Police officer Munir Ahmed Khan addresses a press conference in Srinagar on Feb. 8 after police arrested five people accused of helping a Pakistani terrorist escape from a Srinagar hospital. Reports show a surge in local people joining militants to fight Indian forces. (Photo by IANS)
More young people are taking up Islamic militancy in violence-hit Jammu and Kashmir, India's only Muslim-majority state, where an armed insurgency has fueled bloodshed in the past two years.
State government data released on Feb. 7 revealed an increase of more than 40 percent in local youths joining militant ranks to fight Indian forces with the aim of establishing Islamic rule.
Some 280 youths have joined militants in the last three years, with 126 joining in 2017, 88 in 2016 and 66 in 2015.
These numbers are higher than in previous years. In 2104, only 53 Kashmiri youths took up militancy, with just 16 in 2013, 21 in 2012, 23 in 2011 and 54 in 2010.
The Indian government claims that militants fighting Indian forces in Kashmir sneak in from Pakistan and the Pakistan-administered part of Kashmir aided by Pakistan — an allegation its Muslim-majority neighbor has consistently denied.
The militants "no longer seek political goals. They have openly been saying that they are doing it for religion and want to create an Islamic state in Kashmir. It would be tough to combat such an ideology," a police official who asked to remain anonymous told ucanews.com.
The region has witnessed a 30-year armed insurgency to free it from Indian rule but witnessed a new wave of radicalization after militant leader Burhan Wani was shot dead by security forces on July 8, 2016. The following five months of violence claimed 90 lives and injured 11,000.
Wani's killing also triggered some militants to demand the establishment of an Islamic caliphate. They began to ask people to wave flags similar to that of the so-called Islamic State. Militants have also uploaded videos on social media lauding al-Qaeda and allied groups.
The Home Ministry has asked Jammu and Kashmir state to formulate a surrender policy for militants and provide the young men with an economic rehabilitation program to bring them back to the mainstream, media reports have said.
In an effort to build confidence among young people, Home Minister Rajnath Singh plans to speak at Kashmir University's annual Science Congress in March in an attempt to push the ongoing peace process.
However, senior Kashmir separatist Syed Ali Geelani accused the Indian government of creating "war euphoria" in the region instead of resolving the issue and stopping bloodshed. He said the government should shun its stubborn attitude and accept reality.
"Threats by the Indian leadership won't force us into submission, and the fact remains that our struggle will continue ... We are committed with our mission and won't surrender or succumb to pressure," Geelani said on Feb. 6.
Politician Nasir Wani of the opposition National Conference party blamed the government for the situation.
"The government's fanatical approach is pushing youth toward the wall and the worrying situation is engulfing the region," he said.
Wani said more people were joining the militants because the government "isn't doing enough to convince people that democratic and peaceful principles can solve issues."
At least 450 people, including civilians, militants and armed forces, were killed in the state last year, said a report by the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society released in January. The killings of civilians were the highest ever recorded, it said.
The Indian-administered area of Kashmir has suffered increased violence since 1989 after militants stepped up armed action to free the region from India. Rights groups say an estimated 100,000 people have since been killed, although official records say the number is closer to 47,000.
Even by official records, an average of 1,500 people have been killed each year over the last 30 years in Kashmir, compared with the annual average of 1,200 killed in the Israeli-Palestine conflict since 1920.