Chandigarh, July 23: Fearing more fidayeen attacks in and around religious places, the Centre and the Jammu and Kashmir government have urged Punjab to deploy commandos along the Vaishno Devi route.
A senior police officer here said: “We have been getting feelers to deploy commandos on the route (from Katra to Bhavan) since yesterday. The Centre’s plan is to deploy Punjab Police commandos along with the CRPF and Jammu and Kashmir police special squads in the area and relocate soldiers to other regions for anti-terrorist operations. But the state (Punjab) government is unlikely to accept the Centre’s request,” he added.
The request for Punjab policemen to do duty is expected to be forwarded to the commandos in a day or two. The Union home ministry has asked Punjab to send commandos to Katra promptly.
At least seven pilgrims were killed in two explosions at Banganga en route to the Vaishno Devi shrine late on Monday evening. The next day, a brigadier and seven soldiers were killed in twin militant strikes at an army camp near Jammu.
Following the attacks, the Western Command at Chandimandir feels soldiers need to be replaced with police at a number of places.
“Each soldier will be needed in the state (Jammu and Kashmir), now that the scope of Operation Sarp Vinash has been widened. Police commandos will have to step in here,” a senior army officer said.
Last year, the Punjab government had refused to send commandos to Gujarat to control the post-Godhra riots. It did so despite a request from former director-general of police, K.P.S. Gill, who had been sent there by the Centre to restore order.
The Amarinder Singh government also turned down a central request to deploy forces during the December 2002 elections in Gujarat, saying they were needed instead in Punjab especially in areas bordering Jammu and Kashmir. But Punjab did deploy hundreds of policemen across the state border during last year’s Assembly elections.
A senior government official requesting anonymity said: “Punjab Police commandos do not like doing duty at religious places or help control the internal problems of another state. That is the job of central agencies. We would like to ascertain the views of the elite force before taking a decision. We would have given it a serious thought had it been a national issue. But being deployed in 22 places is another matter,” the official added.
The police officer said the Centre’s decision to withdraw CRPF security cover to the chief minister meant that Punjab police had been burdened with additional responsibilities.
He added: “The CRPF cover to the chief minister was removed on the state government’s request. On coming to power last year, Amarinder had said too much (money) was being wasted on the security cover being provided to him and other state politicians. He began withdrawing security to those who were no longer under threat.”
The officer added: “Amarinder cannot raise a hue and cry against the Centre for withdrawing his cover. It will make things difficult for the elite commando force as personnel will be needed for policing duties now.”
Elsewhere, the army is treating a warning by Hizb-ul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin last week seriously. Saluhuddin had said militants could launch widespread fidayeen attacks if the international community did not take steps to “to rescue us from India’s state terrorism and if there is no let-up in killing of children, molestation of women, looting and arson of properties (in Jammu and Kashmir).”
The army has stepped up security at its installations all across Punjab and Haryana. Additional troops are being rushed to Jammu and Kashmir.