Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir – Authorities have announced that an arterial highway in Indian-administered Kashmir will be closed to civilian movement twice a week to facilitate the movement of army convoys in the region.
The 300km-long Baramulla-Jammu national highway connects the disputed Kashmir region to the outside world. It also links the southern and northern parts of the region to the capital city, Srinagar.
The decision comes after a suicide bomber rammed his car into a military convoy on the same highway – a lifeline for a large number of civilians – in Kashmir’s Pulwama town, killing at least 40 army personnel in February.
In an order issued on Wednesday, the government spokesman said: “Keeping in view the large movement of security forces on the national highway during the parliamentary elections and associated possibility of any Fidayeen [suicide] terror attack on security forces’ convoys, the state government has notified specified days in a week for the movement of security forces from Srinagar to Jammu. During these days, no civilian traffic would be allowed on the National Highway.”
Closing the Jammu Srinagar highway is the worst anti-People move I've seen in 30 years of militancy. Hundreds of schools and hospitals can only be accessed via this crucial road. Stark admission that the mighty Sec forces can only rule through force. Expect further alienation
— Harinder Baweja (@shammybaweja) April 4, 2019
“To mitigate the inconvenience to the civilians by this move, the government has notified two dedicated days in a week – Sunday and Wednesday – exclusively for movement of security forces convoys and there would be a complete ban on civilian traffic on the national highway during these two days from 4am to 5pm.”
The civilian population, as well as regional mainstream leaders, have said that India was “importing Israeli policies to turn Kashmir into Gaza”, referring to the Israeli policy of barring Palestinians from using many roads, citing security reasons.
For Muhammad Afaq, 50, a resident of Baramulla, the closure of the highway means his children will be unable to reach their school.
“This means my children will not be able to go their school as they travel 15km on the highway every day in their school bus. There are scores of schools, colleges, and hospitals on the highway that does not only connect Kashmir to India but also the other districts with the main city. It will be catastrophic,” he said.
Shah Faesal, a bureaucrat-turned-politician, told Al Jazeera that the policy “seems to be inspired by Israel’s lockdown of Gaza strip”.
“This is the only road link that connects Kashmir to the outside world. This is completely choking the freedom of movement for 70 lakh [7 million] residents. It will restrict people from going to jobs. It will halt business activities. How will patients move? It is an attempt to terrorise the population,” Faisal said.
“It is unheard-of in recent history. It is converting this valley into Gaza Strip for two days.”
The February 14 attack, the worst on security forces in decades, heightened tensions between India and Pakistan, bringing the two countries close to war.
The tension has since calmed down but India launched a major crackdown on separatists and rebels in the restive region.
Two major separatist organisations, Jamaat-e-Islami and Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), have been banned and hundreds of their leaders and activists put behind bars.
With the multi-phase Indian general elections set to begin on April 11, the authorities have rushed thousands of additional troopers into Kashmir to ensure smooth polls.
Mehbooba Mufti, former chief minister of the disputed territory, denounced the move in a tweet, adding: “Last I checked, we were a democracy. But this sounds like a diktat of martial law. After bringing Kashmir to the brink, the administration is adamant on ensuring collective punishment for Kashmiris.”
As the region is currently without a civil government, one of the top officials in the administration run by the governor told Al Jazeera that “because of the incidents that took place, the step has been taken after assessing threat perception to the convoys from the terror groups”.