Srinagar, Aug. 27: Two hours after Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee delivered an impassioned speech calling on separatists to shed violence and join a united effort to take Jammu and Kashmir forward on “the high road of peace”, a suicide attack shattered the silence of a city that had come to a standstill at the command of secessionists.
At least two militants attacked a BSF bunker guarding the BSNL headquarters — around five km from the venue of the Prime Minister’s meeting — at Lal Chowk in the heart of Srinagar.
After lobbing grenades, the militants took shelter in a hotel and opened fire, killing a BSF jawan and injuring a deputy inspector general. A gunfight with security forces was continuing late in the night.
The Hurriyat Conference, along with some militant organisations, had ordered a two-day general strike to coincide with the inter-state council meeting in the city. The inter-state council is meeting for the first time outside Delhi at the request of chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.
The delegates include the Prime Minister, deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, defence minister George Fernandes, law minister Arun Jaitley and labour minister Sahib Singh Verma. Fifteen chief ministers and two deputy chief ministers are also here.
The city is like a war zone with security forces manning and checking every strip of the road in and around the Sher-e-Kashmir International Conference Centre and the hotels where the VIPs are staying.
A BSF jawan was shot at in Srinagar this evening, while a blast was reported before Vajpayee arrived. “It is the militants wanting to prove a point because of the presence of the Prime Minister and half his Cabinet here,’’ a police officer said.
Officials here said the Hurriyat call for a strike was given on the orders of militant groups which had threatened the new chairman, Abbas Ansari, a moderate, with dire consequences if he did not fall in line. Since the assassination of Abdul Gani Lone by alleged pro-Pakistani terrorists for his moderate views, few Hurriyat leaders dare defy the militants.
Behind the sanitised walls of the convention centre, Vajpayee tried to reach out to Kashmiris.
“I assure the people and the government of Jammu and Kashmir that we will give them maximum help in consolidating the recent gains. We will further intensify our sincere efforts to advance the dialogue process. Our doors are open to all those who reject militancy and extreme positions and wish to play a constructive role in taking Jammu and Kashmir forward on the high road of peace and rapid development,’’ Vajpayee told the inaugural session.
Vajpayee showered praise on the people of Kashmir for standing up for democracy and backing the state administration to the hilt in its efforts to bring the state back on track.
“A meeting of the country’s apex forum of cooperative federalism taking place in Srinagar gives yet another clear message that the situation in the state is changing. It also demonstrates the firm commitment of the Centre and all other states to stand by our brethren in Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh areas,’’ the Prime Minister said. There was no reference to Pakistan.