Srinagar, Mar 29: Despite government’s multipronged strategy in Kashmir to keep youth away from militancy, at least 27 of them have joined different militant outfits in the first three months of this year, police officials said.
Locals joining militancy remains a major challenge for the government, even as it talks about involving Kashmiri youth in development activities so as to keep them away from militancy. According to police records, on an average, one boy joined militant ranks every three days in 2017. The trend looks similar so far this year as well.
“Many more youth are missing from different villages. So, the number can increase,” a senior police official told ET.
Police suspect that five boys who went missing from Srinagar, Pulwama and Anantnag districts on March 27, might have joined militant ranks. Photographs of two among them — a teenager from Srinagar, Fahad Mushtaq and Rouf Khanday a college student from Anantnag — surfaced on social media brandishing Kalashnikov rifles. The family of Mushtaq has appealed him to return. Meanwhile, Kashmir University has written to the Jammu and Kashmir Police about another student missing from its earth sciences department.
Union home secretary Rajiv Gauba, during a two-day visit to the state earlier this week, directed the J&K government, police, army and the CRPF to engage youth in different developmental activities and wean them away from militancy. During the meeting, officials told Gauba that inclination of local youth towards militancy was growing, officers in the know of the discussions said.
On March 24, Junaid Ahmad Sehrai, 30, son of recently appointed Tehreek-i-Hurriyat chairman Muhammad Ashraf Sehrai, joined Hizb-ul-Mujahideen. He was a management graduate and also worked for an ecommerce company. J&K police chief SP Vaid has urged Sehrai to appeal his son to come back, but the Hurriyat leader said he cannot interfere in his son’s decision.
On the same day, Abid Bhat, son of a policeman from Tral in South Kashmir, joined Jaish-e-Muhammad. The photographs of both, brandishing weapons, went viral on social media.
According to police records, 124 locals joined militancy in 2017, compared with 88 the year before and 66 in 2015. Before that, 53 locals took to arms in 2014 and the number was just 16 in 2013.
Some senior police officials don’t consider the number of locals taking up militancy as too big.
They are more concerned more about glamourizing of militants through social media. “As a psychological operation, entry of every local into militant ranks is being exploited to attract more youth,” a senior police official, privy to many anti-militancy operations in South Kashmir, told ET.
The government often shuts down Internet during crackdowns and encounters, and has a history of banning social media for some months as well.
The joining of locals holds major symbolic value for militancy, otherwise, at many instances, young local militants, police say, have barely put up a fight during encounters due to lack of proper training and ammunition.
Besides, J&K police and the army have managed to “reorganise and revitalise” its informer network that was disturbed and damaged during the five-month-long protests in 2016, after the killing of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani.
“In current militancy, individuals don’t matter; what matters is ideology and how it is being played up,” said another senior police official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “Barring a few names, how many militants are known to the larger population in the state? What concerns us is that a few educated people from Kashmir are taking up arms.”
Militancy gathered steam and turned deadly in 2017, when Jaish-e-Muhammad took the centre stage and launched massive Fidayeen operations including the attack on the Sunjwaan army camp in Jammu and BSF and CRPF camps in Kashmir. The police along with the army and CRPF have also intensified their offensive last year through Operation All Out. They killed 213 militants in a year.
Various official reports put the number of active militants still in the state at 220-250.
(Economic Times Reported)