The latest figures of militants in the Kashmir Valley reflect a grim picture as 30 locals joined the militant ranks in the first four months this year, and the once zero-militancy districts of Srinagar and Ganderbal are home to 23 active militants now.
A district-wise mapping of militants by the police’s counter-insurgency cell, accessed exclusively by The Hindu, shows at least 224 militants are active in central, south and north Kashmir.
These numbers are alarming because the ranks have swelled in the winter, when most passes on the Line of Control remain closed.
“Summers and melting snow always spike militants’ numbers. The fact that we have such a huge number of militants so early in the year only points to the swelling ranks of militants internally,” said a top counter-insurgency police officer.
Of 224 militants, 130 militants are locals and “trained within the Valley”. Growing street unrest, especially in 2016, helped militants recruit more and more youth, said the police officer.
Of the 30 youths who picked up arms in the first four months this year, the highest number of ten were from Pulwama, which has become a springboard of militancy with the presence of 70 militants, including 12 foreigners.
A police official said the “bold activities” of militants have forced the top leaders of several mainstream political parties to leave Pulwama and shift to Srinagar. “Even MLAs find it hard to visit their constituencies in Shopian, Kulgam and Pulwama,” he added.
According to the police data, Ganderbal, Budgam and Srinagar, which were zero-militancy districts till 2015, have 11, 11 and 13 militants respectively hiding in the built-up areas.
In capital Srinagar, 11 locals have joined the militants, including from parts of the old city and the outskirts, according to the police. “The ideology of recruits from Srinagar is more radical,” said the police.
The number of militants in Kashmir numbered less than 100 till 2015. However, slain Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani infused new strength in the ranks by galvanising ground support in south Kashmir in 2013, after the hanging of the Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru.
Volatile south Kashmir remains highly populated with militants numbering 141 in four districts of Shopian (24), Pulwama (70), Anantnag (21) and Kulgam (25).
The north too is slowly slipping on the security front, with a higher presence of foreign militants. “Fresh infiltration has replenished militant ranks in north Kashmir, too, as Kupwara has 24 foreign militants and Baramula 15,” says the report.
The presence of local militants in the north is slowly swelling, with five youth from Bandipora, five from Kupwara and 22 from Baramulla.
Both the Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) have neck-to-neck numbers in Kashmir Valley now. “In south and central Kashmir, both the outfits prefer to work in tandem,” said the police.