But security back home is an issue for them

A sizeable number of Kashmiri youth who have crossed over the Line of Control (LoC) to this side are desperate to return to the Valley to join their families for leading a “peaceful life.” Their main concern, however, is the security back home. But there are many who do not want to give up their “cause of armed struggle.”

Even as the rehabilitation policy for these youth announced by the Omar Abdullah government has attracted many, both India and Pakistan are yet to finalise a mechanism to give it shape. But it is learnt that there is stiff resistance from militant groups based here and in Pakistan to this proposal. Recently, some Pakistani agencies had carried out verification of at least eight boys whose parents had applied on their behalf in Kashmir. “The verification might have been initiated after the Indian government furnished the details,” informed sources said, “but it was resisted by these groups.”

United Jehad Council chairman and Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin told this reporter that it “is the handiwork of Indian agencies to malign the freedom struggle. We will not allow that.”

The fact, however, is that the youth want to return to their homes. But there are concerns as well. Many youth who spoke to The Hindu said: “What is the guarantee that we will be safe?”

“We receive reports that those militants who are in jail are being harassed regularly by the government on one pretext or the other and asked to report to military camps,” said Zaffarullah (name changed). He said many youth managed to cross the LoC to reach their homes but were put in jail. However, they have not lost hope. “I think there is scope for our return if both governments look at it as a human issue,” said another youth who has crossed the LoC in 2001.

The sources said that around 1,000 youths crossed the LoC to the PoK side even in 1999 and 2001 when militancy was on the decline. This reporter met a few youths who said, “We would return only with guns to carry forward the armed struggle.”

“We have come here consciously to follow Peer Saheb [Salahuddin] and we won't go back as surrendered,” said Idrees, who has been associated with the Hizbul Mujahideen for over 12 years.

Even as there are conflicting versions about the number of youths who have been out of homes for the last 20 years, the figure runs roughly between 3,000 and 4,000. Of them, more than 70 per cent have got married in PoK and Pakistan. Interestingly, many of those who are married and have children are also keen to return. In the past few months, some of them dared to cross the LoC and reach the Valley along with their wives and children. The youth, the sources said, were living in Chela, Plate, Gojra, Tariqabad, Chattar and Bela Pani. Though they are being paid a relief of Rs.12,000 per family and Rs. 6,000 for an individual they do not find that sufficient. Those who spoke to this reporter said many people got killed on the LoC while crossing to either side.

Conversations with these youth revealed that the number of training camps had gone down in PoK. “I do not think there are any camps now. Especially after the Mumbai attack, they [the government] came down heavily on the Lashkar-e-Taiba and asked them to wind up,” said a Kashmiri youth. He believes that training camps are almost non-existent though there are offices of these organisations. “Whenever we hear the statements of the Indian Army that 2,000 youth are ready to cross over with arms, we laugh, where are they,” he asked.

There is another category of refugees, about 25,000, mostly from Kupwara district of north Kashmir. They have reportedly crossed over along with their families due to shelling on the borders. Mostly Pahari speaking, they are looked after well by the government.