May 2004 News

Terror Clouds Threaten Polls In Paradise

2 May 2004
The Hindu

Anantnag: Just a little over sixteen months ago, the message from 'Islamabad in Pakistan' to 'Islamabad in Kashmir' was quite clear. The directions from across the border to their commanders in this district, better known as 'Islamabad' than Anantnag - having the maximum number of foreign mercenaries in entire Kashmir - was to sabotage the Assembly polls. Sixteen months later, nothing much has changed. As South Kashmir goes to parliamentary elections on Wednesday, security agencies still have the same concerns. Anantnag undoubtedly would be a big test as militants may resort to all kinds of violence in the volatile constituency that's home to Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed. Anantnag is a district in the state of Jammu and Kashmir which has witnessed the maximum number of massacres - three in the past consecutive years: of Amarnath pilgrims in Pahalgam, Sheshnag and Nunwan, two massacres of Sikh truck drivers in the past couple of years on the National Highway, another couple of killings of innocent Bihari brick kiln workers at Mir Bazar and Qazigund, the kidnapping of five foreign tourists by a lesser-known militant outfit Al Faran (whose whereabouts are still unknown), one of them - Hans Ostro Christian beheaded and his head having been thrown in a Pahalgam village. And the most recent one was of Kashmiri Pandits at Nadimarg. If this is not enough, then there is certainly much more. Three years ago, a small hamlet of Chittisinghpora witnessed the massacre of 38 Sikhs on the eve of the then US President Mr Bill Clinton's visit to India. There was also the killing of five innocent villagers. The lone National Conference woman minister, Ms Sakina Itoo, was also attacked four times in this area. Another woman candidate, Ms Khalida Mustaq, was critically injured in a recent landmine explosion. Just cross over the mighty Peer Panjal mountains and you land up in neighbouring Doda. From Pulwama, one can cross over to Poonch-Rajouri and Mahu Mangat belt in the upper parts of Udhampur. All these reasons are enough to give sleepless nights to the security agencies and that is why the smooth conduct, or 'an incident free polling' for the Anantnag Lok Sabha seat in the third phase of polling on 5 May is very important. A top police officer based in South Kashmir, who looks after the twin districts, said: 'Yes, we do understand that it is a do-or-die situation for the terrorists... specially with the Amarnath Yatra also set to start soon.' He added that the terrain of these districts make it more vulnerable to security threats. Following specific directions to sabotage the elections, all the terrorists who have been operating in the Poonch-Rajouri, Mahu Mangat or even other parts of Doda, have focussed on South Kashmir this time as all these ranges are easily accessible by them. And the concern is understandable.


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