Srinagar: For the first time since the Centre abrogated Article 370 of the Constitution and bifurcated Jammu and Kashmir into two Union territories, the security forces on Monday spotted a group of armed terrorists in Pulwama, that led to a brief exchange of fire, while the Kashmir Valley observed a muted Id-ul-Zuha, with stringent restrictions in place and a curfew-like situation since the morning.

Two minor incidents of stone-pelting were also reported but the security forces soon dispersed the stone-pelters. By and large, Day 8 of the Valley lockdown passed off peacefully while security forces are now planning new strategies for August 15, Independence Day, and for Pakistan’s Independence Day a day earlier: August 14.

“We made with terrorists in Pulwama today and there was a brief exchange of fire. But it could not materialise into an operation,” J&K director-general of police Dilbag Singh told this newspaper in an exclusive chat. He said while Id-ul-Zuha had passed off peacefully, there were only two minor incidents of stone-pelting at Bemina and Natipora. “People cooperated with us, which ensured peace,” the DGP said at the end of what was a tense day for the security forces.

Fears of attacks by terrorists, who are desperate to strike, has been present since Day 1 of the Valley lockdown. On Monday, as per specific intelligence received by the security agencies, it was expected that both stone-pelting and terror strikes could happen simultaneously. But the presence of a large number of forces on the ground and with communications like mobile phones, landlines and the Internet completely cut off, nothing untoward could take place.

As per the security forces’ assessment, there are over 230 active militants in the Valley, and of them about 180 in South Kashmir alone. A few days ago, some terrorists carrying AK-47s were spotted in Anantnag.

Monday morning in Srinagar began with Id prayers amid the heavy presence of security forces. The already dampened Id celebrations in the Valley due to a virtual lockdown since August 5 ended on a frustrating note for the locals, with strict curfew-like restrictions imposed by the security forces from the crack of dawn.

Though it was widely anticipated that restrictions would be eased for Id, it turned out to be otherwise. Since the morning, people were directed to offer namaz in their neighbourhood mosques and were prevented from going anywhere else. Prayers were not allowed at the Jamia Masjid in Nowhatta, the Hazratbal shrine and a few other big mosques. At the local mosques, people numbering between 100 and 150 were seen offering prayers. Some of them even greeted the policemen.

However, after the morning prayers ended, the security forces reimposed strict restrictions and by the afternoon, all streets were deserted, indicating the first Id-ul-Zuha celebrations after the ending of Article 370 was muted.

The Union home ministry said nearly 30,000 people had offered prayers in Srinagar and 10,000 more in areas of North Kashmir like Baramulla. “The restrictions were made in view of specific inputs about trouble and that is the reason communications were not restored,” a CRPF official pointed out.

“We wanted to burst crackers and go out to meet friends and relatives. The administration could have eased curbs and taken this opportunity to calm anger among people. But this opportunity was lost,” said Javed Ahmed, who lives at Fateh Kadal.

Echoing similar views, another local said by not easing the curbs, the Id celebration was completely muted as they were unable to even greet their near and dear ones.

However, for the security forces, it turned out to be yet another day when they accomplished their mission of ensuring peace in the Valley. By evening, the restrictions were once again eased and people came out of their homes while thin traffic too led to minor traffic snarls.