Youth Participation in Army's Recruitment Drive Marks A Significant Beginning in Kashmir

23 March 2006

The participation of Kashmiri youth in the statewide recruitment drive launched by the Indian army indicates a significant beginning in the Kashmir situation. Despite the threats issued by militant outfits, Kashmiri youth participated in large numbers to sign up for employment in the Indian army. With popular opinion increasingly turning against militancy, the Army's recruitment drive could be an important medium for integrating the Kashmiri youth into the national mainstream. The drive would also help to absorb unemployed Kashmiri youth in the armed forces. Moreover, the drive would also provide the Army with effective local participation in the fight against cross border militancy.

Opportunity for Kashmiri Youth
On 1 January, the Indian government had announced that the army will recruit 1200 unemployed Kashmiri youths to form one battalion of Territorial Army (TA) and Home and Hearth (HH). As a new year gift to Kashmir, this decision has received overwhelming appreciation in Kashmir where thousands of youths participated in the recruitment drive. The Indian government had also relaxed the educational qualifications for the Kashmiri youths for recruitment. The minimum qualification for those seeking to apply was lowered to class eight instead of matriculation as in other states. The recruitment drive began on 9 January from north Kashmir, once the hub of militancy, and continued for five days. Another recruitment camp was held from 17 January for five days in south Kashmir and the final camp was held in central Kashmir on 18 January.

Militant outfits operating in Kashmir including the Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Taiba had issued threats warning locals not to go for these recruitment drives. Separatist outfits like the Hurriyat Conference (Geelani faction) and the Bar Association had also asked the youth to stay away from the recruitment process. The Hizbul Mujahideen had warned that it would kill anyone who participated in the recruitment drive. Despite the threat, Kashmiris participated in large numbers especially in the border districts of the state. Observers say that with the state and central governments allocating huge funds for development in Kashmir, the economic situation is expected to improve in the state. Militant violence since 1989 had prevented the state economy to grow and provide jobs to locals. This was one of the key reasons for most of the Kashmiri youth who had joined militant outfits. However, the Kashmiri youth has realised that gun is not the solution to any problem. Moreover, these youths were tortured and abused by the militant outfits who took them to Pakistan occupied Kashmir for training. Media reports following the opening of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road showed Kashmiris who had crossed over to Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) blaming the militant and separatist outfits for their miserable condition. The fact that Indian Kashmir has developed despite the violence has changed the outlook of the youth who are now eager to join the security forces.

Militants Waging a Losing Battle

Militant outfits have been indoctrinating and enlisting Kashmiri youths for undertaking attacks against civilians and security forces in Kashmir. The strategy of terming the Kashmir campaign a 'jihad' by militant outfits had attracted hundreds of Kashmiri youth who joined their ranks and got training in PoK to carry out attacks in Indian Kashmir. The indoctrination strategy of militant outfits involves brainwashing children who are enrolled in the madrassas of Pakistan. These children later on became the foot soldiers of militant outfits in the campaigns in Afghanistan, India and other parts of the world. However, the grand strategy of militant outfits is failing which is indicated by the lack of support for militancy among Kashmiris. Apart from providing jobs to unemployed Kashmiri youths, the recruitment drive will also enhance the capabilities of security agencies in counter militant outfits. The inclusion of Kashmiri youths in the security forces would also help in countering militancy as these youths are aware of the terrain and could identify suspected militants hiding amongst local population. Apart from ensuring security in Kashmir, the Indian army also runs several goodwill operations in areas such as education, health, social welfare etc. Moreover, India's commitment towards the Kashmiri people is evident from the fact that youths from the state are being recruited to serve in sensitive institutions such as the army and police. The massive participation of the Kashmiri youths in the recruitment drive clearly indicates their desire to join the mainstream. Though militant outfits were able to indoctrinate and enlist youths in the past, the massive participation in the army's recruitment drive shows that the strategy and the ideology of militancy has failed to influence the Kashmiri youths.