The centre has asked Amarnath pilgrims to leave Jammu and Kashmir (Reuters)
Amarnath Yatra pilgrims and tourists have been asked by the Jammu and Kashmir government to "immediately" cut short their stay in the Kashmir Valley and go back, in an unprecedented advisory amid intelligence inputs of terror threats. Pilgrims and tourists have never before, even at the height of militancy, been urged to leave Kashmir, which has seen a massive build-up of troops over the past week.
"Keeping in view the latest intelligence inputs of terror threats, with specific targeting of the Amarnath Yatra, and given the prevailing security situation in the Kashmir Valley, in the interest of safety and security of the tourists and Amarnath Yatris, it is advised that they may curtail their stay in the valley immediately and take necessary measures to return as soon as possible," the state government's notice said.
The advisory, which appeared to indicate an exceptional security scenario, set off panic in Srinagar, where people rushed to ATMs, petrol stations and medicine stores to stock up. Some waited for hours in queues only to find that fuel was over.
Former state chief ministers Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah both targeted the central government. Jammu and Kashmir has been under central rule since June last year.
Ms Mufti said it "seems there's an attempt to end constitutional safeguards provided to Kashmir". She added that the advisory has created "chaos and panic."
The advisory for pilgrims and tourists was put out barely half-an-hour after the army and the Jammu and Kashmir police displayed a landmine and a sniper rifle to reporters, saying there were "confirmed intelligence reports" that terrorists backed by the Pakistan army were trying to disrupt the Amarnath Yatra.
The landmine with Pakistan ordnance factory markings and an M-24 American sniper rifle with a telescope had been found along the route of the annual pilgrimage to the Hindu cave shrine around 140 km from Srinagar.
If undiscovered, the mine would have caused huge casualties, the officers said.
"In the last three-four days, there were confirmed intelligence reports that terrorists backed by Pakistan and its army is trying to disrupt Amarnath Yatra and based on that a thorough search was conducted. We had major successes in these searches," said Chinar Corps Commander Lt General KJS Dhillon.
"The searches are still going on. The Pakistan Army is desperate to disrupt peace. This will not be allowed to happen. No one can be allowed to disrupt the peace," he said.
Over the past few days, the movement of central paramilitary personnel who are being airdropped in sorties, has fueled speculation about security threats in Kashmir.
Some 10,000 central troops were ordered to the state about a week ago and reports suggest more have been sent since then. The reports of a surge in troop deployment coincided with inputs of a terror strike around August 15 Independence Day celebrations. On Thursday, the centre reportedly sent over 25,000 more troops to Kashmir, fueling speculation that something major was afoot.
The last time Kashmir saw such heavy presence of troops was after the Pulwama terror attack in February, in which 40 Central Reserve Police Force soldiers were killed by a suicide bomber of the Jaish-e-Mohammad.