As many as 164 young men from Jammu and Kashmir have joined militant groups till October 26 this year, security agencies have told the Centre. The count is far higher than previous years and indicates that the approaching winter months could be even more troublesome than usual in the Valley this year, reported Hindustantimes.

According to a report published by Hindustan Times said that worse, the numbers signing up for militancy could likely cross 200 before the year ends, the security agencies said. This year’s recruits would be swelling the ranks of 350-400 militants already operating in the Valley.

“In 2015, only 66 young men joined militant groups. The numbers rose slightly in 2016, with an estimated 88 picking up the gun. Last year, the count was estimated to be at least 120,” the report said.

“The number of locals joining militant groups dropped to an insignificant 3 and 7, respectively, in February and March this year, but jumped all of a sudden in June, July, and August,” Hindustan Times quoted a senior official familiar with the matter as saying.

In August alone, an estimated 25 young men joined militant groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Hizbul Mujahideen, the security agencies said. The count was similar in June and July, with 24 and 25 locals respectively joining the militant ranks.

Hindustan Times quoted agencies saying that the Bahawalpur-based Jaish seems to have drawn the maximum number of recruits. Over 60 locals have joined the Jaish since January 2018.

Most of the young men who have joined the militant ranks come from the restive districts of Anantnag, Shopian, and Pulwama. As many as 50 of the 164 recruits this year are from Pulwama district alone. About 30 young men are from Shopian, the report quoted the security agencies.

“There are several reasons why more youths are joining militant groups. The debate over Article 35A, and the splintering of the alliance between the Peoples Democratic Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party contributed to the growing tension in the state,” a senior official in the security establishment, who did not want to be named, said Hindustan Times.

Article 35A empowers the Jammu and Kashmir legislature to define “permanent residents” of the state and confer on them special rights and privileges, including the right to hold immovable property.

In line with the swelling of the militant ranks, a good number of militants have been killed in operations by security forces this year. The count this year, till October 26, is 180. Last year, at least 210 militants were killed, the report quoted security agencies.

“Continuing border encounters show that Pakistan continues with its policy to bleed India. For the people in the Valley, a carefully crafted narrative of reconciliation needs to be developed, ” Hindustan Times quoted Avinash Mohanani, former director general of police of Sikkim who headed the Kashmir Desk at the Intelligence Bureau for many years.

To stem the deteriorating political situation in the state, the Centre had suspended counter militant operations during the month of Ramzan (mid-May to mid-June) this year. A dip in militant violence was reported initially, but the Centre was forced to call off the suspension after journalist Shujaat Bukhari was shot dead outside his office on June 14, the eve of Id-ul-Fitr.

The Centre has, however, continued efforts to engage with the people despite reverting to an aggressive military posture on the ground. Even last week, Union home minister Rajnath Singh visited the valley, reported Hindustan Times.