India orders pilgrims to leave Kashmir amid troop buildup | News | DW | 03.08.2019
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India orders pilgrims to leave Kashmir amid troop buildup

India has asked Hindu pilgrims to leave the Kashmir region over security threats posed by militants. The advisory and recent troop buildup has Kashmiris worried about an impending crackdown.

India's government on Friday asked hundreds of thousands of tourists and Hindu pilgrims visiting a shrine in India-administered Kashmir to "curtail their stay" and return home as soon as possible amid concern over security threats.

The Jammu and Kashmir state government cited "the prevailing security situation" and "intelligence inputs of terror threats" against Hindus participating in the annual pilgrimage to the Amarnath shrine. The 45-day pilgrimage to the mountainous cave started on July 1, drawing about 300,000 pilgrims so far.

Read more: India and Pakistan's troubled history 

On Saturday, thousands of tourists and students scrambled to get places on planes and buses leaving Kashmir. Anxious visitors, including some foreigners, flooded the airport in the region's main city Srinagar, many without tickets for flights that day. 

Germany and the United Kingdom have also warned their citizens to avoid all travel to Jammu and Kashmir. "Travelers staying in Kashmir (especially the Kashmir Valley and the Armanath Yatra Pilgrimage Route) are advised to leave Jammu and Kashmir," the German Foreign Ministry said.

The UK's Foreign Office advised against all travel to Jammu and Kashmir with the exceptions of travel by air to Jammu and within the city, and within the region of Ladakh.

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Kashmir conflict fuels militant extremism

Opposition criticism

The Indian government's advisory comes a week after New Delhi deployed 10,000 more soldiers to the Himalayan territory that has experienced years of deadly fighting with Muslim rebels.

Nuclear-armed India and Pakistan both claim the whole of divided Kashmir, over which they have fought two of three wars since independence in 1947.

In recent months, there have been nearly daily clashes between Indian soldiers and militants, which New Delhi says are backed by Pakistan. Islamabad denies the accusations, saying its support is only political.

Most Kashmiris want the territory to be united with Pakistan or ruled as an independent country.

India's opposition parties have slammed the government for issuing the advisory. The order "has scared citizens," Ghulam Nabi Azad, a senior leader of the Indian National Congress, was quoted by broadcaster NDTV as saying at a press conference. "The government is trying to create an atmosphere of hate, saying that Kashmir is unsafe for outsiders. We condemn this decision by the government of India."

Kashmir is again "on edge," Mehbooba Mufti, a former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir and president of the People's Democratic Party, said in a tweet. "It's a travesty" that India's federal government "hasn't made effort to reach out & clarify recent developments," she wrote.

Kashmiris fearful of crackdown 

The travel advisory and troop buildup are likely to escalate tensions in a region already rocked by regular protests against Indian rule in the Muslim-majority territory.

The new deployment has stirred anxiety among residents that Indian security forces are planning another major crackdown and a curfew may be imposed. Residents in the region have reportedly stocked up on basic essentials and lined up at gas stations to fill their vehicles.

Regional leaders are also concerned that the military buildup, and rumors that more reinforcements will follow, presage a major announcement by the central government.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in its election manifesto earlier this year vowed to amend the constitution to remove decades-old special rights for the people of the state.

This includes Article 35A, which prevents people from outside the state from buying property or claiming government jobs there.

sri,cw/aw (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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