Jammu and Kashmir youth snipping the poison ivy of militancy

Former Director-General of J&K police Kuldip Khoda rued that over the years the government did not supplement the good work done by security forces.
An Indian paramilitary soldier stands guard as snow falls in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020. (Photo | AP)
An Indian paramilitary soldier stands guard as snow falls in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020. (Photo | AP)

Triggers such as kinship and friendship, sense of alienation and frustration among Kashmiri youth were used by militant organisations in Pakistan to encourage the youth in the Valley to pick up arms for ‘jihad’.

Now, with militant episodes showing positive lows, military experts believe Chief of Defence Staff Bipin Rawat’s idea of ‘de-radicalization of youth’ through special camps manned by experts could effectively cut the roots of militant propaganda and choke their recruitment base.

Fayaz Wani delves into the given environment to explain what sparked the move:

In November 2017, Majid Khan, a B. Com student and a promising footballer from south Kashmir nicknamed ‘Ben Stokes,’ joined the militant outfit Lashkar-e-Toiba.

A week later, he gave up militancy and returned home after his family members, friends, relatives and police officials appealed to him to give up the arms. Majid’s parents had released emotional videos urging him to give return home.

Following Majid’s return, many youths who had joined militancy gave up arms and returned home.

However, many, including highly educated youths, continue to join the radicals only to get killed in encounters with security forces over time.

A police official said, “A mix of peer pressure, impact of doctored social media, lack of parental guidance, societal fear and envy for militants who could enforce their dictum, besides glamour and ‘hero’ worship, motivated many young to join the rebel ranks. The idea of owning a gun, even making money; and enforcing their will, had somehow taken hold of the minds of many. Radical groups also spurred the phenomena through indoctrination, planting fake and doctored visuals of alleged atrocities by security forces on social media to whip up frenzy. The numbers joining militant ranks increased.”  

Security expert and former northern command chief Lt General (retired) Deepender Singh Hooda said, “If more people pick up the gun, it means they are ready to resort to violence as an expression of their radical ideology. I think it is wrong to link it (radicalisation) with religion alone.”

“There are many reasons for radicalization and each individual who gets radicalized and picks up the gun is not doing it for a specific reason. Sense of alienation, identity crisis, feeling of being wronged, social issues and feelings that Muslims were being victimized and discriminated against, contributed too,” he added.

Former Director-General of J&K police Kuldip Khoda rued that over the years the government did not supplement the good work done by security forces.

“From 1996-1999 and again from 2006 to 2012, security forces managed to hold militant violence to a minimum. In fact, 2006-2012 was a peaceful era with militancy at its lowest ebb. Out of the 22 districts in erstwhile J&K state, militants were present only in three,” he recalled.


Khoda, who served as DGP of J&K Police from 2007 to 2012, said the government should have focused on addressing radicalization of youth by countering militant propaganda.

It could have also choked fund flows from various channels to separatists through an improved border management system while emphasising development and strengthening the tourism sector.

The government then believing that the police and security forces ‘could handle everything, which was impossible, the situation started deteriorating in 2014 following the emergence of Burhan Wani, a young boy from a well-educated family from the restive Tral area of south Kashmir’s Pulwama district.

Unlike other militants, Burhan did not hide his identity. He would release his pictures and videos frequently on social media to add to his ‘fan following’. 

Lt Gen Hooda said, “Radicalization of youth was taking place even before Burhan’s killing. However, Burhan happened to be ‘one big figure’ who attracted more people towards militancy by his daredevil, gung-ho attitude and sparked cult veneration.”

Burhan Wani was killed in an encounter with security forces on July 8, 2016The government failed to counteract Burhan’s rise.

“He had a Robinhood image. His call to ‘free Kashmir’ lured young boys to take up the gun. The period after his killing saw radicalization peak, as people not only took to the streets but more volunteered for ‘jihad.’

Police officers, who have worked in the Valley, said highly educated youth, including MBAs, PhD scholars and engineers, joined militancy following Burhan’s killing.

The momentum was seen from 2015 but peaked in 2018 when 218 youth, mostly from south Kashmir’s four districts of Anantnag, Pulwama, Shopian and Kulgam, joined militant ranks and were joined by even foreign recruits.


While over 90 people were killed in the Valley during the agitation following Burhan’s killings, thousands were injured in agitations.

Many young militants perished in encounters with security forces over months thereafter. With a surge in militant recruitment, violence increased from 208 incidents in 2015 to 322 in 2016, 342 in 2017 and 614 in 2018.

It prompted security forces to launch “Operation All Out” against militants in 2017 and at least 630 militants, mostly locals, were killed from 2107-2019.

However, top military analysts said radicalisation has been a constant process in J&K since the 
1990s, mainly due to indoctrination by Pakistani intelligence agencies.

“It was organised across the border with funds and other support. Militant training camps in Pakistan, led by the likes of Lashkar-e-Toiba chief Hafiz Saeed and Jaish-e Mohammad chief Masood Azhar bombarded young minds with public speeches, easily accessed in Kashmir. A militant’s life was presented as a glamorous one with perks in this world and beyond. They ensured that the young were brainwashed, trained and sent across to fight India.” 

Another former J&K DGP SP Vaid, who served from December 31, 2016, to September 6, 2018, said radicalization was more effective in south Kashmir, where socio-politico-religious organisation Jamaat-e-Islami had a huge influence.  

The Centre banned Jamaat-e-Islami for six years in 2019 and detained most of its leaders a few months before August 5, which ensured there were no large scale protests or mob violence following the abrogation of Article 370. Khoda said the Jamaat got active post-2014 possibly due to its political alignment with the PDP-BJP government. “The Jamaat’s involvement coupled with the Burhan factor, social media, effort by Pakistan based JuD and Jaish, led to an increase in radicalization among the youth in south Kashmir mainly through word of mouth and without any organisational framework.”


On why radicalized youth did not join slain Zakir Moosa’s Al Qaeda linked Ansar Gazwat-ul- Hindi (AGH) or ISJK, Khoda said, the more radical and glamorous options were chosen, though all militant outfits, whether Moosa’s, Jaish, Lashkar or Hizb, were all radicals. 

With more youth joining militancy, the Army recently conducted an analysis to ascertain why youth, especially the highly educated, were opting for militancy. It found social contacts affected their decisions most.

“If a friend had joined militants, others were easily motivated. A friend or family member lost in violence sparked emotions. The sense of ‘humiliation’ at the hands of security forces also prompted some to join militancy,” sources said, quoting the study.

“In short emotions played a huge part and militant groups inflamed such passions. It was not because of Bin Laden’s or ISIS or Muslims victimised outside that youth joined radicals, though religion did play a small part,” officials said.

The youth in the Valley, including in Srinagar, would wave ISIS flags and banners after Friday prayers every week and even during protests or clashes with security forces. Investigations into such episodes pointed to them being an “expression of frustration” and not due to any sympathy for ISIS or other such groups.”


With militant recruitment dropping from 219 in 2018 to 139 in 2019, due to continued pressure of security forces, there is talk of taking some corrective steps to stymie militant recruitments, especially through de-radicalisation Centres (DRCs), as proposed by Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat.

The idea has been received well by present and former police chiefs.

J&K Police chief Dilbagh Singh said, “An arrangement allowing civil society and experts to engage and solve this issue will surely counteract Pakistani agencies’ attempts at radicalization.” 

Khoda said such a measure was expected for 30 years.

“I hope the DRC’s come up and address grievances so that they feel a part of India.” He said a camp already existed at Reasi in Jammu for surrendered militants. 

"We wanted a well-equipped centre to run technical and skill courses to ensure that surrendered militants could engage in livelihood activities, once released. The measures must tempt militants to give up the gun,” he said.

Khoda, however, said there was no expansion of such camps and living conditions and the type of management left much to be desired.

According to Vaid, about 100 odd youth gave up the gun or returned to the mainstream during his tenure as police chief.

“The J&K Police and prison department officials had counselling sessions with Army help. Psychologists were engaged but there was no proper mechanism or structure in place to address the specific needs of individuals,” he said.

According to Vaid, if the boys who are radicalized are identified by their parents beforehand and brought to the police, they can be taken to de-radicalisation centres and later mainstreamed. He, however, was not in favour of security forces running such camps.

“It should be government-run and shape up as a ‘second home’ for such youth. Internal management should be left to experts and psychologists who can understand the interns and address their needs. There should be skills training with incentives too for it to truly succeed,” Vaid said.

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