Restrictions on the movement of civilian traffic on the Jammu-Srinagar highway, imposed ahead of elections in light of the Pulwama terror attack that claimed the lives of at least 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troopers, are being reconsidered, senior officials in the security establishment said on condition of anonymity.
The restrictions had come into effect on April 7 and were to be in place until May 31 .
A suicide bomber rammed an explosives-laden vehicle into a bus carrying CRPF troopers from Jammu to Srinagar on February 14 in the single deadliest terrorist attack in three decades of insurgency in Kashmir. On March 30, another explosives-laden vehicle exploded close to another convoy, but did not cause casualties or damage.
The movement of civilian traffic was restricted on Wednesdays and Sundays to allow unhindered movement of convoys.
“Restriction on movement of civilian traffic was largely imposed to prevent any further attack on the security forces during the elections,” a senior official in the security establishment said.
Elections to the six Lok Sabha seats in Jammu and Kashmir will be completed on May 6.
The re-think on restrictions was visible on the 270km Jammu-Srinagar highway on Wednesday. Civilian traffic moved freely on the highway.
“Civilian traffic was allowed to move without any hurdle because there were no troops who required to be moved,” a ministry of home affairs official said. In addition, the Indian Army has been moving troops along the highway as and when required irrespective of the restrictions on the movement of civilian traffic.
“Irrespective of the restriction on civilian traffic, soldiers of the para-military forces are being moved whenever required especially for the forthcoming elections,” a second senior MHA official said.
Security forces — the para-military and even the Indian Army — have not been very keen on restricting civilian traffic along the highway. “The population is inconvenienced, which is avoidable,” the senior official in the security establishment cited above said, explaining the reason for the rethink.
New Delhi’s assessment is that the ground situation in Kashmir is changing for the better, as evidenced by the flow of intelligence from the local population that has led to the elimination of several top terrorists and the fact that recruitment of local men to militant ranks has dried up.
Explaining measures to protect security force convoys. another senior official said: “Convoys can be protected even without the restriction of civilian traffic. For instance, earlier, only portions of the highway through which the convoy is passing were blocked temporarily and only till the convoy was passing through that stretch of the road. Civilians were less inconvenienced.”