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Kashmir attack: Why JKEDI was an easy target for the terrorists?

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Photo: dailykashmirimages.com

An account by an ex-employee of JKEDI, Sarwar Kashani

Its location makes it vulnerable, more prone to being occupied by suicide attackers for a possible long-drawn gunfight, a senior police officer had once said with some foreboding about Kashmir’s entrepreneurship institute at the center of a battle between security forces and terrorists on Saturday.

The police officer’s apprehension during a casual talk with me was the first thing I immediately remembered when I heard about a group of militants had stormed into the multi-floor complex of the Jammu and Kashmir Entrepreneurship Development Institute (JKEDI), where I used to work until recently as a communication officer.

Had I not returned to journalism, I would probably have been one of the employees of the institute who were trapped inside the complex hours after the shootout began.

The institute, situated on the strategic national highway connecting Jammu and Srinagar, has three buildings – a guest house, a hostel complex and the main office building – on a large swath of 3.5-acre land on the eastern bank of Jhelum. The institute trains young boys and girls of the job-starved state to be entrepreneurs and has nearly 300 employees spread across 22 districts of the Jammu and Kashmir. Nearly 100 employees are posted in the main office near Pampore, some 12 km from Srinagar.

The road on which the institute is located connects capital Srinagar with south Kashmir. It is the lifeline not only for the local supplies, but is the only all-weather road link used by the army to reach the Srinagar-based 15 Corps headquarters that is the nerve center of the fight against militancy in the state.

The area around the building is not residential. It houses a government-owned joinery factory where wooden objects like doors, window frames, beds, chairs are made. On the other side of the road is a highly secured complex of medium and shortwave radio transmitters of Radio Kashmir, Srinagar.

There is a large slice of marshy land that separates the JKEDI complex from the Jhelum. Police previously had on many occasions proposed that the building be secured with security forces.

But the proposal was rejected as the administration of the institute was of the view that it (police presence) may scare young boys and girls from visiting it.

The police officer during the talk last summer was pointing to the location of the institute on the highway and the bushy wetland at the back of the complex – making it an easy target of militants who would also want to exploit the rush of youth into the institute.

And that is exactly what might have happened on Saturday evening as I was informed by my colleagues.

They said that three to four militants – apparently teenagers – walked inside posing as aspiring entrepreneurs before launching the attack on a security force convoy. Many of the employees had no idea what was brewing outside.

The militants, carrying heavy weaponry, then stormed inside. The attackers quickly scaled the stairs and occupied the fourth floor of the building from where they began shooting at security forces, the employees said.

In the melee, many of the employees sneaked out and ran towards the hostel complex. But many were still trapped inside before they reached the ground floor.

I could hear the gunshots over the phone as I spoke with my former colleagues. I heard them screaming over the phone. They were running for their lives before being evacuated by security forces to safer places.

I was told that a gardener was injured being hit by a bullet on one of his legs. Rest of them are safe and alive.(IANS)

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Post-Pulwama, Kashmir Helpline Gets Over 500 Calls

About the challenges Ladakh faces after a Pulwama-type attack, he said its economy suffers since it is almost fully dependent on tourism

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Pulwama, JeM, Terror, Kashmir
The Indian Army said that all the top leadership of the JeM outfit have been eliminated by security forces in the Kashmir Valley within 100 hours of the terror attack. Pixabay

With nationalist sentiments on a high after the suicide attack that left 40 CRPF troopers dead, it is the Kashmiris around the country who have felt the heat. Post-February 14 Pulwama attack, a helpline for students from the state in the NCR area received over 500 calls — more than 25 calls a day.

Vidushi Kapoor, Jammu and Kashmir’s Liaison Officer in-charge of Delhi-NCR area, told IANS that although no major incident was reported, she received around 500-600 calls, especially from Dehradun, from Kashmiri students saying that they are “feeling insecure”.

“Police and college authorities were very helpful. Full security and support was provided to the students at all times,” she said. However, the charged-up environment and reports from other areas has prompted many Kashmiri students to return home, she added.

“The environment has cooled down now, but two weeks were quite upsetting… the students were really scared.”

Kapoor is one of the seven Liaison Officers appointed around the country by the state government in November 2018 for support of students from the state. After the attack, their contacts were published in newspapers and social media to enable students to contact them.

More worryingly, the situation also shows that the rift between the state’s three major regions – Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh – extends to influence the perception of their people around India.Kapoor noted that the helpline had not got a single call from any students from the Jammu region.

Meanwhile, it is those from the Kashmir Valley who are squeezed between the terror outfits and the security forces.

Noting how all this takes a mental toll on its residents, Mehr (name changed), a 21-year-old living in the Kashmir Valley, said: “We are in repressive conditions. Being surrounded by security men is normal for us…livelihood, schools being suspended is normal.”

About the Pulwama attack, she said: “Violence wouldn’t solve the issue. The attack was not a good thing” but noted that people joined militancy because of “excesses”.

Taniya Tikoo, a Kashmiri Pandit living in Delhi, said it is best for both India and Pakistan if Kashmiris are allowed to have a dialogue among themselves. “It will be a win-win situation for everyone,” she said.

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FILE – Indian paramilitary soldiers stand by the wreckage of a bus after an explosion in Pampore, Indian-controlled Kashmir, Feb. 14, 2019. VOA

People from Jammu region have a different take.

Citing the recent grenade attack in Jammu bus stand, Delhi University student Saloni, who hails from Kathua, said, “A lot of violence has shifted to Jammu (region).”

She demanded greater linkage between the state and India. “India has been investing so much… we should be integrated with the rest of the country and Articles 370, 35A (of the Constitution) should be scrapped – they have done no good so far.”

Hitu, another girl from Jammu region studying in Delhi, however, said whenever any violence takes place in Kashmir, it affects everyone including “our schools, banks, highways also close”.

She also said that people from Jammu and Ladakh region “have a general feeling of being ignored by the leaders”.

Jigmat Paljor, President of the Ladakh Student Welfare Society in Delhi, is in agreement with his Jammu counterparts – but to a point.

Paljor told IANS how his people feel alienated because with all focus on Kashmir, issues of Ladakh, which is the state’s biggest region but sparsely populated, get overlooked.

Also Read- Women of Pakistan Protest Against Workplace Harassment, Child Marriage

About the challenges Ladakh faces after a Pulwama-type attack, he said its economy suffers since it is almost fully dependent on tourism.

“And since Ladakh has a border with both Pakistan and China, there is always fear of tensions escalating….”

While Paljor maintains Kashmir is an integral part of the country, he wants Articles 370 and 35A to stay as his region “is very fragile and susceptible in terms of economy, culture, language, environment, from outside influence”. (IANS)