SRINAGAR: Playing the populist card with Srinagar Lok Sabha by-poll around the corner, former Union Minister and National Conference President Dr Farooq Abdullah Wednesday said that youths are throwing stones in the Valley for 'their nation (Kashmir)'.

In a sharp rebuttal to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 'tourism or terrorism' remark which he made after inaugurating the Chenani-Nashri tunnel in Jammu last week, Dr Abdullah said the youths pelting stones at forces have "nothing to do with tourism".

"They will starve to death but they are pelting stones for the sake of nation. They are sacrificing lives so that a solution can be found to Kashmir issue. They are not sacrificing lives for tourism,” Dr Abdullah, who is NC-Congress candidate for the by-poll, said.

Welcoming the US offer of mediation between India and Pakistan on Kashmir issue, Dr Abdullah said if India doesn't take the dialogue to "logical conclusion", then his party, National Conference, will urge the US to get involved to prevent a nuclear war.

"India has been telling the world community that it will hold dialogue with Pakistan to resolve Kashmir issue. But much water has flown (in Jehlum) but the talks are not going anywhere. If India doesn't start a serious dialogue, then we will urge and welcome the US involvement in resolving the Kashmir issue," Dr Abdullah said.

Campaigning for elections to Srinagar and Anantnag constituencies to be held on April 9 and April 12 respectively, has remained a low-key affair amid rising insurgency-related violence which has forced the contesting parties to hold meetings with their workers inside the confines of their residences or party offices.

While Dr Abdullah made these remarks while addressing National Conference workers at his Gupkar residence, Tasaduq Mufti, son of late Mufti Sayeed who is contesting from Anantnag, has held a series of meetings with youngesters at the family's Nowgam residence on the outskirts of Srinagar city.

In the run up to the elections, violence has spiked sharply in the Valley with government forces coming under attacks by suspected militants on four occasions in past seven days which resulted in the killing of a policeman and a CRPF trooper while nearly dozen forces personnel were wounded, two of them critically.

Tensions have also mounted as civilian killings near encounter sites have also gone up significantly in the first three months of this year with 14 civilians killed by government forces while two more were killed by suspected militants.

"In the first three months of 2017, a total of 33 militants have been killed in government forces’ action which includes 18 locals, seven non-locals, and eight unknown militants,” JKCCS, a local human rights advocacy group, said in a statement last week.

(Cover Photograph BASIT ZARGAR)