"Catch them alive" is the new mantra in Jammu and Kashmir as security forces, which have killed over 70 terrorists in the last seven months, shift gear to focus on finding new recruits and motivating them to return to their families, senior officials said.
The strategy of police and security agencies is to cut the "umbilical cord" by smashing the overground worker network, which is instrumental in radicalising youth and pushing them to jihad, the officials said.
Our effort is to catch them alive and understand their grievances. After all, a 15 or 16 year old boy can’t be brainwashed to the extent that he would like to be killed in a gunfight. There has to be a counter-narrative.A senior official engaged in counter-insurgency operations.
In the run-up to the Centre asking security forces not to launch operations during Ramzan, there was need to eliminate hardcore terrorists like Saddam Paddar, Esa Fazl and Sameer Tiger as they were the brains behind the fresh influx of cadres for Pakistan-based militant groups Lashker-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Hizbul Mujahideen, officials said.
After the elimination of several top leaders, efforts are now on to change the script.
Operations based on specific intelligence inputs will continue but there will be also be increasing emphasis on catching newly-recruited militants alive, they said.
“We have got indication from our field intelligence that many desire to return. Some parents have also approached us and we have no hesitation in helping them resume their normal life and education at the earliest,” a senior police official said.
Many officials, including those from intelligence agencies, believe the present cessation of hostilities may provide the much needed window to convince parents to woo their wards back to textbooks.
"In the last seven months, four new recruits have been arrested while one returned," said Inspector General of Police (Kashmir range) Swayam Prakash Pani, who has been closely watching the situation in the Valley and is using his experience as deputy inspector general in south Kashmir to tackle militancy.
The aim, he said, is to create a conducive atmosphere so that people can get over the cycle of violence.
"My director general of police (S P Vaid) has also appealed to misguided youths and so I am asking them to return to their families," Pani told PTI.
Several people from various parts of the Valley have been booked in the last seven months. They were entrusted with the indoctrination of young minds and motivating them to pick up arms, officials said.
The identification of these overground workers is necessary before a crackdown on the militant top brass, they explained.
“The militants also know that their basic structure of the overground network, which used to facilitate their movement from one place to another, has been hit. You can’t be holed up at one place for days together,” an official said.
The multi-pronged strategy -- including encounters with militants, fighting their overground workers in courts and smashing their network of sympathisers -- has also brought down the number of videos on social media showing groups of militants roaming freely in the orchards and forests of Tral, Shopian and Kulgam in South Kashmir.
The trend is now a single militant posing in a closed room with a rifle so the location can't be identified, an official said.
"The trend of videos has ended as security forces have gained an upper hand," he added.