As India-Pakistan tensions rise, people in Kashmir stock up on food, fuel

Pakistani protesters shout slogans and carry an effigy of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a demonstration in Peshawar on Feb 25, 2019.
Pakistani protesters shout slogans and carry an effigy of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a demonstration in Peshawar on Feb 25, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI - Kashmir is in the midst of panic as people hoard food and fill up on fuel amid growing tensions between India and Pakistan following the recent Pulwama terrorist attack.

The state has been on edge since a suicide bomber rammed a car laden with 350kg of explosives into a bus carrying paramilitary soldiers belonging to the Central Reserve Police Force, killing 40 and triggering an outpouring national outrage.

India has blamed Pakistan for the attack and stepped up security operations in Kashmir

The federal government over the weekend rushed in more than 10,000 paramilitary soldiers while police have arrested 100 political activists, including separatist leader Yasin Mallik, over the last couple of days.

Locals and politicians say the sense of panic has been increased by leaked government orders, including one asking hospitals to stock up on medicines and another from the food supplies department asking shops under it to sell foodgrains quickly.

These orders have been shared on social media, leading to long queues at petrol pumps and mass buying at grocery stores

"There is a sense of unease and panic in Kashmir. Nobody has a clue about what is to come but an ominous feeling of impending doom hangs in the air," tweeted former Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, leader of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

 
 
 

Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and leader of the National Conference Omar Abdullah tweeted: "People in the Valley, especially the cities and towns, are taking everything said as a sign that some big trouble is around the corner. People are hoarding food and fuel. Some government orders are adding to the sense of panic."

Kashmir has a troubled history and is at the heart of conflict between India and Pakistan, which have gone to war three times over Kashmir.

An armed separatist insurgency that started in 1989 led to death of thousands of people. And in recent years there has been a deterioration of law and order with youths pelting stones at security forces.

The latest terror incident, which comes ahead of election season, also comes as the Supreme Court hears a batch of petitions challenging a property law that states only long-term residents of Kashmir can own land.

Kashmir-based political analyst Siddiq Wahid said that the challenge to the law, also known as Article 35A, is unique to Kashmir and has added to the existing anxiety.

"The stocking up of foodstuffs, petrol and such appears to have resulted from either 'leaks' or inadvertent sharing of government orders to stock up on these items to various departments, including the State's Department of Health and its Department of Supplies," he said.

 
 
 

"However, (due to) talk of war with Pakistan (in the wake of the attack in Pulwama) and the imminent Supreme Court hearing on an aspect of the constitutional status of the state, people appear to have become anxious. There is a sense that something is brewing."

He said that the developments since the Pulwama incident, including targeting of Kashmiri students by Hindu nationalists in different parts of the country, had added to a sense of unease in the Kashmir Valley.

Kashmir does not currently have a state government.

It has been under governor's or federal rule since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) pulled out of a ruling coalition in June that included the PDP, headed by Mehbooba Mufti.

Governor of Jammu and Kashmir Satya Pal Malik said in a statement on Sunday: "People should not believe in rumours, which are of extreme nature and circulating widely in some quarters. They should remain calm. These rumours are unnecessarily creating an atmosphere of fear in the minds of people, leading to stress and disruption to normal life. Rumours about curfews and other actions should not be believed."

Dr Hina Bhat of the BJP, said: "Elements in our own country that are affecting peace have to be removed. In Jammu and Kashmir people have seen so many forces for the first time on the streets. They are getting panicked. The forces are there so situation is under control. It is for peace."