The Army said a large number of misguided youths returned to mainstream society because of its outreach programs to connect with families and teachers

UDHAMPUR: Failing to engineer infiltration of militants from across the LoC, Pakistani agencies have resorted to social media to radicalise Kashmiri youths, with 40 of them joining militancy since January, an Army commander said Monday.

"Pakistan has been continuing with its efforts to show this (terrorism) as an indigenous movement. Today, they feel absolutely starved because of the very effective counter-infiltration grid of the Indian Army," General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Northern Command, Lieutenant General Ranbir Singh said.

Local recruitment still remains a matter of concern, but youths are realising that "we do not want to become fodder for Pakistani agencies", he said.

"Successful infiltration from across the Line of Control (LoC) is virtually becoming very difficult," Singh said while replying to a question on recruitment by militant outfits in Kashmir.

"Therefore, for them (Pakistan) to continue with this militancy, they want that the local content should be increased," he said.

"Local recruitment remains a matter of concern for all of us. Last year, 217 local youths had taken to militancy. This year, number has significantly reduced. As on date, there are only 40 youth who have picked up arms," the Army commander said.

The Army said a large number of misguided youths returned to mainstream society because of its outreach programmes to connect with families and teachers.

Since 2016, there has been a constant rise in the number of youths joining militancy, as per official data. In 2015, 66 youths joined militancy in Kashmir and 53 in 2014.

In 2017, 126 locals had joined militant ranks, it said.

South Kashmir districts Pulwama, Shopian, Kulgam and Anantnag have become a breeding ground for militants with many youths joining their rank and file, it said.

Outfits like the Hizbul Mujahideen and the Lashker-e- Taiba find more recruits.

The data said out of the 217 recruits in 2018, 154 hailed from south Kashmir. The highest, 69, was from Pulwama. In 2016, 88 Kashmiri youths had joined militancy, according to the data.

The army commander said one of the key reasons for this is "radicalisation" of youths through "exploitation of social media by Pakistani agencies."

"One of the key reasons of recruitment is radicalisation and exploitation through social media by Pakistani agencies (to lure youth to pick up guns and engineer violence in Kashmir)," Singh said.

"However, the realisation is coming to the youth and people of Kashmir that we do not want to become fodder for Pakistani agencies and various inimical elements, who want to promote terrorism and violence in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

"I am sure with the help of all the stakeholders we will be able to arrest this trend in the times to come as we are doing now," he added.

This year has seen a marked change, wherein security forces reached out to parents, elders teachers in various villages to explain to them that youth picking up guns is futile.

In 2010, 54 youths had joined militancy, while in 2011 the number came down to 23. It further dipped to 21 in 2012 and 16 in 2013, as per the official data.

The data is based on technical and human intelligence, besides interrogation reports of militants arrested during various counter-insurgency operations in the valley.