SRINAGAR: At least 45 youths from the Kashmir Valley including an MBA and a PhD scholar have joined terror outfits this year till mid-April, according to officials, as the unusual surge in numbers takes the security establishment by surprise. According to the top brass of the security establishment in the border state, Shopian and Kulgam in south Kashmir have emerged as a major hub by respectively accounting for 12 and 9 of the 45 youths.
The other areas of south Kashmir which have witnessed youths taking to terrorism are Anantnag (seven), Pulwama (four) and Awantipura (three). Moreover, unconfirmed reports, which were in the process of verification, suggest that three more from Pulwama had joined militant groups, officials said today.
Similarly, in north Kashmir, one youth from Handwara, two from Kupwara, one each from Bandipora and Sopore and one from Srinagar have disappeared in the recent past and are suspected to have joined militant organisations, they said.
This includes Junaid Ashraf Sehrai, 26, an MBA degree holder from Kashmir university, and son of Mohammed Ashraf Sehrai, who took over as chairman of Tehrek-e-Hurriyat from Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Teherik-e-Hurriyat is a pro-Pakistan amalgam of separatists groups.
The list also includes a 26-year-old PhD scholar Mannan Bashir Wani hailing from Kupwara, officials said. Wani was studying in the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU).
According to officials, every funeral of a local terrorist spawns at least two additions to the ranks of these groups. The Valley has witnessed the killing of at least 55 terrorists including 27 locals this year.
"It has become a bottom-less pit. We engage, counter, eliminate or make them surrender and the very next day, social media gives us proof of birth of another militant. This vicious cycle needs to be broken," said a senior army official who is engaged in anti-terror operations.
Ruling party politicians from south Kashmir have reportedly abandoned their ancestral homes and housed themselves in well-fortified accommodations in Srinagar or Jammu. Efforts to seek their comments on the situation in their constituencies did not yield any result as they were reluctant to be drawn into any debate related to militancy.
A senior politician, who did not wish to be named, said: "Never has this situation arisen when space for mainstream politicians has shrunk to this extent. It is a scary situation". Security agencies believe that in April there has seen a conspicuous rise in the number of locals joining various militant groups after 13 local terrorists were killed in encounters with security forces in Shopian and Anantnag.
Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has been quite vocal about PDP-BJP government's alleged failure in checking the rising trend of youths joining terror groups. "Mehbooba Mufti's biggest and least talked about failure has been the massive jump in the numbers of young Kashmiri men joining the ranks of militant organisations," he had tweeted earlier.
On more and more locals joining militancy, he had said, "...Is no one in a position of power in Delhi alarmed by this because I certainly am!"
Police have approached many parents requesting them to ask their children to surrender on the assurance of a normal life. The story remains unchanged, says a senior police official, who adds that many a times parents express their helplessness.
Appeals have been made by Mehbooba Mufti as well as state police chief SP Vaid and senior army officers but in vain. "We cannot keep a finger on any particular reason for the spurt in number of youth joining militancy. However, It could be growing influence of pan-Islamisation and religious indoctrination in which unemployment emerges as a catalyst for a quick reaction to pick up a gun," says a senior security official.
The first four months of 2018 has already witnessed 100 deaths, including 55 militants, 20 security personnel and 25 civilians. Of the 55 militants killed, 27 were locals whereas the rest were described as foreigners by security agencies in the press handouts issued post-encounters.
In 2017, a total of 126 youths had picked up guns. It was the highest number since 2010, according to a recent data presented in the state assembly and Parliament. There has been a steady rise in the number of youth taking up arms in the Valley since 2014 onwards as compared to 2011, 2012, and 2013.
In 2010, 54 youths had joined militancy while in 2011, the number came down to 23 and further dipped to 21 in 2012 and 6 in 2013. In 2014, the number shot up to 53 and in 2015, it reached 66 before touching the highest mark of 88 in 2016, the data showed.