Dire signs

The terror attack in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kathua district on Friday will send alarm bells ringing in Delhi and Srinagar. The militants stopped a vehicle, forced out its passengers, shot them and then hijacked the vehicle along with its driver.

They went on to attack an army camp, where they engaged security forces in a fierce gun battle. Coming just weeks ahead of general elections, the attack could signal more violence when the state goes to vote. Militants operating in J&K have routinely prevented voters from exercising their franchise through threats and violence, a strategy aimed at showing India’s vibrant democracy in a poor light. Friday’s attack could be part of that campaign. The attack took place a day after the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi visited Kathua. It is likely that security would have been tightened for this visit. It is worrying that militants were able to strike with success at a time when security forces in J&K are on high alert.

This is the second time in six months that militants have carried out a major strike in Kathua, a district bordering Pakistan. As in September last year, in Friday’s attack too, militants were wearing army uniforms. Security forces and civilians need to be made aware that militants are masquerading as soldiers, and that uniformed men are not necessarily part of the Indian Army. Following the attack, security has been enhanced at police stations and army camps in the state. While no outfit has claimed responsibility for Friday’s attack, the needle of suspicion points in the direction of the Lashkar-e-Toiba. This is a group that is not averse to striking at civilians. Hence, security needs to be tightened too in places of worship, markets and other areas frequented by civilians. There is a danger of terror attacks provoking communal tensions.

In anticipation of heightened militant activity aimed at disrupting polls, security forces had stepped up vigil at the border with Pakistan. Over the past three months, they shot dead some 23 militants in encounters and nabbed dozens of others. Besides, several steps have been taken by the Election Commission. Rallies in J&K can be held only in places designated by the EC and parties are required to seek permission for such rallies six days ahead. But these steps by themselves cannot prevent violence if people are not vigilant.  Mistaking militants for soldiers simply because they are in army uniform is proving costly.

Comments (+)