Militants Picking Up Soft Targets
Mohd. Sadiq

29 November 2006

Even as Kashmir's tourism sector begins preparations for the Valley's winter sports, which is the backbone of its prosperity, militant outfits targeted tourists in Tangmarg on 28 November 2006 in order to derail the economic development of the state. Attacks against tourists in Kashmir by Pakistan-based militant outfits have increased this year as the tourism industry witnessed a boom despite the security situation in Kashmir. Though it is clear that militant outfits are aiming to derail the tourism sector, such attacks are only adding to the disenchantment of Kashmiris, who depend on the tourism sector for their livelihood.

Targeting Tourism
On 28 November, ten people, including six tourists from Kerala, were injured in a grenade attack in Gulmarg, Jammu and Kashmir. Though no militant outfit claimed responsibility, authorities said that it was clearly an attack undertaken by Pakistan-based militant outfits which are aiming to derail the tourism sector in the state. The tourists were on their way from Katra to Srinagar in a vehicle after visiting Vaishno Devi. They stopped at a market at around 3 p.m. to have tea when a militant lobbed a hand grenade on their Tata Qualis, bearing registration No JK02V-7192, near Traffic Check Post at Tangmarg. In the resulting explosion, several bystanders were also injured. While most of them were discharged after being given first aid, six were shifted to a hospital in Srinagar. Tourism officials identified the tourists as Krishan Kumar, Raju Chander Band, Manu Piya, Uni Krishnan and Dharam Raj. Deputy Inspector-General, North Kashmir, M. Suban Lone criticised the militants for attacking tourists.

The last militant attack against tourists was carried out on 11 July this year, when a series of grenade attacks, specifically targeted on non-locals. The 11 July attacks left 9 tourists dead and 70 others injured. This year, most of the militant attacks targeting tourists too place during May-June, when tourist inflow was at its peak and officials were expecting over a million tourists. The attacks against tourists began on 25 May during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Srinagar to chair the Roundtable Conference. A number of attacks on tourists followed which clearly indicated that militant outfits were seeking to derail the tourism sector in Kashmir.

Attack On Kashmiriyat
All those attached with the tourism industry - directly or indirectly - have condemned the attacks on tourists. Terming the attack on tourists as an 'act of cowardice', Manzoor Ahmed Pakhtoon of Srinagar said, "We shall understand that the guests had come here for outing and not to promote any particular political ideology and should have been spared rather protected." Pakhtoon's statement indicated the popular sentiment of Kashmiris as over 80 per cent of the locals earn their livelihood from tourism. Moreover, Kashmiris also say that targeting innocent tourists is an attack on 'Kashmiriyat', which symbolises a secular and inclusive tradition where guests are accorded respect and status. The fact that the militant outfits targeted even women and children clearly indicated that their primary objective was to cause maximum casualties. In the serial grenade attacks during May-June, two children and four adults lost their lives while several others were injured.

The May-June attacks on tourists had provoked indignation and anger throughout the Valley with Kashmiris criticising the militant outfits of wrecking their main source of livelihood. Those dependent on the tourism sector came out to on the streets to protest against the militant attacks. The grenade attack in Tangmarg is clearly a case of desperation among the militant outfits as this small town mainly thrives on tourists, ponywallahs, guides and other tourist- traders. The popular anger against such attacks was clearly visible as people in Tangmarg describe the incident as a 'gruesome act of terror', which they said was a direct attack on their sustenance and also in contradiction with the age-old legacy of hospitality of Kashmiris.