SRINAGAR: A Jammu and Kashmir Police constable has reportedly gone missing along with his service rifle from central Kashmir's Budgam district, prompting speculation that he may have joined some outlawed militant group.

Police sources said the J&K police constable identified as Tariq Bhat, a resident of Khasipora in the restive Shopian district of south Kashmir went missing after he started his night shift as sentry of a police post in Pakherpora village at around 9 pm.

Sources said the constable fled along with an AK-47 rifle as well as some ammunition, “When one of his colleague went to check on him, he was not found inside the post. We tried calling him but his phone was switched off. His family was also contacted but they have no clue,” a senior police officer said.

Senior Superintendent of Budgam Police, Tejinder Singh, confirmed the disappearance of the cop along with his rifle. “We are collecting details about the missing constable and an investigation has been launched to trace him,” he said. Singh however didn’t confirm whether the constable has joined militants.

The disappearance of the police constable comes days after a soldier of the Territorial Army, who was on leave, joined militancy. A photo of Idrees Sultan Mir, a resident of Safnagri village of Shopian district, having joined the Hizbul Mujahideen last week, went viral on social media. Idrees was in the Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry.

The soldiers of Army and policemen joining militant groups is not a new phenomenon in Kashmir where at least two police personnel and one army soldier joined militancy in last year, according to official data, giving a boost to revival of insurgency in the Valley.

Official data suggests at least 40 youths have joined different militant groups in Kashmir, mostly from south Kashmir districts of Shopian and Pulwama, where government forces are in the middle of a massive operation against militants and their sympathizers, including separatist activists.

Kashmir Valley has seen a surge in local militancy following the killing of Hizb commander Burhan Wani in 2016 in an encounter with security forces in south Kashmir’s Kokernag area. One of Burhan’s associate, Naseer Pandit, was working with J&K Police, before joining militants. Pandit was killed last year.

An official in J&K Police’s criminal investigations department said there are 250-300 militants presently active in Kashmir with a majority of them local youths whose entry into militant groups and subsequent killing during encounters has kept the Kashmir valley on the edge since last two years.

Political leadership in the state, the Director General of J&K Police, SP Vaid as well as the Army have called for dialogue with Pakistan to prevent the fragile situation from going out of control in Kashmir Valley. However, the BJP-led Centre has not showed any inclination to resume the dialogue and the persistent use of force against militants and protesters has only aggravated the situation.