Worrying trend across Kashmir Valley as more locals joining rebel ranks

Mohammad Salman Khan and Shabir Ahmad Dar deserted the Jammu and Kashmir police’s counter-insurgency wing to cross over to the other side on June 5. The special police officers (SPOs) left Pulwama’s district police lines with their automatic weapons and joined Pakistan-based terror group Jaish-e-Mohammad four months after it carried out one of the deadliest attacks in Kashmir on February 14 that left 40 paramilitary troopers dead.

Within hours of their desertion, security forces raided a house where security forces were tipped off about the duo’s presence at Panjran Lassipora, around 12 km from the police lines. In a night-long exchange of fire that followed, the SPOs were killed along with two other militants holed up in the house.

Khan and Dar represent a continuing trend of Kashmiri youths joining the militant ranks. The recruits have come from different professional backgrounds.

The two belonged to Pulwama, which has emerged over the last three years as a militant hotbed. They had joined the Jammu and Kashmir police in 2016. Khan, a college graduate, came from a modest background. Dar came from a well-to-do family.

“Dar’s father is an officer in Jammu and Kashmir’s industries department and owns apple and almond orchards… When he joined the police for a meagre salary, everyone was surprised; even his parents. A day before joining militancy, he [Dar] came home for Eid and had lunch with the family. Nobody knows why he joined and then left the police to join the militants,’’ said one of Dar’s relatives.

The trend first started in 2015 when a 15-year-old Burhan Wani dropped out of Class X and joined the homegrown militant group, Hizbul Mujahideen. He posted his unmasked pictures on social media that showed him carrying an AK-47. Many Kashmiri youths have since followed in Wani’s footsteps so much so that local militants have started outnumbering foreign terrorists for the first time since 1989 when the insurgency in Kashmir began.

According to police records, 66 of them joined militant ranks in 2015. The number went up to 88 in 2016, 126 in 2017 and 196 in 2018. At least 45 youths have joined militant organisations in the first five months of this year. At least seven of them were pursuing bachelor’s degrees while one his master’s in technology. As many as 61 youths had joined militancy in April and May last year alone.

Six youths have joined militant ranks this month in Pulwama, Baramulla and Kupwara even as the police have claimed to have convinced two of them to quit militancy. A police statement on Tuesday said two youths from Pulwama have returned to the mainstream. Officials said this year more than 10 youths have left the militant ranks.

“All communication channels are closed,” said political analyst Gowhar Geelani, adding, New Delhi has continued with its “we-will-not-bend and its militaristic and muscular Kashmir policy”.