By Fayaz Bukari and Devjyot Ghoshal
SRINAGAR/NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian security officials on Friday said they had found evidence of attacks planned by Pakistani military-backed militants on a major Hindu pilgrimage in the disputed Muslim-dominated region of Kashmir.
Tension has run high in the mountainous region since a vehicle laden with explosive rammed into an Indian police convoy on Feb. 14, killing 40 paramilitary policemen, and leading to aerial clashes between the two nations.
Indian officials said a mine with Pakistan ordinance marking was among caches of ammunition, explosives and weapons retrieved following intelligence reports of likely attacks on routes used by hundreds of thousands of devout Hindus who trek to the region’s holy Amarnath cave every year.
In an order issued on Friday, the government in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir effectively called off the pilgrimage and asked the gathered pilgrims to return home, citing the intelligence reports.
“The Pakistan ordinance factory markings (on the mine)…clearly indicate (the) Pakistan army is involved in terrorism in Kashmir,” Indian military commander Lieutenant-General K.J.S. Dhillon told a news conference in Srinagar.
There was no immediate comment from spokesmen for Pakistan’s military and its foreign ministry.
Muslim-majority Kashmir has been the site of decades of hostility between nuclear arch-rivals India and Pakistan. Both countries claim it in full but rule it in part.
India accuses Pakistan of funding armed militants, along with separatist groups in India’s portion of the region considered non-violent by international observers.
Islamabad denies the Indian accusation, saying it provides only diplomatic and moral support to the separatist movement.
Dhillon said security forces in Kashmir, where more than 300 people have died in just the last six months, were still being targeted with improvised explosive devices.
“All these things are an indication that Pakistan and the Pakistani army is desperate to disrupt peace in Kashmir Valley,” he said.
Police had received intelligence reports there could be an increase in militant-led violence, Kashmir police chief Dilbagh Singh told the briefing in the region’s main city of Srinagar.
India has moved an additional 10,000 paramilitary troops into the restive region, because of the security situation, training requirements and the need for rotation, a home ministry official said on Friday.
The influx swells an estimated 40,000 troops already in the region to provide security for the Amarnath pilgrimage. The new deployment has caused concern among residents that Indian security forces planned another major crackdown.
People had bought provisions in bulk over the last week, but more have lined up since this morning, said Zahoor Ahmad, the owner of a grocery in Srinagar.
“We are running out of stocks due to panic buying,” he said.
(Reporting by Fayaz Bukhari in SRINAGAR and Devjyot Ghoshal in NEWDELHI; Edited by Martin Howell and Clarence Fernandez)