The frequent attacks during the past month on the forces’ convoys on Srinagar-Jammu highway—the only surface link connecting Kashmir with Jammu—has thrown up a major challenge for various security agencies, who have cited “densely populated areas on the approach link” as the biggest reason for successful militant strikes.
Reliable sources revealed that an ‘internal security assessment’ by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) has pinpointed densely populated areas and markets on the both sides of Srinagar-Jammu highway as the main reason for the successful strikes on the forces convoys by militants, inflicting casualties on the troops.
The CRPF, which is primarily responsible for highway security as being part of Road Opening Parties (ROPs), giving clearance to convoy movements, believes the highway will continue to remain vulnerable till its four-laning is complete.
“We have already taken a series of precautionary measures to ensure smooth flow of forces’ convoys on the highway. It is not possible to guard every inch of the long stretch as there are residential houses, lanes, markets and bus stands on the both sides of the road,” Inspector General of CRPF (Operations) for Kashmir range, Zulfikar Hassan said.
CRPF spokesman in Srinagar, Rajesh Yadav, said that Kashmir is not the only place where security is heightened and alert sounded but “in the wake of Valley being a hyper-sensitive region, threat perception always looms large.”
“Our in-house security review, which is a routine affair for us, has arrived at a conclusion that due to the dense population on the both sides of highway militants find it easy to target forces and flee,” he said. “Plus, there are over 150 lanes and by-lanes on the highway followed by busy markets and bus stops after every 200 meters.”
He said until J&K government completes the process of four-laning of the stretch, the risk-factor will stay. Asked whether additional companies would continue to remain easy prey for militants as they come in public vehicles provided by the State, he said “CRPF till 2015 had some 600 Bullet Proof Vehicles and after the last year’s agitation, we got 100 more to our fleet. But as far the additional companies are concerned, vehicles are provided by the State and threat will remain.”
In the recent attack at Pantha Chowk, one CRPF man died while seven others including a minor girl and a local driver of the vehicle ferrying soldiers sustained injuries. The attack was fifth in a row since December 2015 where militants managed to flee from the spot.
A senior CRPF officer said that the highway stretch from Bijbehera to Pantha Chowk has proved too vulnerable. “If we compare the Kashmir highway with the rest of Indian States, we will hardly find any similarity. In rest of the highways, you won’t find bus stops, markets, let alone huge residential houses,” he said, wishing anonymity. The recent attack at Pantha Chowk came despite a series of measures taken by the security grid to prevent highway attacks by militants.
The spurt in highway attacks also came up in recently held Unified Headquarters meeting at SKICC, chaired by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti. “All security heads have been asked to work out a joint plan to ensure attacks are stopped,” sources, said.