SRINAGAR: Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti Tuesday said 12 youths, who had joined militant ranks over the last two years of PDP-BJP government in the state, have surrendered and returned to mainstream.

Speaking at a youth convention at her Srinagar's Fairview Residence, which was attended by nearly two thousand youths from different parts of the Valley, Mehbooba said the security agencies are working to encourage more youths to surrender.

“It gives me immense happiness to see that 12 youth, who had joined militants in the last year, have returned to their homes. Our government will see to it that more youths who have deviated from the path are returned to their families safely," Mufti said.

According to officials, the policy of encouraging dozens of local youths, who have joined various militant groups, especially Hizbul Mujahideen, in the last two years, to surrender, was announced by the Chief Minister during a function organised by J&K Police last year.

Intelligence reports compiled by various security agencies in the state suggest that nearly seven dozen local youths, mostly from South Kashmir districts, have joined militant groups in the last two years. The trend especially picked up after the killing of Burhan Wani.

A senior J&K Police officer told The Citizen that they are routinely in touch with the families of these youths in order to encourage them to convince their wards to surrender and return to mainstream.

"In most of the cases, we have found that these youths have not participated in any violent activity and there are no cases against them. We counsel them for a period of time after which they are handed over to their families," the officer said, wishing anonymity.

However, for each militant who surrenders before security forces, there are several others who are adamant at following the path of violence and they are receiving full support of their families.

"My son was on a virtuous path and I am happy he has achieved martyrdom. If my second son joins militants, I will not stop him," mother of Aquib Ahmad, a Hizb commander who was killed early this week, said.

The phenomenon of 'new age' militancy was popularised by the Hizb commander Burhan who became the face of insurgency in the Valley after releasing photos and videos on social media which became an instant hit among the youths. Burhan was killed in an encounter in July last year.

Insurgency-related violence has witnessed a sharp hike in the first two months of this year with security forces suffering several casualties during counter insurgency operations in the Valley. Over two dozen militants have also been killed in these operations.

(Cover Photograph BASIT ZARGAR: National Health Mission contractual workers protest in Srinagar for regularisation of jobs. Police use water cannons and tear gas shells)