India asks tourists and Hindu pilgrims visiting a Himalayan cave shrine "to curtail their stay" in the disputed territory, citing security concerns, but locals question New Delhi's intentions.
Indian authorities on Friday told tourists to leave disputed Kashmir because of "terror threats," as media reports said 25,000 military reinforcements have been sent to the troubled Himalayan region.
The extra troops and other security measures, including a call to stockpile food and fuel, have shaken the Muslim-majority region, which is also claimed by Pakistan.
Residents in the Muslim-majority Kashmir said they were not happy about the deployment of additional troops and questioned the Indian government's intentions.
Long lines of cars formed outside petrol stations while residents queued at food stores and bank cash machines to get emergency supplies.
As the holy month of ZilHajj begins &Eid approaching,situation developing after the advisory to Amarnath Yatris/tourists in Kashmir extremely concerning.Govt should speak up.Appeal People to take courage and not panic.If there is something as in past we will face it collectively.— Mirwaiz Umar Farooq (@MirwaizKashmir) August 2, 2019
The regional government of India-administered Kashmir said that because of "intelligence inputs of terror threats" against a huge Hindu pilgrimage and "the prevailing security situation", pilgrims and tourists should leave "immediately."
India's military head in Kashmir, Lieutenant General Kanwal Jeet Singh Dhillon, said a sniper gun and a mine with Pakistani markings had been found on the route of the Amarnath Yatra pilgrimage that draws hundreds of thousands of Hindus each year.
"This proves Pakistani attempts to attack the Yatra," said Singh, who has 500,000 forces in Kashmir battling a three-decade popular insurgency.
India and Pakistan divided Kashmir when they became independent in 1947 and have fought two of three wars since over the territory.
The Indian government has admitted that 10,000 extra troops were sent to Kashmir a week ago. Media reports on Friday said a further 25,000 had been ordered there.
Indian soldiers are ubiquitous in Kashmir and residents make little secret of their fury at their presence in the region.
Minutes after Srinagar Corps Commander and J&K Police chief tell media that militant leadership in Kashmir is decimated and all threats can be handled... govt cancels an ongoing Amarnath Yatra (FIRST TIME EVER) and tells tourists to leave Kashmir. A smoke screen? For what? 1/2— Ajai Shukla (@ajaishukla) August 2, 2019
As tensions build, near-daily clashes between Indian forces with rebels in Kashmir and Pakistan forces across the border go on.
Two Indian soldiers were killed this week in cross-border firing from Pakistan Kashmir and a siege of rebels, authorities said.
Two rebel fighters accused of staging attacks on Indian government forces were also killed in a gun battle, according to police.
Residents and Kashmir politicians fear the Indian troop build-up is a preliminary smokescreen before the Hindu nationalist government carries out a threat to scrap special job and property rights for Kashmiris.
Kashmiris also fear the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi may trifurcate the region into three smaller states.
"Every time they (India) attempt to quiet Kashmiri voices through the deployment of additional troops and investigation agencies. The only reason for troop build-up is to suppress Kashmiris and keep them away from resisting their rights and constitutional rights," Irshad Ahmad, a student, told AP news agency.
Political leaders in the territory have warned that these measures could spark unrest.
To add to public nerves, a police order to gather details on every mosque and its leaders was leaked on social media this week.
A top police official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said officers have been "advised" to send their families to safe places and build up food reserves.
Many owners of petrol stations said officials have also asked them to keep vehicle fuel stocks at full capacity.
"It's part of a constantly changing security plan to counter a possible public uprising," the police official added.
Why has a Hindu religious pilgrimage caused historic tensions in India-administered Kashmir to resurface? pic.twitter.com/Wx7MrF9QNG— TRT World (@trtworld) August 2, 2019
'Anxiety among Kashmiris is real'
A statement by regional governor Satya Pal Malik that "everything is normal" in the region has not convinced the public.
"The anxiety among Kashmiris is real as this government has not hidden its intentions," said Noor Ahmad Baba, a political commentator and politics professor at the University of Kashmir.
Article 35A of the constitution which prevents Indians from outside the territory buying land or claiming government jobs in Kashmir has long been targeted by Prime Minister Modi.
The article has been challenged in the Supreme Court by right-wing Hindu groups and Modi's Hindu nationalist party has promised to repeal it even without court backing.
Kashmir has surged back into the spotlight since a deadly militant attack on an Indian convoy in February, claimed by a Pakistan-based and proscribed group, sparked cross-border air attacks by the nuclear-armed rivals.
US President Donald Trump angered India last month when he said that Modi had asked him to mediate in the Kashmir dispute.
Trump reaffirmed an offer to mediate on Thursday. India insists that the festering dispute can only be resolved bilaterally with Pakistan with the latter interested in using a mediator.