Kashmiris hoard food, fuel in panic amid India-Pakistan row

People seen preparing a bunker for emergency situations in Kashmir on Sunday amid growing tensions between India and Pakistan.
People seen preparing a bunker for emergency situations in Kashmir on Sunday amid growing tensions between India and Pakistan.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

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 from the Central Reserve Police Force on Feb 14, killing 44 and triggering an outpouring of national outrage.

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

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

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

These orders have been shared on social media, resulting in long queues at petrol pumps and mass buying at grocery stores.

Former Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, leader of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), tweeted: "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."

 
 
 

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

An armed separatist insurgency that started in 1989 has led to the death of thousands of people.

And in recent years, there has been a deterioration of law and order, with youth pelting stones at security forces.

The latest terror incident took place ahead of the election season and just as the Supreme Court is set to hear a batch of petitions challenging a law, which gives special status to Kashmir residents, including the privilege that only long-term residents can own land.

Kashmir-based political analyst Siddiq Wahid said that the challenge to the law, known as Article 35A, is unique to Kashmir and has added to the 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 the air strikes yesterday against a Jaish-e-Mohammed terror training camp in Pakistan had added to the nervousness. "We are in the crossfire and seen as the cause of all this."

 
 
 

Other developments since the Pulwama attack, including the targeting of Kashmiri students by Hindu nationalists in different parts of the country, had also added to the sense of unease in the Kashmir Valley, he added.

Kashmir does not have a state government. It has been under governor rule or federal rule since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) pulled out of a ruling coalition in June that included the PDP.

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 that situation is under control. It is for peace."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 27, 2019, with the headline 'Kashmiris hoard food, fuel in panic amid India-Pakistan row'. Print Edition | Subscribe