Over the past two months, at least 100 youths from Kashmir have been captured crossing the Line of Control (LoC) into the Pakistani-administered side.
New Delhi claims their aim was to receive weapons training on Pakistan-administered side of Kashmir and then return home as "terrorists", its word for people who have taken up arms against Indian control.
Many are believed to have successfully slipped through the net. “They want to make it a point of no return for them,” alleged K. Rajendra Kumar, Kashmir’s Inspector General of Police.
Despite the counter-insurgency operations in Indian-administered Kashmir, more young local men are joining the armed factions in the campaign for independence launched in 1989.
India acknowledges the trend, but insists that many of the locally raised fighters are recruited under duress. “There was no voluntary recruitment,” asserts Kumar.
“Yes, it is true that more local youths in the age group of 14-22 appear to be joining the militants’ ranks but let me also tell you that many of these were forced to cross the border into Pakistan,” said a senior police officer.
He said that more than 40 Kashmiri youths were “rescued” by the army while being taken to the other side of the LoC which is the de facto border between the two countries.
Indian Army ensures maximum
troop presence on the Line of Control
“Sometime ago, we received information that six youngsters from Baramulla (a north-western valley) had been forced to join militancy and were now being taken to Pakistan," said Rajendra Kumar.
"We immediately alerted our men in the hills who rescued the boys and restored them to their parents,” he added.
Some local observers, however, attribute the rise in local involvement to human rights violations by the Indian security forces.
“Whatever the number, apart from ideological and economic reasons, it is India's repressive policies in Kashmir that are pushing more young people into the embrace of armed Islamic groups,” said Pervez Imroz, a noted attorney and human rights activist who heads the Jammu and Kashmir Public Commission on Human Rights.
Indian officials deny the charge, but admit that some "aberrations" do take place in the effort to crush what it calls Pakistan-sponsored "terrorism".
“Only last week, in an instance of exemplary punishment, an Army trooper was dismissed from the service on charge of molesting a woman in the Thanamandi area of frontier Rajouri district (northwest Indian-administered Kashmir) after he was found guilty by a court martial,” said Lt. Colonel Mukhtar Singh, Army spokesperson in Kashmir.
He said the soldier was fired “to uphold the norms and ethics of service."
Analysts point out that the Kashmir dispute, which has dragged on for more than half a century, serves only to harden the attitudes of young people.
“The boys who have been through the bloody conflict at a very young age seem to be taking up arms consciously unlike the earlier recruits who were competing to take up the gun out of curiosity and in fun," said Imroz.
An intelligence official said that, until recently, only foreign Muslim fighters were involved in human bomb attacks against the Indian security forces.
Indian security forces are
expected to uphold ethics
But local young people have been blamed for a wave of such attacks over the past two months, including a standoff in southern Shopian (southern Kashmir), the bombing of a hotel during a ministerial conference in Srinagar, the state’s summer capital, and two attacks on security force camps in and around the city.
Since the US launched its "war on terror", Western political sympathy with groups that use suicide attacks has reached an all-time low.
But some elements of the separatist movement insist that attacks must go on to keep a spotlight on the region.
A senior Hizb al-Mujahidin leader Gazi Nasib al-Din said recently, “No doubt, the world community particularly the West has turned against violence but issues like Kashmir can’t be put under the carpet and the problem presumed to be over.”
New Delhi, on the other hand, remains unbending in its commitment to crack down on the ''externally-supported'' insurgency, but has offered the carrot of open talks to the separatist alliance All Parties Hurriyat (freedom) Conference.
The Kashmiri alliance says it is preparing a road map on the possible solution of the dispute which will be presented to the international community soon.
But a breakaway faction of the Hurriyat Conference, headed by pro-Pakistani Syed Ali Shah Gilani, have insisted that Kashmir cannot be resolved through bilateral talks with India without involving Pakistan in the process.
Gilani called a one-day strike on Saturday in protest at the government's denial of permission for a political rally but it met little response in Srinagar, where shops remained open and road traffic was normal.
"Unless we are sure that this ceasefire would hold for long we cannot go back"
However, other towns such as Shopian and Sopore were completely shut down, witnesses said.
The armed infiltrations threaten to derail a historic ceasefire between Indian and Pakistani forces in Kashmir agreed by the warring parties in December.
Lt. Gen. Hari Prasad who heads India’s Northern Army Command said in an interview that there has been no let up in the infiltration from the Pakistani side.
He also believed that the number of fighters on the Indian side is around 2,500 of which 60-65% are “foreign militants.” According to him, the “biggest challenge” is to “isolate the local militants from foreign ones.”