| Defence minister George Fernandes with army personnel at Tanda army camp near Akhnoor on Wednesday to probe the security breach which allowed militants to kill eight soldiers. (AFP)
New Delhi/Jammu, July 23: L.K. Advani today said the militant attack on an army camp in Jammu that killed a brigadier and seven other soldiers was the result of normality returning to the Valley and could not be linked with the Pakistan peace initiative begun by the Prime Minister.
The deputy Prime Minister said: “Peace process is one thing. The terrorists are uncomfortable with the return of normalcy. Whenever there is normalcy, they try to engineer such incidents. It is not related to the Pakistan peace initiative. It is an attempt to subvert the return of normalcy in the Valley.”
In the first strike, at 5.30am yesterday, two militants stormed the army’s electrical and mechanical engineering unit at Tanda camp near Akhnoor, 30 km from Jammu. In the exchange of fire that followed seven soldiers and the two fidayeen were killed.
The second attack occurred around 1.15 pm as senior officers were being briefed on the strike. Reports suggest a third fidayeen crept up on the officers, hid in the tall elephant grass and blew himself up, killing a brigadier.
Earlier, while replying to supplementaries during question hour in Rajya Sabha, Advani agreed with Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Nirupam that militants had shifted base from the Valley to Jammu. “In the Valley, attacks have come down as tourism went up. Attacks in Jammu have gone up…” he said.
Advani said it was difficult to counter such fidayeen attacks, but said India was not lowering its guard. “There has been no complacency, there has been no lowering of guard. The world over there is a feeling and strong revulsion against terrorism. The government and people are determined to fight it,” he added.
Pakistan, on its part, has condemned the militant attack on pilgrims on Monday. “The government of Pakistan condemns the attack on pilgrims of the Vaishno Devi shrine,” a foreign ministry statement said. It also offered condolences to the bereaved families. It did not say anything on yesterday’s attack on the army camp in Jammu.
Defence minister George Fernandes, who visited the Tanda camp this morning for an on-the-spot study of the situation, blamed the Lashkar-e-Toiba for the strikes.
But he said the attacks and Monday’s assault that killed seven pilgrims would not affect the peace process with Pakistan.
Fernandes said: “These attacks should not be allowed to derail the (peace) process. The process must continue.”
But the minister nevertheless accused Islamabad of sending militants to engineer trouble in Jammu and Kashmir. “The militants are still coming from Pakistan and this is a reality. There are various camps of support there,” he said.
Speaking to newspersons at the end of a four-hour visit to Jammu during which he visited Tanda and reviewed security with senior army commanders, Fernandes said it was clear that the Lashkar was involved in the attack. “That is what our information is,” he said.
Fernandes said the lesser-known militant outfit, al Shuhda Brigade, which claimed responsibility for the twin strikes, was a shadow group of the Lashkar which opposes the peace initiative.
The attack was carried out to protest visiting Pakistan opposition leader, Fazl-ur Rehman’s remarks that the Line of Control be converted into a permanent border and the Kashmir issue be resolved in the framework of the Simla Agreement, a handwritten press release faxed by the outfit yesterday said.
The defence minister today said the Lashkar had its base in Pakistan and people kept coming across the border to die. “It is an established fact,” he said.
Fernandes did not hold the Pakistan government responsible for the attacks.
The defence minister faced hostile questions from the media during his visit. He rejected the charge that a security lapse had led to the attack, but said such talk demoralised the army and boosted the morale of those sending “young people to get killed here”.
Fernandes added: “The morale of our soldiers is high and we are ready to face any challenge.”
The minister, who was briefed by army commanders about continuing cross-border infiltration and the hostile designs of militant groups based in Pakistan, said such attacks should not “provoke us to some unnecessary reaction. We can not bring ourselves down to that level”, he said.
Six persons, including an Amarnath pilgrim, were injured in a grenade blast triggered by militants in a market area in Qazigund on the Srinagar-Jammu national highway today.
On the other hand, a record number of 1.04 lakh pilgrims paid obeisance at the cave shrine of Amarnath so far, an official spokesman said today.
As many as 6,000 pilgrims paid obeisance to the holy ice lingam today, the spokesman said.