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A Look At The Bloody History Of Terror Attacks On Amarnath Yatra Pilgrims

Last night's attack brings back memories from 15 years ago.

11/07/2017 1:33 PM IST | Updated 12/07/2017 12:14 PM IST
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Hindu pilgrims on their way to the Amarnath cave during the first phase of annual Amarnath Yatra.

Last night, a bus carrying seven pilgrims who were returning from Amarnath -- a shrine wedged inside a narrow gorge nearly 50 km from Pahalgam, Kashmir -- was attacked by terrorists.

Of the seven killed, six were women. At least 19 people were injured in the attack.

As expected, political leaders condemned the incident and declared that India must "not get bogged down by such cowardly attacks". Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that his thoughts are with those who lost their loved ones. Arun Jaitley called it the the most "reprehensible act." J&K chief minister Mehbooba Mufti said it was an "assault on our (Kashmir's) values and traditions".

But a lot of politicians also raised the finger on the security arrangement in the state. The attack happened despite drone-mounted cameras, jammers, police dogs, bullet-proof bunkers, and satellite tracking devices employed to look out for trouble.

One question on everyone's mind is how and why an attack of this proportion took place when the political turmoil in Kashmir didn't have violent repercussions on the yatra for the past 15 years.

The last attack on the pilgrims took place in 2002. Despite an estimated 15,000 troops and police personnel, eight pilgrims were killed and 30 were injured. Frontline reported that the attack took place before dawn on the Nunwan camp on the way to the Amarnath shrine. Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani had announced that he was working on plans to end such attacks. Incidentally, attacks happened two consecutive years before that-- in 2000 and 2001. NDA was in power at the Centre and Atal Bihari Vajpayee the Prime Minister of the country between 1999-2004. Leading political figures, including Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, had asserted that Pakistan is determined to sabotage democracy in Jammu and Kashmir.

One question on everyone's mind is how and why an attack of this proportion took place when the political turmoil in Kashmir didn't have violent repercussions on the yatra for the past 15 years.

Since then, the pilgrimage has stayed largely conflict-neutral. An Indian Express article suggested that separatists leaders have also been extremely vigilant about keeping the Amarnath yatra out of conversations around the Kashmir conflict because they wanted to flaunt the yatra as evidence of communal harmony in the valley. In the aftermath of the ouster of Kashmiri Pandits from the valley, the article notes, it was important for separatist leaders to insist that Hindus are not persecuted in the state -- a trouble free Amarnath yatra was proof of it.

In 2001, 13 people, including three women yatris and two police officers were killed after a militant hurled two grenades at a camp and later opened fire near the Amarnath shrine. Of those killed, six were pilgrims.

A year before that, the country witnessed one of the most violent attacks on pilgrims in the recent history. On 2 August 2000, terrorists opened fire killing on pilgrims killing over 89 people. The unofficial figures were much more. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee then visited Pahalgam and blamed Lashkar-e-Taiba for the killings. Condemning the incident, President K.R. Narayanan then said, "To kill pilgrims, labourers and ordinary innocent men and women in the name of 'Jehad' is the height of barbarism and inhumanity."

However, the barbarism continued for the next two years.

In 1994, Pakistan-based militant outfit Harkat ul Ansar had threatened that they would not allow the pilgrimage to take place until Indian government removed military bunkers at the Hazratbal shrine in Srinagar. The year before, PV Narsimha Rao's government was left red-faced after 40 militants laid a siege on the shrine for 15 days. The militant outfit also claimed that the attack was in protest against the demolition of Babri Masjid. However, the yatra continued peacefully. In turn, locals protested against the outfit and there was widespread condemnation of their diktat.

Through years that were considered the peak years of militancy in Kashmir, the yatra saw no repercussions. Till 2000. The year before that, between May and July 1999, India had undertaken Operation Vijay, a military operation to cleanse Kargil sector of infiltration by Pakistani militants and allegedly also Pakistani army. It was a brief and bloody war that claimed the lives of several Indian army personnel and according to the government completely routed terrorists who had infiltrated the area.

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