New Delhi: Public resentment gradually rising against militants in Kashmir needs to be tapped by the state government through civil society partnerships in order to create greater public empathy for the security forces, senior officers in security forces in Kashmir said.

As the snow melts through the ravines and passes along the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir, every March, there is a covert influx of militants into the Valley who break into village homes, demanding food and shelter.

“In villages in Shopian, Baramulla and similar areas where militancy is more prevalent, militants break into homes demanding logistical support at gunpoint. People are too scared to speak up because they risk being killed by them. There is a lot of pent-up fear and resentment amongst them that the government and other agencies must help us channelize to our benefit," said a senior security force officer in Kashmir, who did not wish to be named.

Despite the Indian Army re-introducing Cordon and Search Operations (CASO) in Kashmir this year, and local villagers complaining of unnecessary intrusion, defence analysts stated that it was imperative to convey to locals the message that security forces have been working to their benefit.

“It is always better to win over the local people because it helps forces also gather intelligence. This can be done if entire villages stand against providing support to the militants. They also need to understand that a CASO is carried out for their own safety to remove the militants hiding in that area," said Gurmeet Kanwal, defence analyst at the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, a think tank in New Delhi.

On-ground intelligence units also said that the state government’s ongoing people-outreach initiative needed to be aggressively stepped up in the coming months in order to avoid increased episodes of stone-pelting and civilian strife in the summer of 2018.

According to the Union home ministry’s data, while 2016 recorded a total of 1742 incidents of stone-pelting—increasing from 10 in June 2016 to 475 in July 2016, following Hizbul Mujahideen leader Burhan Wani’s killing—the figure stood at 564 till October this year.

“These are young boys who need to be provided basic jobs. The Centre and the state need to urgently come up with a plan over the winter so that militants and separatists don’t have the chance to lure these young boys away from gainful employment and education and engage them in stone- pelting," said a senior intelligence official, requesting anonymity.

The Mehbooba Mufti-led state government has been championing the cause of the youth, first with the order to release 4,500 first time offenders of stone-pelting and then by protesting against the treatment meted out to Kashmiri prisoners in the national capital’s Tihar Jail. But political scientists in the state claimed that it would take much more than an outreach initiative to turn the sentiment in favour of security forces.

“It is the security forces who have the power to turn the tide. If episodes such as the human shield incident happen, you can’t arbitrarily ask for sympathy from people. Till a few years back there was public sympathy for the forces, but now it will take time for the forces to win that trust back," said Ellora Puri, assistant professor of political science at Jammu University.