Indian security force personnel stand at the site of a gun battle between Indian police and militants on Monday in which seven Hindu pilgrims were killed in south Kashmir's Anantnag district. Photo: Reuters / Danish Ismail

India’s mainstream opposition parties are engaged in a blame game after a terror attack by the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) left seven Amarnath Yatra pilgrims, including six women, dead in Jammu and Kashmir’s Anantnag district late on Monday.

Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi squarely blamed the federal government for security lapses – despite knowing that 40,000 armed soldiers were deployed along the Yatra route for the security of pilgrims.

The pilgrims who died were traveling on a bus carrying around 60 people – most of them from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat. It was traveling after the stipulated hours and without proper security.

Another Congress spokesman bluntly called for the immediate dissolution of the coalition government and imposition of governor’s rule in Jammu and Kashmir.

A senior spokesman from the Communist Party of India (Marxist), meanwhile, linked the incident to attacks on Muslims by ‘cow vigilantes‘ in northern India and the use of pellet-guns by paramilitary forces against stone-pelters in the Kashmir Valley.

National Conference (NC) leader and former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir Omar Abdullah, while condemning the terror strike, warned of a nationwide Hindu backlash.  Another NC leader said Modi’s BJP was behind the attack.

Surprisingly, the joint statement by Kashmiri separatist leaders made more sense. It said the killing of pilgrims went against the “very grain of Kashmiri ethos.”

The Amarnath cave shrine visisted by Yatra pilgrims was discovered by a Muslim shepherd and symbolizes the confluence of faiths and the centuries-old composite culture of Kashmiris. The LeT terrorists from Pakistan were trying to destroy this unity and culture by targeting the pilgrims on Monday.

Ismail, the commander of LeT, has claimed responsibility for the attack. The motive may have been to provoke Hindu-Muslim clashes across the country and to discredit federal and state governments.

The attack comes just two days after the Kashmir Valley marked the death of Hizul commander Burhan Wani, who was killed in an encounter with security forces last year. Wani, who was associated with the Pakistan-based global terrorist and Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin, is regarded as a martyr by Kashmiri separatists and their sympathizers.

It is true that the state police had warned of a major terror strike being planned. Why, then, did the pilgrims from Gujarat venture out at night without a protection convoy?

The incident also comes a day after the Jammu and Kashmir government was asked by the state’s human rights commission to pay Rs1 million (US$14,668) as compensation to Farooq Dar, a stone-pelter who, in April, was tied to the bonnet of an army vehicle and made to act as a human shield against an angry mob.

Monday’s attack took place near Batengoo, around 8.30pm. Three to four terrorists on motorcycles first attacked a police bunker before targeting the bus passengers. Their plan to eliminate all passengers did not succeed as the bus door was locked from the inside and the driver braved a hail of bullets and kept driving for about two kilometers.

It is true that the state police had warned of a major terror strike being planned. Why, then, did the pilgrims from Gujarat venture out at night without a protection convoy? It is also reported that the bus company did not follow the norm of registering the vehicle with the Amarnath shrine board.

In the wake of Monday’s attack, the state government has ordered all vehicles carrying pilgrims to follow that standard procedure.

Unfazed by the terror attacks, thousands of pilgrims resumed the Amarnath Yatra amid tight security on Tuesday. The pilgrimage, which started on June 27, will end on August 7.

This is not the first time Amarnath pilgrims have been targeted. In 2000, 25 people – including 17 pilgrims – were killed in a terror attack in Pahalgam. The incident caused public outrage and the Yatra has been going on unhindered since then

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