SRINAGAR: If the social media in Kashmir has been used by the militant outfits to glamorize militancy and draw more youth into their ranks, it is now proving helpful to persuade them to quit militancy.

A young man, barely out of his teens, who had joined the Lashkar a Tayaba ranks, after his friend was killed by the forces, has returned to resume normal life with his family. The young man, named Majid Irshad Khan, an ace footballer, had posted his pictures doffing a Kalashnikov rifle and thereby announced his decision to become a militant. While the handsome young man’s decision to join the militants was viewed as a heroic step in Kashmir and widely acclaimed on social media, the very same social media was used to bring Khan back.

Majid Khan, the only son of his parents, was beseeched by his mother, to return to her and the family through the social media. The entire saga was perhaps an eloquent reminder of the “medium becoming the message”. So moving was his mother’s plea, that Lashkar e Tayaba, gladly let him go. Similarly, no charges were pressed by the state against Khan with politicians from across the spectrum hailing his return.

The family’s please to the young man to return were echoed in different sections of Kashmir society. Some gave religious sanction for his return, others encouraged him to come back and take care of his ageing parents.

There are essentially two themes embedded in Majid Khan’s saga. One is the ability of the social media to move mountains if used well. And the other is of a young man caught between contradictory emotions -- the one determined by the Kashmir dispute and other by his obligations and responsibility towards family.

While the young Khan’s case might be exploited or even be touted in triumphalist tones by some, the fact remains that he represents the convolutions and the tragedy of Kashmir. His story should serve as an eloquent reminder of how the young generations in Kashmir continue to be consumed by conflict. Let Majid’s case allow peace a chance.

The return of Majid Khan seems to have set a trend of sorts as two more families have followed suit and sent video appeals to their wards to return home.

Parents of a shopkeeper, Ashiq Hussain Bhat approached the media with a message for him to return to their home in Shopian district. A photograph of Ashiq Bhat brandishing a gun had earlier gone viral on the social media. He went missing just over a week ago purportedly to join the Lashkar-e-Tayaba.

“My son did not return home from the shop on November 9, after which the picture turned up on the Internet,” said Fehmeed, Bhat’s mother.

“There’s no meaning to our lives without Ashiq. I want him to return. Without him, we will either consume poison or lock this place and run away.”

His father Mohammad Ishaq was equally inconsolable. “What will we do now? He was the sole breadwinner of this family, and his wife is also with us. What will we do?” he asked.

The second case pertains to Manzoor Ahmad Baba, a 20-year-old fruit grower from Pulwama who allegedly joined the militants recently. “If he is with your organization, please let him go. I have nobody but my children,” said his mother, Zawhra Bano, in a video that has gone viral on the Internet.

Police sources said that Baba had joined militants in the Valley.

With a fresh surrender policy being framed by the government, the Army and the Jammu and Kashmir Police, in a joint appeal on Sunday, asked all local militants to give up arms and assured them “full cooperation” to join the mainstream. Over 130 local militants are still active in the Valley.

“We are after foreign terrorists. We want to give the local boys a chance to surrender. The return of Majid Khan (who had joined the Lashkar-e-Taiba) will start a new phase. I hope mothers of other militants will follow suit [in making an appeal]. I foresee a violence-free and disturbance-free Kashmir soon,” said J&K DGP S.P. Vaid in a Press conference.

The Central Reserve police Force (CRPF) has also announced that 'Madadgaar' - its toll-free helpline number 14411 - can be availed by local youth who have joined militant groups if they want to return to the mainstream.

For Inspector General of Police, Kashmir range, the trend of videos in which parents are appealing their wards to return home is a ‘win-win’ policy and more youth is likely to reunion to their families.

Kashmir has witnessed a sharp rise in militancy, despite “operation all-out” and many other policies, the government and security agencies have failed in one way or another -- to stop the local youth from joining the ranks of militancy across the volatile region in the contemporary times.

According to a report over 41 local boys have joined various militant outfits in just three months of 2017—July, August, and September.

Currently, many youth in their twenties, especially from the southern part of Kashmir are joining the militancy.

According to the police, at least 13 top commanders of various militant outfits including HizbulMujahideen, Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad have been killed since May this year when they rolled out the operation all-out.

The police figures say that 170 militants were killed this year, so far.

(Auqib Javaad is a Srinagar based journalist)