Even as Kashmir witnessed a surge in gunfights between militants and forces this year that left at least 177 rebels dead, the security agencies are finding it difficult to make the local militants surrender during the encounters, officials said on Monday.
In January this year, the police had unveiled "no surrender, no apprehension policy" for local youth joining the militant outfits in Kashmir in a bid to curb their recruitment into militancy.
"Since the policy was unveiled, nine youth were caught alive at the encounter sites along with weapons," a senior police officer, who wished not to be named, said. "The recent such case has been in HMT area where three HizbulMujahideen militants were arrested after a brief shoot-out, including the one who sustained bullet injury in his abdomen. We are persuading him to start his life afresh."
According to officials, at least 52 major gunfights took place this year so far, leading to the killing of 177 militants—98 of them being local. The police claim that during encounters in which local militants are caught, their parents are called to "make a surrender appeal to their sons."
"We have been following this practice for a long time now. But of late we have seen that local boys instead of acceding to the surrender calls made by their parents and the police, respond with bullets," additional director general of police (law and order/security) Munir Khan told Greater Kashmir.
He said there are "many reasons" why local boys refuse to surrender during encounters.
Citing a recent encounter at Tral in Pulwama district, the top police officer said that Jaish-e-Muhammad commander Usman—the nephew of the outfit's chief Masood Azhar—had a local militant with him who was identified as Showkat Ahmed.
"Of late, every local militant has a foreign militant as his companion. This seems to be a militant strategy. We have observed that whenever a local is caught along with a foreign associate, none surrenders," the ADGP said. "A foreign militant comes here to die and ensures his local accomplice doesn't surrender and instead starts giving him lessons knowing that they have been cordoned off from all directions."
The ADGP, however, said that despite the "change in strategy" by the police, "silent surrenders do take place wherein militants return to their homes."
"People (militants) do keep on returning back to their homes, though in less numbers. We are keeping their identities undisclosed due to security reasons. But we don't succeed in every case," he said.
Asked whether the police were trying to get back Ehtesham Bilal, B.Tech student from Khanyar area of Srinagar—who has purportedly joined 'Islamic State' led by Abu Bakr Al-Bagdadhi—the top police officer said: "We are in touch with Ehtesham's family. His parents are in ultimate despair. So far there is no luck, but we are trying our best to get him back. He won't be asked to surrender. We want him to join back his family as he is the only son in the entire Sofi clan."
In Kashmir, government forces believe that local militant recruitment showed an upward trend after the killing of young HizbulMujahideen commander BurhanWani in July 2016. However, they believe, since September this year, the local recruitment has "gone down."
Figures suggest there are at least 300 active militants in Kashmir and of these 170-180 are operating in southern areas (85 per cent of them locals), while 100 to 120 operate in northern districts (90 percent of them being foreigners and 10 per cent locals."
"Foreigners are more in numbers as far as north Kashmir is concerned as they infiltrate through northern districts only," a police source revealed.