SHOPIAN: Amid Operation All-out and heavy fatalities in the militancy with continuous forces operations, new recruitments have now started in South Kashmir despite this being the harshest part of winter, a period which previously would see no militant newcomers due to the severe weather conditions and the lowered availability of shelter.
Last year was Kashmir’s bloodiest year in a decade after the killing of 267 militants, 160 civilians and 159 armed forces personnel along with the destruction of 31 structures and partial damage to 94. The year by its end also saw a fall in militant recruitments.
The year 2019 has begun differently. Four youth from southern Kashmir’s Shopian and Pulwama districts are missing from their homes, and their families have had no information of their sons’ whereabouts for more than a week. All four families have filed missing person’s reports in their respective police stations after failing to establish any contact with the youth, despite repeated attempts and searches.
Area locals believe the missing youth have joined militant ranks. “Earlier, recruits used to release photos of their joining, while brandishing guns. But there may be some internal policy to not do so this time since encounters are very common now,” a relative of one of the missing youths said, adding that they hope their son returns home safely.
A police officer said that the recruitments often go slow in winter because there are very few areas for militants to hide in this season. “There remains no greenery in habitational areas, no leaves on trees. Survival in forest areas without all facilities is not possible due to the freezing temperature,” he said, adding however that he has no information about fresh militant recruitments.
Shakir Ahmad Wagay, son of Mohammad Khalil Wagay, resident of Awneera, a village far from the Shopian district headquarters, went missing on 31 December 2018, according to his family members. The family has been in search of their son ever since.
Shakir, 17, who is pursuing a diploma in Computer Engineering at SSM College, Parihaspora, Pattan, according to family sources, was living a normal life like many others and has no record of stone pelleting or arrests.
His brother Jahangir Ahmad told Kashmir Reader that they had tried all means to trace Shakir but hadn’t succeeded yet. “I can’t say he has or has not joined the militant ranks. We have filed a missing report at Zainapora police station.” The worried family members said that all they want is the safe return of their son, who is among eight siblings with two sisters. His father is a retired government employee in the Irrigation Department, and the family, according to locals, is financially well off. A police officer connected with the case said that there is only a missing report so far and nothing about Shakir’s joining the militancy.
Another youth, Naveed Hussian Tak, son of Ghulam Nabi Tak, resident of Naina Batpora in Litter Tehsil of South Kashmir, is missing since January 19 and there is still no trace of him.
“On the 19th of this month, we told him to take food for dinner to Srinagar Hospital, where our grandmother was admitted for the night. He took a dinner box, but before reaching the hospital, his phone went off. There is still no information about him,” said Bilal Ahmad Tak, Naveed’s younger uncle. Finding no trace of their son, the family filed a missing person’s report at Police Station Lassipora. Later, the family was called by the army for inquiries regarding Naveed’s whereabouts.
Naveed, according to family sources, is a Civil Engineering student at Srinagar College. Locals say he was a college friend of an active militant from neighbouring Melhura village of district Shopian. Naveed’s family said he is a cricket emthusiast, for which he is well known in the area. Besides Naveed, his father has three sons and a daughter; the family is considered well-off in the locality.
The third missing youth is Imran Ahmad Bhat, a resident of Arihal village of district Pulwama, whose cousin brother was recently killed in an encounter at Khonmouh on the outskirts of Srinagar. Imran is missing from his home for 16 days now.
The family sources said that they have also filed a missing report of their son; locals said that Imran had likely joined militant ranks. The family’s continuous searches to trace Imran have all been fruitless as there is no information regarding his whereabouts.
Another youth, namely Bilal Majeed, son of Abdul Majeed, has been missing from his home in Narbal village in Kakpora belt for more than a week. He is an undergraduate Arts student at Government Degree College, Pulwama, and his father is a carpenter by profession. Family members said that they too have lodged a missing report of their son on the 19th of this month at Kakpora police station. “So far, we have no trace or clue regarding his whereabouts,” a relative said.
Similar reports have come from Anantnag district, where a youth, Ishfaq Ahmad Dar, from Dailgam area is missing from home since the last two days and two youths are missing from Budgam district after a recent encounter in the forest area of Charisharef. Another youth, Adil Ahmad Ganie, resident of Dalwan, is missing from home since a week.
A senior police officer wishing anonymity said that they hope no more youth join militant ranks now. “May peace prevail, and I hope, InshAllah, not a single youth would join militant ranks now,” he said.
Another official said that there were only missing reports about the above youth and it will be too early to announce them militants.