Reasi bus attack: Why the militant attack on pilgrims is worrying for Jammu | India News


Reasi bus attack

The damaged inside of the bus carrying pilgrims that was ambushed by terrorists, in Reasi district of Jammu and Kashmir. (PTI Photo)


On Sunday evening, June 9, as Narendra Modi prepared to take the oath as Prime Minister for his third term, a bus carrying pilgrims from a Hindu religious shrine was attacked by suspected militants in the Reasi district of Jammu and Kashmir.


The attack resulted in the deaths of at least nine passengers and injuries to more than 40 others. Among the victims were the bus driver, the conductor, and a two-year-old child.


This incident marks the most lethal militant strike on civilians in Jammu and Kashmir this year. It is particularly concerning as it occurred in an area widely considered militancy-free, suggesting that militant activities from neighbouring Rajouri and Poonch districts have now spread to Reasi.

Reasi, due to its proximity to Jammu district, significant religious shrines, and hydroelectricity projects, boasts better infrastructure and road connectivity compared to Rajouri and Poonch.


This is the second attack on pilgrims in Reasi since 2022. In May that year, four pilgrims were killed and around 24 injured when a bus returning from the Mata Vaishno Devi shrine caught fire. Initial reports categorised the incident as an accident, but later investigations revealed that militants had planted bombs on the bus.


The recent attack is likely to challenge the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Union government, which has asserted that its decision to scrap Article 370 and downgrade Jammu and Kashmir to a Union Territory has brought peace to the region. The BJP has also cited the increase in tourists to the Union Territory as evidence of normalcy since 2019. On Monday, the Congress criticised the Modi government for the deteriorating security situation in Jammu and Kashmir.

Local opposition parties in Jammu and Kashmir also condemned the attack. “It is unfortunate to see areas that had previously been cleared of all militants see a return of militancy,” former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and National Conference Vice-President Omar Abdullah wrote on X on Sunday.

 


 


Hub of religious tourism


Reasi district is prominent for religious tourism in the Hindu-majority Jammu region. According to the 2011 census, Muslims make up 50 per cent of the district’s population, while Hindus account for 49 per cent. Annually, over 10 million pilgrims from across the country visit the Mata Vaishno Devi shrine in Katra, a town with numerous hotels, dhabas, and guest houses.


Pilgrims visiting Vaishno Devi often extend their journey to the Shiv Khori cave, with Katra town serving as the common base camp. The Shiv Khori shrine in Ransoo, where the victims of Sunday’s attack had gone to pray, attracts nearly 2 million visitors annually. 


The attack

 


According to police reports, the bus was attacked around 6:10 pm on Sunday as it returned from the Shiv Khori shrine to Katra town, approximately 72 km away. Eyewitnesses recounted the horror, saying that two to three masked militants opened fire on the bus near Kanda village in the Taryath area.


The road where the attack occurred connects Reasi with Rajouri district. The mountainous and treacherous terrain, with dense forest cover, often favours the assailants.


Since 2021, Rajouri and Poonch districts in Jammu’s Pir Panjal region have experienced multiple precision strikes by militants, causing significant losses to security forces and targeted attacks on civilians.


At least 50 people were on board when the attack took place. While the driver and the conductor were local residents of Jammu, the passengers hailed from various states, including Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. Among the deceased, four were from Rajasthan, and three were from Uttar Pradesh.


Militants escalate attacks


Following the attack, police collected empty bullet cartridges, indicating the use of sophisticated weapons by the militants. 


“The idea [behind the attack] is to instill fear among people, particularly pilgrims,” said a former police officer who requested anonymity. “But the larger message seems that terrorists operating in the belt are feeling a bit emboldened. Security agencies need to do more.”


Last month, militants targeted an Indian Air Force convoy in the Surankote area of Poonch district, resulting in the death of one airman and injuries to four others. Despite a massive search operation by security forces, the militants managed to escape. A brief exchange of fire occurred in Poonch’s Marha Buffliaz on May 31, but the militants once again evaded capture.


A new challenge


Sunday’s attack presents a fresh challenge for security forces in the Pir Panjal region. 


The resurgence of militant activities in Reasi, after more than two decades of peace, is alarming. The last significant militant activity in Reasi occurred in the mid-1990s and early 2000s, with several massacres of Hindus. During that period, as security forces cracked down on militancy in Kashmir Valley, the insurgency spilled over into the Jammu region.


A similar pattern has emerged since the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status under Article 370 and the end of its statehood. With New Delhi cracking down on militancy and separatist support systems, armed violence in the Kashmir Valley has decreased significantly. However, there has been a resurgence of militant attacks in the mountainous Pir Panjal belt of Jammu region.


On Monday, Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha stated that the culprits behind the attack would not be spared. “The attack is part of a nefarious design to somehow spread turmoil to the Jammu region, but we are determined to thwart such an attempt,” Sinha added.

First Published: Jun 11 2024 | 4:28 PM IST



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