Officials said about 230 militants are believed to be active in the Valley, with 75 of them being foreigners

NEW DELHI: Jammu and Kashmir saw a sharp increase in local youths taking to militancy in 2020 despite Covid-19 restrictions and clampdown by security forces, as per official data. As many as 167 local youths joined militant groups such as Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Terrorist Resistance Front in 2020, up from 115 in the previous year, said officials.

Officials said there was also an increase in the number of active over-ground workers of militant groups, with more than 600 of them, including some active militants, being held in joint operations by the army, Jammu and Kashmir police and the Central Reserve Police Force.

Nine leaders and activists of the BJP were among the 11 political workers of different mainstream political parties who were shot dead by militants last year in the run-up to the district development council polls in December. These included BJP panchayat member Bhupinder Singh, district president of its Other Backward Classes unit Abdul Hamid Najar and Sheikh Waseem Bari.

The Centre had scrapped Article 370 of the Constitution, which granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir, and bifurcated the state into two Union Territories, on August 5 last year. More than 5,100 persons were taken under preventive detention ahead of the abrogation of special status. The local elections were the first major political activity in the Valley following the release of mainstream political leaders including former chief ministers Farooq Abdullah, his son Omar Abdullah and PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti.

The home ministry had claimed that terrorist violence had declined after the removal of Article 370 on August 5 last year. According to official data, the number of violent incidents in J&K had fallen to 265 from 294 in the previous year.

Officials said about 230 militants are believed to be active in the Valley, with 75 of them being foreigners. HM has remained the most active militant group, trying to instigate and indoctrinate local youths to join militancy, they said. While the recruitment among local youths has gone up, militant groups are facing shortage of weapons and ammunition, said an official familiar with the operations.

To overcome shortage of assault rifles, HM commander Riyaz Naikoo approached deputy superintendent of police Davinder Singh of the Jammu and Kashmir police in 2019. He was killed in an encounter with security forces last year. The suspended J&K police DSP was linked to PDP youth wing president Waheed-Ur-Rehman Para.