Jammu and Kashmir’s three most prominent leaders Mehbooba Mufti, Omar Abdullah and Sajad Lone were placed under house arrest late on Sunday as restrictions were imposed in Srinagar and mobile internet blocked in all districts of the state.
The government move comes after a massive security build-up and an advisory asking tourists and pilgrims to leave the restive state, citing security threats from terrorists backed by the Pakistan army.
Authorities imposed restrictions under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which bars the assembly of more than four persons, from midnight in Srinagar. They would remain in place till further orders, they said.
“As per the order, there shall be no movement of public and all educational institutions shall also remain closed. There will be a complete bar on holding any kind of public meetings or rallies during the period of operation of this order,” a government statement said.
“Identity cards of essential services officials will be treated as movement passes wherever required. However, there is no curfew in place as reported in a section of media,” it added.
Officials said National Conference (NC) leader Omar Abdullah and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)’s Mehbooba Mufti would not be allowed to move out of their houses in view of strict security measures. The two leaders, along with other politicians, had attended an all-party meeting that resolved to seek an audience with President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the security situation in the state hours before being placed under house arrest.
“I believe I’m being placed under house arrest from midnight tonight & the process has already started for other mainstream leaders. No way of knowing if this is true but if it is then I’ll see all of you on the other side of whatever is in store. Allah save us,” Omar Abdullah said in a tweet.
He also appealed to the people in the Valley to stay calm.
“In such difficult times, I’d like to assure our people that come what may, we are in this together & will fight it out. Nothing should break our resolve to strive for what’s rightfully ours,” Mufti also wrote on Twitter.
Congress leader Usman Majid and Communist Party of India (Marxist) legislator MY Tarigami too claimed they were arrested on Sunday night.
However, no official confirmation was immediately available.
Earlier on Sunday, leaders of political parties who met in Srinagar decided to meet the President, Prime Minister and other leaders, resolving to protect and defend the identity, autonomy and special status of Jammu and Kashmir.
The situation in the state was discussed at the all-party meeting, which was held at the residence of former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah.
“It was unanimously resolved that all parties would be united with their resolve to protect and defend identity, autonomy and special status of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh against all attacks and onslaughts whatsoever, modification abrogation of Article 35A, 370, unconstitutional delimitation, trifurcation of the state would be an aggression against the people of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh,” said Omar Abdullah’s father, Farooq Abdullah, reading from a copy of the resolution.
The meeting was attended by Mufti, Omar Abdullah, Taj Mohiuddin (Congress), Muzaffar Beig (PDP), Sajad Lone and Imran Ansari (People’s Conference), Shah Faesal (J&K Peoples Movement) and MY Tarigami (CPI-M).
Police did not confirm that Mufti and Omar Abdullah were placed under house arrest.
Government to bolster security
The Union government has decided to scale up the presence of defence forces in Jammu and Kashmir to prepare for a possible threat arising from increased influence of the Pakistan-backed Taliban once US troops withdraw from Afghanistan, people aware of the developments said on Sunday.
The situation in Kashmir, and the ascendency of the Taliban and fellow jihadists in Kabul as a fallout of the future US withdrawal from Afghanistan, were among the issues discussed between the home minister, national security adviser Ajit Doval, home secretary Rajiv Gauba and additional secretary (Kashmir) Gyanesh Kumar at Parliament House on Sunday, top government officials said on condition of anonymity.
Thousands of tourists and Amarnath pilgrims left Kashmir over the weekend as the state administration cut short the annual pilgrimage by a fortnight and asked vacationers and pilgrims to leave the Valley because of a perceived terror threat. Security was reinforced with additional troops over the past week, leading to tensions in the state over the security build-up.
The Indian Army said on Saturday it repelled an attempt by a mixed group of Pakistani soldiers and terrorists to attack an army post along the Line of Control (LoC) in Keran sector, killing five to seven intruders.
With India anticipating the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government feels that the biggest impact of the rise of fundamentalist forces in Kabul will be on Kashmir, an official said.
National security planners have reviewed how Harkat-ul-Ansar (parent of the Jaish-e-Mohammed) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) camps had shifted to Khost in eastern Afghanistan under the protection of the then Taliban regime. The Khost camp of the al Qaeda was bombed by US cruise missiles in August 1998 under directions of then President Bill Clinton.
The threat of terrorism in Kashmir could increase just as it did after the Taliban took control of Kabul in 1996, the official added. The rise of the Taliban in the past lead to terror attacks by jihadists in Jammu and Kashmir as well as the IC-814 hijacking by the Harkat-ul-Ansar.
“We expect the US to virtually leave Afghanistan to the Pakistan-supported Taliban through some power-sharing agreement… And this will happen very soon, with talks between the US and Taliban already on in Qatar,” said another senior official. The fallout of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan will be a subject of discussion when Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets US President Donald Trump next month, the officials added.
Around 25,000 -30,000 troops have already been deployed in the state over the last week, according to people aware of the deployment.
While Indian security forces are prepared for the new challenge, the government is also thinking about what political steps can be taken in Jammu and Kashmir, including conducting state elections this winter, the officials said.
Local political parties have accused the administration of creating disquiet in Jammu and Kashmir. An all-party meeting was held on Sunday evening at the residence of National Conference (NC) chief Farooq Abdullah amid tensions over the deployment of additional troops.
The parties, including the National Conference and the Mehbooba Mufti-led Peoples Democratic Party, unanimously resolved to fight any attempt to abrogate the constitutional provisions that guarantee Jammu and Kashmir special status. The parties also appealed to India and Pakistan not to take any steps that will escalate tension in the region.
Mufti earlier said the leaders of various political parties decided to meet at a hotel, but the police did not allow any political meeting there.
She said the Centre was not bothered to speak on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir.
“We had made an effort to tell the people of this country and the government about the consequences if they toy with Articles 35A and 370 (of the Constitution). We made an appeal too, but no assurance has been given yet from the Centre. They are not bothered to say anything, to say that everything will be alright,” Mufti said.
Governor Satya Pal Malik has dismissed reports that preparations are being made for an announcement on Article 35A and Article 370 or on the trifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir by creating three states of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, as has been rumoured in the state.
Article 35A reserves government employment and property ownership to permanent residents of the state. Article 370 confers special status on Kashmir.
Union minister Prakash Javadekar said on Sunday that the Jammu and Kashmir governor had already cleared the air over the current situation in the region. “I think the government has made it very clear that there is a perceptible threat perception and we don’t want terror attack, we want to foil it; therefore, the governor has made it very clear to not only the delegation of political leaders, but to the people by giving interviews and holding press conference that people should not worry, nothing is going to happen dramatically. These are all precautionary measures,” Javadekar told Hindustan Times in an interview.
At the two-hour-long meeting on Sunday, Shah was informed that at least one attempt by terrorists to cross the Line of Control was successful recently.
Security agencies have told the government that they have noticed heightened activity by Pakistan-based terror groups, including JeM and LeT, along the border. “Our assessments indicate that at least one group of terrorists has managed to breach the LoC in the last one week,” a senior security official said, asking not to be named.
“Separately, the Indian Army has told the government that there have been at least four operations carried out by Pakistan’s Border Action Teams in the last one week alone,” another official said.
The home ministry did not officially comment on the meeting.
The state remained on edge on Sunday. Barricades have been erected on many arterial roads in Kashmir, including the entry and exit points to Srinagar. Riot control vehicles have also been kept on standby in some areas where apprehension of law and order disturbances is more, according to security officials. Residents could be seen lining up at markets to stock up on essentials amid fears of a security crisis.