly evacuated to a nearby hospital. While Ms. Farha is stable, the condition of her husband is stated to be critical.

J&K particularly the Kashmir Valley has witnessed a considerable growth in tourist footfall in the past couple of years which is being projected by the government as a sign of the return of normalcy to the scenic region which, it says, had remained gripped in violence and terrorism prior to the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019.

A senior J&K government official who spoke on condition of anonymity told this newspaper that the Centre is worried that the attack on the Jaipur couple can send a deleterious message outside J&K and can also leave an adverse impact on the local tourism industry. Acknowledging that the targeting of tourists can harm Kashmir’s tourism, former chief minister Farooq Abdullah told reporters, “Tourists were also attacked in Pahalgam. This is a tragedy…it is affecting our tourism industry.”

The BJP has blamed Pakistan for these incidents. Senior BJP leader and former deputy chief minister of the erstwhile J&K state Kavinder Gupta said, “There was a record tourist footfall in Kashmir last year, with the number of visitors estimated at 17 million. At a time when tourism is looking up and local businesses and livelihoods are booming, the attack was aimed at bringing back the dark days of terror in the region. I strongly suspect Pakistan to be behind this attack”.

People’s Democratic Party (PDP) president and former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti who is seeking election to Lok Sabha from Anantnag-Rajouri-Poonch said that the timing of these attacks given the fact that election was delayed in the constituency “without any reason” is a “cause of concern, especially keeping in mind normalcy claims touted by the Government of India.” He daughter Iltija Mufti who cancelled the road shows she had planned to hold in Shopian on Sunday over security concerns wrote on microblogging site ‘X’, “…but how strange that there has been a sudden spurt in attacks across South Kashmir where GOI claimed it had removed all traces of militancy suddenly in the run up to elections. Begs the question - Why was polling in South Kashmir delayed?”

Aga Ruhullah Mehdi, former minister and National Conference candidate for the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat, while condemning the killing of the BJP worker in Shopian said that no one deserves to be killed for his or her political ideology. “These acts should have no place in our society. I would also want to ask a question which genuinely concerns me. What was the purpose of the Home Minister’s visit a few days ago? The Home Minister’s visit should ensure a better security situation. Why has the situation worsened after his visit?”

Muhammad Yousuf Tarigami, CPIM’s key face in J&K, said, “Violence is not a solution, but rather perpetuates suffering and instability”.

J&K’s Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha assured that the security forces have been given a free hand to bring the perpetrators to justice. He said, “J&K police, the Army and other security forces will hunt down the terrorists and those aiding and abetting them.”

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