SRINAGAR: The year 2018 may have turned out to be the deadliest in recent times for militants in the Kashmir Valley but the flames of militancy in the region are far from being doused, with over 100 youngsters choosing the path of violence this year.

In a series of coordinated strikes against militants, particularly in south Kashmir in the last two months of the year, security forces killed the top leadership of almost all militant outfits, including the Hizbul Mujahideen and the Lashkar-e-Toiba.

The kill list includes nearly every district commander of the two major outfits operating in the Valley. Till December 23, at least 247 militants had been gunned down in encounters with security forces, including a 15-year-old boy from north Kashmir’s Hajin.

A sweeping crackdown on the ‘overground workers’ of militants and their sympathisers snapped militants’ information network, resulting in “a lack of coordination and confusion” according to security forces that has helped them in busting militant hideouts.

“A major achievement for security forces this year was the creation of a strong human intelligence network that has forced militants to go into hiding. We have come a long way from 2016 when militants used to roam openly, especially in south Kashmir. Now they are on the run,” a top police officer said.

With the middle-rung leadership of militants getting killed in counterinsurgency operations, the top leadership which includes Riyaz Naikoo, Hizb’s operational chief, and Zakir Musa of the Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind, have reportedly gone into hiding.

“People are not willing to shelter militants any more and militants don’t risk hiding in residential areas either. You can see that from the last two encounters in Pulwama. Both the hideouts were in apple orchards, revealing the extent of distrust between locals and militants,” the police officer said.

However, the fact that Kashmiri youngsters continue to join the militancy, the continuing attacks on security forces during counterinsurgency operations, and the mass participation of locals at militants’ funerals, indicates the high level of alienation of the local people from the Indian state.

The killing of at least 35 civilians near encounter sites by security forces this year, and official high-handedness during counterinsurgency operations, including damage to public property like orchards and houses, has only made matters worse.

“Killing militants is not the solution. For every dead militant, there are many more who want to take his place. Though the security forces may pat themselves on the back for a ‘successful year’ and it may help present a rosy picture, the situation has become more dangerous now,” said Sameer Yasir, a journalist and political commentator.

With the recruitment of local youngsters into militant outfits continuing unabated, conflict watchers fear the situation in Kashmir may worsen in the coming year. While winter has set in, temperatures will only rise in the days to come.

(Cover Photograph BASIT ZARGAR: Six militants killed in Trai encounter)