Srinagar: Even as talks are scheduled to be held between National Security Advisors of India and Pakistan later this week, an insidious challenge is cropping up in the Kashmir Valley for the security establishment. Kashmiri youth are once again taking up guns.
India is expected to take up the recent cross-border terrorist attacks in Gurdaspur and Udhampur at the meeting between Pakistan's Security Advisor Sartaj Aziz and his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval on August 23.
Since late last year, a steady stream of reports has noted local Kashmiri youth are taking the path of violence. Since the outbreak of the armed insurgency in 1989, and the emergence of the anti-India protests in 2008, this may be the most serious challenge that India's security establishment has faced. The new breed of militants are particularly targeting the security forces.
The hub of the local militancy is the picturesque south Kashmir, famous worldwide for its tourist destinations. But some of the areas like Shopian and Tral, also the separatist strongholds, have become fertile for producing militants. The social media has emerged as the most effective recruiting grounds.
Locals hold security forces responsible for inciting youth to take up arms. In recent years young boys were allegedly harassed, tortured, taken up by the security agencies for questioning and many were booked under the draconian laws like the Public Safety Act, which provides for arresting a person without trial for two years on mere suspicion of endangering security of the state.
Burhan Wani, a Hizbul Mujahideen commander with a bounty of Rs.10 lakh ($14,000), is representative of the new breed of the militants who have openly taken to the internet and social media with pictures and videos to challenge the Indian authorities.
In one such video Wani and his associates can be seen brandishing AK-47s and cracking jokes at an unidentified location in south Kashmir. These militants belong to well-off families and are highly educated. One among them is a former policeman who was the Personal Security Officer for a local lawmaker, until he decamped with his service rifle to join the militants. Another one has passed out of the school securing 98 percent marks before joining militants.
Recruitment of locals by the jihadist groups has helped groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba and Hizbul Mujhideen to shore up their activities in the Valley. Counter-terrorism operations by the local police and the Indian army and paramilitary forces had brought down their strength to a mere hundred a year back. As per latest reports from the security agencies, there has been an increase in militants' numbers in the valley, mostly in south Kashmir.
Sameer Patil, a security analyst at Mumbai-based think tank Gateway House, told IANS: "Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter are very popular among youth in Kashmir, Militant commanders have used this medium to not only spread their anti-India propaganda but also pick up on potential recruits."
The use of social media has become a major concern for security agencies which have made futile attempts in the past to block such content. Earlier, the J&K police had approached the local court to block the Facebook page on which pictures of these militants in army fatigues appeared. The pictures had gone viral on the social networking sites.
Former chief minister Omar Abdullah, during whose tenure mass anti-India protests began in the Valley, claims that the coalition government of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is responsible for pushing youngsters into militancy.
Omar recalled that when his father, veteran politician Farooq Abdullah, joined hands with then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in the late 1980s, youth had taken up arms against India.
"Again we are passing through the same situation. This time also, a pact has taken place between the two parties with different ideologies," said Omar hinting at the wide ideological disparities between the right wing BJP and the PDP which is perceived as being soft on separatists.
However, a minister in the present coalition government has hit out at Omar himself for the spread of the militancy. Naeem Akhtar, who handles the Education portfolio in the BJP-PDP coalition government, rejects the charge that his government is pushing Kashmiri boys to pick up guns and instead claims the "alienation during the National Conference (Omar Abdullah's party) rule triggered the youth to join militants".
Ishaq Beigh, a political analyst from South Kashmir, says that political parties are passing the buck to one another.
"Lack of consciousness among political leaders towards the resolution of the Kashmir issue is making ways for local militancy. These are the politicians who created this dispute. Now it is their moral obligation to find ways for its peaceful resolution."
While differentiating the present militancy with that of the situation in 1989, Dr. Sheikh Showkat Hussain, who teaches human rights and International law, says, "In 1989, militancy started out of adventurism and craze but now these young boys are fully aware of Kashmir's political issues. They have seen no political resolution from New Delhi even after years of open disobedience against India."
(Aijaz Nazir can be contacted at email@example.com)