SRINAGAR: Thousands of tourists and students scrambled to get places on planes and buses leaving Kashmir on Saturday after the government warned of the threat of “terror” attacks.
Thousands of military reinforcements were arriving in the Himalayan territory where a three-decade old insurgency has left tens of thousands dead.
The Jammu and Kashmir state government said late on Friday that holiday-makers and religious tourists should leave “immediately” because of new intelligence about “terror threats” to a major pilgrimage in the region.
A separate government notice also advised hundreds of students from other states to leave the Himalayan Valley.
Britain and Germany have issued warnings against travel to the region.
Anxious visitors, including some foreigners, flooded the airport at the main city Srinagar on Saturday, many without tickets for flights that day.
Visitor numbers have been boosted by the Amarnath Yatra pilgrimage in recent years, with more 300,000 devotees visiting the ice stalagmite cave shrine in the Himalayas.
The pilgrimage has been cancelled because of the scare. A huge security force had been guarding the route even before the alert. A second smaller pilgrimage, the Machail Mata Yatra, in Jammu region was also cancelled Saturday.
“Passengers who were scheduled to return in coming days have turned up in panic at the airport today,” said the manager of one airline operating the Delhi-Srinagar route.
“It’s chaotic and not many will manage seats unless there are additional flights.”
Hundreds of Indian students from outside Kashmir were evacuated in buses.
“All the non-local students have left the campus for their respective states,” an administrative official at the National Institute of Technology in Srinagar said.
QUEUE FOR ESSENTIALS
Kashmiri residents formed long lines outside petrol stations, food stores and bank cash machines on Friday night after the alert was announced. But the queues eased on Saturday.
India’s military head in Kashmir, Lieutenant General Kanwal Jeet Singh Dhillon, said on Friday that a sniper gun and a mine with markings had been found on the route of the Amarnath Yatra.
“This proves attempts to attack the Yatra,” said Singh, who has 500,000 forces in Kashmir battling the insurgency.
The government has declined to say how many are in the new reinforcements.
While military authorities and the state government highlighted the security risk, Kashmir politicians have raised fears that the troops are sign that the Hindu nationalist government could carry out a threat to scrap Kashmir’s special status under the constitution.
Political leaders in the territory have warned that cancelling constitutionally guaranteed rights, which mean only state domiciles can buy land in the region, could spark unrest in the disputed state.
The main opposition Congress party accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government of preparing for a “misadventure” which leader P Chidambaram said would be “fraught with very serious legal and political consequences”.
“It is clear to me that they (government) are preparing for some misadventure and I would warn them not to embark upon any misadventure,” the former federal home minister told reporters in New Delhi.
Jammu and Kashmir governor Satya Pal Malik, who is named by the New Delhi government, said “unnecessary panic” was being created by “rumours”.
Modi’s government has refused to say whether it is about to scrap the constitutional article, though he has often spoken against it. — AFP