Srinagar:Thousands of people have started leaving Kashmir after the local government issued a security alert related to possible armed attacks in the area, a senior government official said on Saturday.
Indian security officials on Friday said they had found evidence of attacks planned by Pakistani military-backed armed groups on a major Hindu pilgrimage in Kashmir.
For 45 days a year, thousands of Hindus from across India travel to the holy Amarnath cave, in southern Kashmir. The security officials claimed that they had intelligence reports of likely attacks on the routes used by devout Hindus.
A local government order issued on Friday effectively called off the pilgrimage, asking the pilgrims and tourists to return home.
A senior local government official in Kashmir told that the advisory had caused panic and led to the departure of “thousands” of tourists, pilgrims and labourers.
The official did not give a specific number, but said most of the 20,000 Hindu pilgrims and Indian tourists – and more than 200,000 labourers – were leaving the region.
About 60 international tourists arrived in Kashmir on Saturday, however, the official said.
The Indian advisory had cautioned tourists, but did not give specific advice to foreign nationals.
One of Kashmir’s main hospitals, the Bones and Joint Hospital, directed employees not to leave station “in view of prevailing situation”.
Owners of petrol pumps in Srinagar asked the government to provide security cover as locals swarmed the filling stations in Srinagar.
“Petrol pumps, ATMs and shops are running dry due to panic,” said a spokesman for the Valley’s top traders’ body, the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “A breakdown of the economy is also imminent,” he added.
As many as 28,000 troops of the Central Armed Police Force (CAPF) are being deployed in Kashmir Valley, in addition to the 10,000 troops which were deployed there last week.
By Saturday, Germany and the United Kingdom warned their citizens against travelling to Jammu and Kashmir.
“Travellers staying in Kashmir (especially the Kashmir Valley and the Amarnath Yatra Pilgrimage Route) are advised to leave Jammu and Kashmir,” the German ministry of foreign affairs said.
The order has increased tensions following India’s announcement that it was sending thousands of more troops to the region, raising fears in Kashmir that New Delhi is planning to scrapan Indian constitutional provision that disallows Indians to buy land in the Muslim-majority region.
The travel advisory has left tourists and pilgrims disappointed.
Prabakar Iyer, 45, had travelled to Srinagar from the southern Indian city of Bengaluru on Thursday with his family for a 10-day holiday, but they returned home on Friday night.
“I was staying in a houseboat on Dal Lake when the advisory was issued. I fail to understand why we are being asked to leave. Everything is normal here,” Prabakar Iyer said.
Labourer Manjit Singh, a carpenter from the northern state of Uttar Pradesh who has been working in Kashmir for the last nine years, also left.
“I am not afraid but the government advisory has created panic and my family wants me back … I will return if the situation improves,” he said.
On Friday, Indian aviation authorities told airlines to prepare to operate additional flights from Srinagar to bring back pilgrims and tourists, the PTI reported.
Governor Satya Pal Malik on Saturday said he had “no knowledge of any constitutional changes being made in Jammu and Kashmir”, there was no let-up in the implementation of fresh security orders, adding to the uncertainty. Meanwhile, Pakistan made fresh bids to attack forward posts in the State, according to the Army.
“The State has no knowledge of any changes to constitutional provisions,” Mr. Malik told a National Conference (NC) delegation, led by its vice-president Omar Abdullah, in Srinagar. “A pure security measure is being mixed up with issues with which it has no connection,” he asserted.