In November 2022, a media report quoted unidentified Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) government sources to claim that five of Kashmir division’s ten districts—Kupwara, Ganderbal, Bandipora, Baramulla, and Anantnag have reported zero recruitment of local youths in terror outfits in 2022.
The conclusion of the seven-day encounter in Gadole forests of Anantnag which resulted in the killing of four security force personnel, including three officers, pokes a hole in the claim. One of the two terrorists killed in the encounter, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) commander Uzair Khan, hailed from Anantnag and joined the group sometime in July 2022. Amid official statements of improvement in the security situation and declining support among the locals for militancy, it in fact is the recruitment of local youths, albeit in decreased numbers, that keeps militancy alive in Jammu & Kashmir.
Official data indicates that between 2019 and 2022, 750 militants were killed in the state, of whom 83 percent were local youths. This underlines the reality that, external support aside, local youths remain necessary though not sufficient to the continuing violence. Their steady recruitment has kept militancy at a sizeable strength in the conflict theatre. According to the MHA, only 53 local youths joined in 2014, and 66 in the next year. In each of the subsequent years, these figures increased, reaching 187 in 2018. A decline to 143 in 2019 was followed by a healthy increase to 191 the next year. Since then, there has been a steady decline—141 in 2021 and 121 in 2022.
It is interesting to compare the declining number of local recruits with another set of data on the presence of Pakistani militants in J&K. Referred to mostly as ‘foreign terrorists’, these men are recruited and trained in Pakistan (mostly in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir or POK). They enter India through the unfenced LoC. Typically, the terrorism planners in Pakistan keep the ratio between foreign and local militants in favour of the latter, but this can change as per requirements on the ground. As a result, the number of foreign militants falls when the recruitment of locals is high and vice versa.
In 2016, when only 88 locals were recruited, the percentage of foreign terrorists was 77 percent, indicating complete domination of Pakistani cadres over the state of militancy. As the number of local recruits increased in subsequent years, the figure fell to 60 percent in 2017, 45 percent in 2018, 19 percent in 2019, and only 15 percent in 2020. This has started rising again in the past couple of years in response to the fall in local recruitment. Of the 46 militants killed in 2023 (till early September), 37 were Pakistanis, according to the Indian Army sources.
Local versus Foreign Cadres
Continuous local recruitment could be a denominator of the deep state of alienation. From a security standpoint, though, local recruits, having less training than their Pakistani counterparts, pose less challenge. Even their chances of survivability are less compared to the Pakistani cadres. According to JKP, of the total 121 local youths who joined militancy in 2022, only 18 were active, the rest were either killed or arrested – 56 foreign terrorists too were killed in 2022.
Such operational success has resulted in a sharp decline in the number of terror incidents as well as the number of active militants in J&K: 417 incidents took place in 2018, 229 in 2021, and only 125 in 2022. Similarly, the number of active militants was estimated to be about 250 in 2019. It has fallen to double digits in 2023, according to the MHA.
This may have resulted in two trends.
First, most of the active militants in J&K today remain of foreign origin, apparently well trained and with considerable experience in J&K. Given the fact that infiltration of militants from across the Indo-Pakistan border has decreased substantially—with zero infiltration recorded in the first six months of 2023—many of these foreign militants may have been operating in Kashmir for past one of two years. This gives them considerable familiarity with the state’s terrain. The consequence is sporadic attacks until reinforcements allow an enhanced operational tempo.
Second, the swift elimination of local recruits may also have led the surviving militants to adopt new survival techniques. This includes, among others, shunning excessive use of social media. The opposite is associated with the actions of the late commander of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM), Burhan Wani. Before his short tenure came to an end in 2016, Wani used social media extensively to mobilise and recruit local youths. These young men too would flaunt their newfound identity on social media channels in order to sustain the image of a new age in Kashmiri militancy. Such online flamboyance produced some results, contributing to a large number of youths embracing militancy; but it also appears to have played a role in his demise.
For the high profile in some ways made the task of the security forces easier, as these young men could be tracked and eliminated. In 2021, a senior police official told the media that only 35 percent of the militants survived more than a year. The active period for a militant, which in the mid-2010s had been three to four years, came down to only a few weeks or months in 2020 and 2021.
In recent years, young recruits such as Uzair Khan opted for a quieter entry into militancy, seeking to build a layer of secrecy around their existence. Glamourising the life of a militant and recruitment of young men are no longer the job of an active cadre. This apparently has been outsourced to the over-ground cadres, as well as modules working in coordination with their handlers across the border. The modules, which typically consist of four to five personnel, also help the new recruits and other militants with movement, accommodation, and ammunition supplies.
Official efforts have been directed at portraying militancy in Kashmir as primarily sustained by Pakistan, without any significant local support. Therefore, reducing the number of local militants and restricting further recruitment has remained a key objective for the security establishment. Official sources ascribe a number of reasons for the success achieved in this regard, including curbs on online activity glorifying terrorists, the waning influence of separatist organisations such as Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) and the Hurriyat Conference, sustained anti-terror operations, and disincentives against the facilitation of terror acts, such as attachment of property and denial of government jobs for the same.
The tap, however, is yet to be turned fully dry. Recruitment still occurs, albeit at a lower scale. While Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT)/The Resistance Front (TRF) has been the most sought-after group for new recruits, other active groups too have been able to find support among aspirants.
Thus, it is not possible to assess whether the success achieved by the government so far is transitory or something more lasting. Analyzing the circumstances around Uzair Khan’s 14-month-long career in militancy provides a peep into the future and may help in policy adjustments to further curb local recruitment. The following three observations may be made in this regard.
First, Uzair Khan was classified as a B-grade militant and was among the less than 50 local militants assessed to have limited lethality and little scope of ascending the leadership ladder. This may have allowed him to operate with lesser monitoring and underscores that the classification system in place needs revision to consider additional factors.
Second, excessive reliance on punitive measures to deter local youths from joining has limited value. This may be useful to contain a methodology whereby militant recruits combine their normal civilian existence with occasional militant activities. For someone who has decided to become a militant with a death wish, however, attachment of property and denial of a passport or government job have little relevance.
Third and finally, Uzair Khan, who is reported to have had a troubled childhood, joined the group without any identifiable ideological reasons. Neither the waning influence of JeI and the Hurriyat Conference nor the swift elimination of new recruits at the hands of the security forces seemed to have impacted his decision. It is important to understand that radicalization occurs within a context. The abrogation of Article 370 and the political uncertainty in J&K provides that context.
Kashmir needs a political outreach from New Delhi to address the concerns and insecurities that are pushing youths like Uzair Khan to embrace militancy. Continuing to see the region only through a law and order prism will have its limitations.
Source: This article was published at Mantraya
 There is significant variation in data provided by the two primary sources: Jammu & Kashmir Police (JKP) and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), but neither disseminates data explicitly on the recruitment of local youths into militancy. Media reports citing JKP officials provide inconsistent figures. This is probably due to the fact that these numbers, issued on special occasions, such as the eve of the new year, are incomplete, and the final tabulation is yet to be completed. The MHA’s Annual report is more reliable. However, it does not always cite this particular data on local recruitment. Statements by ministers in response to questions are another source for such data, although even these could have similar shortcomings. Indian army officials also quote different militancy-related data which are at variance with both the MHA and JKP data. Such discrepancies notwithstanding, the available numbers do provide a trend.
 There were 141 incidents of cross-border infiltration in J&K in 2019, 51 such infiltrations were reported in 2020, 34 in 2021, and 14 in 2022.
 Of the 99 local recruits included in the JKP’s assessment in November 2022, 73 had joined LeT/TRF. The JeM recruited 13, the HM recruited 6, and al Badr recruited 4 cadres. Three others joined the Islamic State’s J&K chapter. See “Number of youths joining militancy comes down to 99 this year: ADGP Vijay Kumar”, Economic Times, 26 November 2022, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/india/number-of-youths-joining-militancy-comes-down-to-99-this-year-dgp-vijay-kumar/articleshow/95793196.cms