Former Army Chief General Malik frowns on ban on Jammu-Srinagar Highway

Restrictions put on civilian movement on the highway twice a week is a dumb idea, says former Army Chief General (Rtd) V.P. Malik. Home Ministry finds criticism mischievous

Former Army Chief General V.P. Malik (file photo; social media)
Former Army Chief General V.P. Malik (file photo; social media)

Gulzar Bhat

Mohammad Younus is an engineer with a construction company in New Delhi. Unaware of the restrictions imposed on the movement of civilians twice a week on the Jammu-Srinagar Highway, he was unable to reach in time for a family function in Anantnag.

“I had insisted on this particular day for the function since it suited my schedule,” rued the engineer.

The J & K administration last week had decided to close down the 273 km long highway from Udhampur to Baramullah on Sundays and Wednesdays to facilitate trouble free movement of security forces in the wake of the suicide attack at Pulwama in February.

But while the decision was meant to prevent recurrence of a similar attack, it has come in for widespread criticism. Even the former Army Chief General V.P. Malik tweeted his disapproval.

‘Kashmir. Ban on movement of civilian vehicles on NH twice a week is a dumb idea 1. Goes against the core object of winning hearts & minds. 2. Civil Administration must weigh pros & cons 3. Instead of strengthening local police & intelligence, & improving movement security, shows forces becoming over defensive.’

The former Army chief’s criticism did not go down well with the Home Ministry, which on Wednesday issued a statement blaming mischievous elements for spreading disinformation. All due care had been taken, the statement claimed, before imposing the restriction.

The statement triggered an acerbic reaction from former chief minister Omar Abdullah. “This press release sets a new record for the number of untruths told in the same statement. I don’t know where to start with the sheer lies being told by this unnamed “senior MHA official” except to say there is hardly a word of truth in it,” tweeted Abdullah.

As anticipated by General Malik, the restrictions placed a great deal of inconvenience on people moving to their workplaces, to hospitals and those who want to see ailing or dying relatives. The restriction of movement on Highways in their own land has upset many while some have given vent to their dissatisfaction at having to obtain permits for even legitimate travel. The ‘Highway Magistrates’ sometimes have stamped the permission on the palm of people, which has caused outrage.

A Twitter user wrote, “A civilian granted permission to drive from home to office on the Kashmir highway. The highway magistrate stamp is only valid till next hand wash! It reminds me of a movie from Hitler's era,” before tagging a picture of the palm.

Wednesday was the second day of the highway ban and put students, commuters, businessmen etc. to inconvenience.

"I could not attend my classes at the university,” said a student who is pursuing her post graduation at Islamic University of Science and Technology at Awantipora on Srinagar-Jammu national highway.

Nazir Ahmad, who drives his taxi between Srinagar and Anantnag complained that his business had taken a hit. "The ban means no work for two days every week" he pointed out.

Former Chief Minister and PDP president Mehbooba on Wednesday asked people to defy the ban and drive down the road. She said that if the Centre wanted to turn Kashmir into an Israel l-Palestine issue then it should prepare itself for a Palestine like situation in valley.

National Conference leader Omar Abdullah staged a protest at Pantha chowk on the Srinagar-Jammu national highway against the ban. Bureaucrat turned politician Shah Faesal has moved Jammu and Kashmir High Court against the ban on April 8.

Chairman of the Kashmir Economic Alliance Mohammad Yasin Khan felt the ban would send a wrong message and “Tourists will think twice before visiting Kashmir. The ban will scare them too," he added.

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