Baba Reshi Sufi Shrine. | Image courtesy: wikipedia
Baramulla: At least two Wakf employees of Baba Reshi Sufi Shrine were picked up by Indian Army for questioning earlier last week amidst reports of increased militant movement in the shrine’s vicinity and neighbouring villages, Wakf officials told NewsClick.
According to the officials, who wished anonymity, a local youth had approached the board for renting a room in the guest house premises, which was provided. Later, it turned out that the youth was allegedly working as an over-ground worker for militants.
Confirming the arrests, personnel from the local police station said, “they were taken for questioning by the Army in a militancy-related case.” The police added, “the militants had used Room 4 of Building 9 for five days before leaving the area.”
The alleged over-ground worker was arrested in Baramulla and led them to the Wakf guest house as well as many neighboring villages triggering more arrests. The detained Wakf officials also live close to the Sufi shrine. The police, however, did not divulge details regarding the current status of the two employees.
The shrine also remains affected due to the ongoing crackdown following the abrogation of Article 370. On an average, according to Wakf officials, as many as 10,000 devotees, including Kashmiri Hindus, visit and pay daily obeisance between June and September each year. Since the clampdown on August 4, no one except a few locals from the neighbouring villages visit the place. “To put it into perspective, the difference between the money collected in donation between last year August and this year is more than Rs 50 lakh,” a Wakf employee said.
Situated around 40 km from Srinagar, the Baba Reshi shrine is one of the most revered shrines located in the pine-rich mountains of North Kashmir, also known for the famous tourist destination -- Gulmarg.
Troop Build-Up in Gulmarg?
The arrests come at a time when there are reports of ‘troop building’ in the upper reaches of Gulmarg, something that was has been ‘sensed’ by people working in the area.
Mohammad Iqbal, a resident of Tangmarg, said he witnessed a huge convoy of security forces moving towards the Afarwat peak, unlike he has seen in more than a decade. Iqbal, who takes care of a guest house in Gulmarg, said they were advised several times by the security forces to remain inside their places after dusk. “Something has happened up there. We were very scared and were afraid to go outside for several days last week,” he says.
An employee of the tourism department, responsible for running and maintaining the Gulmarg gondola services, Mohammad Ashraf, however, said he had not noticed anything “unusual” but agreed that “something is up in the mountains.”
“Only three days ago, the security forces cordoned the area and were searching for the gondola premises around the park,” Ashraf said, adding that “We don’t know exactly what’s going on elsewhere due to the communication blockade, but the situation seems to be worse than the 2016 protests on Burhan Wani.” Since the government issued an advisory for tourists to vacate the region a month ago, the tourist destination, which witnesses a massive footfall in tens of thousands daily, looks like a ghost town now. Locals working as Army porters were also asked to go home but returned after two days. An Army Casper stands guard near the entrance of the green meadow which is close to the India-Pakistan border with an aerial distance of mere 7 km. The area, however, has not been traditionally a favourable route for militant infiltration.
“Now, the Army vehicle continuously makes round of the vicinity from early morning till late night,” a tea-stall owner said.
A resident of Pattan, the teamaker said, “the situation hasn’t gone worse since last week, but I am still scared to roam around in the evening, which is why I go home and don’t stay here.” For him, there is not even good business here anymore.
An employee of a hotel said the security forces had also cordoned and searched some of the hotels, including the ‘high-end’ ones in Gulmarg some days ago. “Nothing much happened after that. I think the trouble has reached downhill now,” he said.