Srinagar: Even as counter insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir have resulted in the killing of around 255 militants, an increase in the number of Kashmiri youth joining the militancy this year is bound to raise concerns about Central government strategies being employed in the state.
Concerned authorities are yet to come out with the total number of those who have joined militancy in 2018. However, sources in the Centre and state administration this week confirmed that around 200 youth have been recruited into different Valley-based militant groups this year.
This means this year’s recruitment numbers are the highest in over a decade despite government forces launching a heightened anti-militancy effort and even a massive state-wide crackdown on insurgent networks.
“More than 250 insurgents have been killed this year so far, including top commanders from all the militant groups. However, there is no denying that there has been a spike in militant recruitment this year. Certainly the number will be higher than last year, when around 126 locals joined militancy,” a government official involved in Centre’s counter-insurgency efforts in Kashmir said.
The official, while requesting anonymity added that even though intelligence units of the Jammu and Kashmir police force and the paramilitaries were currently collating the data, preliminary findings suggest that the number of youth who became militants this year could be around 200.
The number was also confirmed by a senior J&K police official. However, the official added that there has been a massive dip in militant recruitment in the last two-three months.”The numbers were running high for most part of the year, but we have seen an improvement these past few months. I don’t think more than 12 youth have joined militant groups since October,” the official said.
There has been a steady rise in the number of youth taking up arms in the Valley over the last five years. After reaching single digits in 2013, 53 Kashmiri youth picked up arms the next year. In 2010, the number had stood at 54, following which there was a steep decline in 2011-2013 when figures stood at 23, 21 and 6 respectively. In 2017, a total of 126 youth joined insurgent groups.
If the sources are to believed on the number of youth taking up arms, the current dispensation at the Centre is very likely to face a lot of flak over its handling of the security situation in the Valley.
At around 250, the number of militants killed this year has surpassed also last year’s number of 213, making it the highest in a decade. In 2008, 339 militants were killed, followed by 239 militants in 2009.
Government data accessed by The Wire show over 250 militants have been killed in gunfights across the Kashmir Valley. November has been the bloodiest month of all, with 38 militants killed, followed by September when 36 militants were killed. In October, 28 militants were killed.
Top commanders and overground workers
Senior police and paramilitary officers told this reporter that the counter insurgency mechanism in 2018 was designed specifically to decrease the number of militant recruits. The cornerstone strategy, officials said, was basically to target senior militant commanders and weaken the network of overground workers also known as OGWs.
Some of the commanders who were killed this year include, Altaf Dar, considered number two to Hizbul Mujahideen’s operational commander Riyaz Naikoo, Lashkar-e-Taiba commander Mehraj Bangroo, Masood Azhar’s nephew Tallah Rashid and LeT’s Abu Dujana.
In November, Lashkar’s Pakistani commander, Naveed Jutt, who had escaped from jail last year, was also killed by security forces in Budgam. The same week, another senior militant commander, Azaad Malik, was also killed in south Kashmir. In May 2017, Burhan Wani’s close aide Sabzar Ahmad Bhat was killed by the security forces in Tral.
While targeting militant commanders continues to be top priority for government forces here, the state police also launched a massive crackdown on suspected OGWs.
Sources said nearly 500 people have been arrested on charges of supporting militants logistically. A senior police officer said that four-five OGWs are required by a militant to move around and survive in the Valley.
“Every year, almost same number of people are arrested on stone pelting charges and for acting as OGWs. The difference this year is that their cases were pursued strongly in the courts,” a senior intelligence official said.
Takeaways for security forces
The most important takeaway for the security forces this year , according to a senior paramilitary officer, would be that no fidayeen attacks took place in 2018 and neither were there any causalities reported due to attacks on convoys.
On December 31, 2017, five CRPF troopers were killed in a fidayeen attack.The attack was carried out by three Jaish-e-Mohammad militants in Pulwama region of south Kashmir.
“Fidayeen attacks can be highly demoralising for the forces as they are meant to not only cause causalities but also to inflict a psychological wound. We started 2018 on a bad note but the anti-fidayeen measures taken by the forces have yielded very good results. Furthermore, there has not been a single causality in whatever attacks that were carried out on convoys. The point of concern is militants accessibility arms be it through snatching or decamping with weapons of security officials,” said a senior paramilitary official.
Civilian killings in Kulgam and Pulwama
Two incidents that particularly became a talking point this year were the civilian killings during two encounters in Kulgam and Pulwama. In October, six civilians were killed and more than 40 injured in an explosion at the site of a gun battle between security forces and militants in south Kashmir’s Kulgam region. In December, seven civilians were killed when Army allegedly opened fire to disperse locals of Sirnoo village that had gathered in the area following an encounter.
The incidents came in the backdrop of a pattern where locals, especially the youth, attempt to break security cordons during encounters between militants and government forces to aide the former. Scores of civilians have been killed in the process.
While the incidents in Kulgam and Pulwama took place in the past few months during which, according senior government officials, militant recruitment witnessed a decline, security officers told The Wire that such incidents only end up complicating the situation further.
“We cannot say for certain that such incidents witnessed end up increasing militant recruitment as militancy here is organised and does not rely on incidents like in Kulgam or Pulwama. However, our effort is always to avoid civilian causalities and damage to public property. The people must understand this and cooperate with us,” said a government official.