THE NEW FOUR-LANE HIGHWAY connecting Srinagar and Jammu is supposed to have reduced the travel time across the Kashmir Valley. But in the weeks I spent there in August, each time I tried to go to south Kashmir, I was held up in blockades that lasted up to an hour. It was on this highway, in Pulwama, that a suicide bomber attacked a Central Reserve Police Force convoy in February this year, killing over forty personnel. The blast happened where the road slopes upward and traffic slows down—probably to inflict the most damage. In the aftermath of the attack, the government completely banned civilian movement from Udhampur in Jammu to Baramulla in north Kashmir on two days of the week, to facilitate the movement of armed-forces convoys. The highway has since been repaired, but vehicles passing over the spot can still feel a bump.
While I was there, this highway brought in convoys at various times on all days except Friday. When a convoy passes, all other traffic is brought to an immediate halt. Armoured vehicles and security forces block the way, the sense of emergency evident in the shrill sound of their whistles. The traffic piles up—even ambulances are not allowed to move. Most passengers dare not step out, but some become impatient and get out of their cars. They stand about, looking at the convoy and commenting on it, as if chatting about the weather.