WHEN bodies were identified after an encounter in Pattan in Kashmir last month,the police were in for a shock. The bodies were of Mohammad Ibrahim Janwari and Nisar Ahmad,two local boys in their early 20s. The encounter confirmed what the authorities have been afraid of for some time now that the Valley may be seeing a new breed of local teenage militants who were born after 1990 or were just kids when unrest erupted in Kashmir.
Police sources say they are increasingly seeing this in Kashmir,especially in militant hotbeds such as Sopore in the north and Pulwama and Tral in the south. Most of them join the Hizbul Mujahideen or Lashkar-e-Toiba two key militant outfits operating in the Valley now.
After the late 90s,Kashmiri boys had virtually shunned militancy. While some youths were known to act as overground workers for militant groups,they largely stayed away from directly taking up the gun. The trigger for the local boys joining militants again may be the 2008 and 2010 uprisings where civilian protesters were killed in firing by police and paramilitary forces.
Police sources put the number of Kashmiri men to have taken up the gun in the past one year at more than 40,including those who lost their near ones in the 2008,2010 violence. Most of them are in their late teens or early 20s. Recently,the state police claimed to have busted a Lashkar module in Sopore by arresting seven militants,all of whom were in their early 20s.
Known to his neighbours as a shy and reticent boy,Janwari was born in 1990 and,from all accounts,joined militant ranks only a couple of months before he was killed. His acquaintances said they had no knowledge of his links. When I heard about his death,I was shocked, said neighbour Javed Ahmad. I had no idea that he had become a militant. He had gone missing after police raided his house.
The police say they know of other young men to have joined militant ranks in recent months. Sajad Yousuf,a resident of Litter in Pulwama,was pursuing a Masters in Computer Applications when he joined the Hizbul Mujahideen. The 23-year-old Yousuf,who allegedly operates under the name Tajamul,is the son of a bank manager.
Omar Ahsan (22),a resident of Yamrash Kulgam,has reportedly joined the Lashkar-e-Toiba. Selected for M Sc (Physics) in Kashmir University this year,Ahsan had left home in May to complete the admission formalities when he went missing.
A student of Class XI,Tral resident Burhan-ud-din Wani allegedly joined the Hizbul Mujahideen a year ago. He was just 16 then. Wanis father is principal in a government higher secondary school.
Even the alleged mastermind of the September 2011 Delhi High Court blast that killed 15 persons and wounded 80 Wasim Akram Malik is a medical student in his early 20s,from Kishtwar in Jammu region. His younger brother,who is alleged to have provided the explosives for the blast,is only 17 and allegedly a Hizbul Mujahideen militant.
Calling it a serious issue that had rung alarm bells,a senior police officer associated with anti-insurgency operations in Kashmir said: It is easy for us to tackle foreign militants than local boys.
Not only do the young men effortless blend in with others their age,given that they dress up the same way and talk the same language,they also find local support. They know the topography and have a good network of friends and relatives who act as couriers, said the police officer.
Police also apprehend that these young militants can easily influence others around them as well as emerge as martyrs should they be killed. The local militants act as a source of inspiration and get sympathy if they are killed or arrested, the officer said.