The first group of “homesick” Kashmiri men who crossed over to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir to train to become militants but have had a change of heart may be able to walk back to India by June this year.
Central and state intelligence agencies have given security clearance to the first bunch of applications from the men or the families they had left in J&K.
Their requests for a second chance would be put before a high level committee formed by the state government over the next few weeks, a senior central government official said.
The Omar Abdullah government had last November drawn up a policy that opened the door for the return of the “misguided youth”- teenagers or in their early twenties when they left in the early nineties.
So far, 725 “militants” in PoK or their families in India have approached the state government for permission to come back.
“They went across for training, believing Pakistan to be a land of milk and honey… those who were disillusioned found the doors shut on them… Many married local girls and settled down,” a home ministry official in Delhi said.
The surrender policy allows them to bring them their dependents along.
"If everything goes well, we expect the first batch to return by June," a home ministry official in Delhi said.
But the “homesick” men would not be headed home as soon as they walk across the Line of Control posts at Chakandabagh and Salamabad, Attari-Wagah in Punjab or arrive at Delhi’s T3 international airport.
They will be placed in the custody of security agencies who will extensively de-brief them.
The plan touches a chord for Kashmir Valley that wants a second chance for their boys. But right-wing parties such as the BJP have been very critical, saying the plan could be exploited by terrorists.
Government officials said the intelligence agencies were asked to ensure that the hardcore elements did not use the plan to their advantage. “It is a risk that we take everyday when we allow militants or Maoists to surrender,” he said. Nevertheless, this, he said, was one reason why the implementation would be a low-key affair.
“They would be allowed back only in small numbers,” he said. This would make their return manageable from the security point of view as well.