About 80 Kashmiri youths have gone "missing" and are thought to have joined militant groups, PTI has reported. The youths have gone missing in the two months since the killing by the Indian army on July 8 of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani.
Kashmir has been on the boil ever since and despite curfew having been imposed on the region for the most part ever since -- it was only lifted yesterday -- more than 70 protesters have died in clashes with security forces, and as many as 8,000 have been injured.
South Kashmir -- made up of the four districts of Pulwama, Kulgam, Shopian, and Anantnag -- is thought to account for most of the disappearances.
South Kashmir is also where where Burhan Wani came from.
PTI reported that intercepts of militant communications and "sketchy" intelligence from the ground seem to suggest most of the 80 youths have joined the home-grown Hizbul Mujahideen militant group, and that the remainder have joined the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba.
PTI reported security officials as agreeing there was no clear picture of what exactly was going on in South Kashmir, and that one would emerge only now with the army, police and paramilitary forces being pushed into the region.
While the government/ security forces-imposed curfew has now been lifted, Kashmir continues to be on strike. The strike has been called by the separatist Hurriyat Conference, and is imposed by the people. In South Kashmir, gangs of young men, some of them masked, have erected road blocks every few kilometres and allow virtually nobody to pass.
PTI reported the officials as saying they had been forced to concentrate on law and order over these past two months, rather on counter-insurgency operations, which is why things have come to this pass.
Recent news reports have also talked of how policemen in South Kashmir have discarded their uniforms and are cooling their heels at home, or in some cases have joined up with the protesters.
PTI goes on to say that South Kashmir, a traditional bastion of the ruling PDP party, in alliance with the BJP which is in power at the Centre, has turned into a virtual breeding ground for militants.
And that the intelligence network of the militant groups, which had been broken in the mid-1990s, has once again been revived. This gives the militants the advantage, since they are informed of any movement of the security forces.
South Kashmir is dotted with apple orchards which lead to dense forest. The is where the militants are holed up, said the officials, adding that when the army mounts pressure on one side, the militants escape from the other and mingle with the local population.
Traffic on the national highway is being regulated and allowed to move only in convoys, the officials added.
Finally they said the number of youth who have joined the militant groups could "easily cross 100", once a detailed district-wise analysis is carried out.
But the officials added that the security forces -- including the army -- were now moving "quietly" into South Kashmir to "reclaim" lost ground and bring about some semblance of the law.
PTI said that a recent meeting, top army officials had suggested the need to "reclaim areas under the occupation of protesters", and that subsequently troops have been moved in for "area domination".