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Kashmir in panic after India orders tourists to leave

Indian Hindu devotees trek on horses at Chandanwari, some 115 km southeast of Srinagar, during the annual Hindu pilgrimage on July 27, 2019 to the holy cave shrine of Amarnath. (Photo by AFP)

Authorities in the Indian-controlled Kashmir have called on tourists to immediately leave the disputed Himalayan region, raising fears of a new crackdown.

The Jammu and Kashmir government said in an unprecedented order on Friday that tourists should cut short their stay in the region and return as soon as possible because of “intelligence inputs of terror threats” against a huge Hindu pilgrimage and “the prevailing security situation.”

In a joint press conference, the Indian army and the state police said there were “confirmed intelligence reports” claiming that terrorists backed by Pakistan were trying to disrupt the Amarnath Yatra pilgrimage.

For 45 days every year, thousands of devout Hindus from across India trek to the region's holy Amarnath cave located among the Himalayan Mountains in southern Kashmir.

The order came days after India deployed 10,000 additional troops in the disputed region, triggering rumors that the government aimed to revoke Kashmir's special status guaranteed by the Indian Constitution.

Kashmiris worry the Hindu nationalist government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is trying to remove Article 35A of the Indian Constitution, which prevents people from outside the state from buying property there or claiming government jobs.

Mehbooba Mufti, the former chief minister of the region, said India "has chosen territory over people" and held an emergency meeting with other Kashmiri leaders on Friday evening.

"The economy is in free fall but I hope like always Kashmir isn't used as a red herring to distract masses from the real issues. Such a move will have catastrophic consequences and push Kashmiris to the brink," she tweeted.

An estimated 200,000 to 300,000 Hindus fled Kashmir in the aftermath of an armed revolt against the Indian rule that began in 1989.

Kashmir has been split between India and Pakistan since partition in 1947. Both countries claim all of Kashmir and have fought three wars over the territory.

Indian troops are in constant clashes with armed groups seeking Kashmir’s independence or its merger with Pakistan. India regularly accuses Pakistan of arming and training militants and allowing them across the restive frontier in an attempt to launch attacks. Pakistan strongly denies the allegation.

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