Protect J&K mobile network

Jammu and Kashmir’s telecommunication network is under attack. Over the past fortnight, militants have attacked transmission towers and people associated with the mobile service provider business in various parts of north Kashmir. On Monday, they struck in Srinagar, when a grenade was hurled at a BSNL transmission tower in the city’s Habba Kadal area. Militants have also issued warnings to mobile service providers and their franchisees to shut down operations in Kashmir and employees in these companies and shops to quit their jobs or else face dire consequences. The wave of terror that they have unleashed has paralysed the mobile network in the Valley; in north Kashmir almost all mobile phone companies have shut down operations and BSNL’s services there are only partially available. Worryingly now, posters with warnings are appearing in south Kashmir too. The attacks on Kashmir’s telecommunication network have caused hardship to ordinary Kashmiris, who like other Indians, have grown dependent on communicating with each other via mobiles. They are not able to reach out to friends and relatives in other parts of the country, as well. This attempt to cut Kashmir off from the rest of India is of serious concern.

Lashkar-e-Islam, a hitherto unknown militant group, has claimed responsibility for these attacks. Police authorities say that it is a front organisation of the Hizbul Mujahideen. Besides identifying the group that is behind the latest wave of attacks, the police must provide security to mobile service companies and their infrastructure facilities as well as shops that sell mobiles, recharge cards, etc. Removal by the police of a communication device said to have been installed on a mobile tower by a militant organisation is said to have been the motive behind the attack.

The attacks are taking place at a crucial time for the Kashmiris. This is the start of the tourist season. For many Kashmiris, these are the only months when they can earn a livelihood. Their businesses depend on a functioning mobile network. How can tourists call for a cab, for instance, or get in touch with a houseboat owner if the mobile network is shut down? Rescue operations during the floods last year were severely impeded because people couldn’t get in touch with each other or with rescue and relief workers. Importantly, the Amarnath yatra is to begin soon and lakhs of pilgrims will need to stay in touch with kin at home. This is a period of heightened security threats too. Security forces will need to be deployed in large numbers along the route. The need to enhance security around transmission towers, etc will impose an additional burden on an already stretched security force.

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