Seventeen Kashmiri youths who had travelled to Pakistan on valid travel documents but sneaked back into the valley have been killed in anti-terror operations, with officials raising concerns that the ISI has adopted a new modus operandi to paint the militancy here as an indigenous movement.
Since 2015, a large number of youngsters procured travel documents to visit Pakistan to pursue higher studies, meet relatives or for marriage purposes, officials said.
Recently, the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the All Indian Council for Technical Education (AICTE), the higher and technical education regulators of the country, had issued a statement, advising students not to travel to Pakistan for pursuing higher education.
"Any Indian national/Overseas Citizen of India who intends to take admission in any degree college/educational institution of Pakistan shall not be eligible for seeking employment or higher studies in India on the basis of such educational qualifications [in any subject] acquired in Pakistan," the UGC and the AICTE had said in a joint statement.
The reason, the officials said, was that these youths were brainwashed across the border and some of them were imparted with arms training or used for money laundering.
The State Investigation Agency (SIA) of Jammu and Kashmir Police has filed a chargesheet against a Hurriyat leader and others for selling MBBS seats in Pakistani colleges and using the proceeds for terror activities.
Hundreds of students from Jammu and Kashmir have travelled to Pakistan in recent years for higher studies and a few of them were brainwashed, provided arms training or recruited in sleeper cells with a motive to gather information to be shared with the handlers sitting across the border, the officials said.
They said a well-oiled separatist lobby would arrange recommendation letters from Hurriyat leaders and other valid travel documents from the Pakistan Embassy to facilitate their visit to Pakistan for admission.
All the arrangements of parents as well as students in Pakistan were usually done by the separatists under a well-planned conspiracy with their co-conspirators based in Pakistan.
The students were made to appear in the National Talent Search (NTS) test at Hurriyat office in Pakistan as a stealth tactic to make them believe that they were writing a pre-qualifying test which would lead to their admission in professional colleges in Pakistan.
Such tests were mostly facilitated by Kashmiri separatists and their relatives who had gone to Pakistan in the 1990s to get illegal arms training and had settled in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and other areas there.
After the test, some of the students were brainwashed and taken for arms training and later pushed into Jammu and Kashmir along with infiltrating terrorists.
The officials said that as many as 17 youths who had gone on valid travel documents to Pakistan and were believed to be in that country receiving education were killed either at the Line of Control (LoC) or during encounters, leaving their parents in disbelief.
Security officials have been tracking the youths who travelled to Pakistan on valid visas for short durations and disappeared after their return as they believe that they could be possible sleeper cells of terror groups operating from across the border.
Security agencies believe that there was a six weeks' training course for new terror recruits and intelligence inputs suggest that some of the youths were provided a quick module of fabrication of improvised explosive devices (IED) using easily available explosive material within a week's time.
The recruitment of youths for various terror organisations is also being carried out discreetly and it is quite possible these youths could also be doubling as "recruiters" for brain-washing vulnerable men in the militancy-affected Union Territory.
The missing youths are mainly from middle-class families and have been described as the new faces of terrorism in Kashmir.
They could be waiting for delivery of arms and ammunition, though the security forces have substantially choked the supply line through heightened surveillance at the Line of Control (LoC), the officials said.