SRINAGAR: Authorities in Kashmir began enforcing a government ban on Sunday on the movement of civilian vehicles for two days a week on a key highway to keep it open exclusively for military and paramilitary convoys.

Soldiers patrolled the highway and erected barricades by steel and razor wire at intersections with neighbourhood roads. India’s government issued the order this past week, reserving the 270km stretch of the highway for the movement of government forces vehicles on Sundays and Wednesdays until the end of May.

The order follows the February 14 suicide bombing of a paramilitary convoy that killed 40 soldiers and brought rivals India and Pakistan to the brink of war. Civilian traffic was already being disallowed along the highway during the movement of troops’ convoys after the attack.

The order said the ban was called to prevent any attacks by militants “keeping in view the large movement of security forces on the national highway” during India’s multi-phase general election, which begins on Thursday.

The highway is the only one connecting the restive Kashmir Valley in the Himalayas to the Indian plains, and a large part of it passes through mountains and forests. The road is currently being widened into a four-lane highway and is prone to frequent closure during winters and bad weather.

The ban has evoked sharp criticism from politicians, businessmen and common residents in Kashmir, which is divided between India and Pakistan but claimed by both in its entirety.