By Fayaz Bukhari
SRINAGAR (Reuters) - An insurgency in the Indian-held region of Kashmir is increasingly dependent on homegrown, educated fighters with the highest number of local youth joining in two decades, according to Indian army data seen on Tuesday.
The trend represents a new threat in the region where Muslim separatists have been fighting Indian forces since 1989.
At least 70 young Kashmiris joined the insurgency in the last year, army records showed, with most joining the banned group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which was accused of carrying out attacks on the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008.
At least 14 of them have been killed, the army said."Youth joining the militancy is disturbing," Subrata Saha, the head of Indian army in Kashmir, said recently. "If educated youth are joining, it is more disturbing. It is certainly is a cause of concern for us."
Two of the new recruits have doctorates and eight were post graduates, the army data showed. Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since a war after independence from Britain in 1947. The nuclear-armed neighbors have fought two of their three wars over the territory.
India accuses Pakistan of training and arming the rebels in the portion of Kashmir it controls and sending them to the Indian side. Pakistan denies that.
For years militant groups had struggled to recruit fighters from Indian Kashmir, forcing them to rely on Pakistan-based fighters, the officer said.
To maintain control, the Indian army has a massive military presence in its northernmost and only Muslim-majority state famed for its snow-capped mountains and fertile valleys.
The trend of homegrown fighters joining the militancy started in 2010 after a summer of unrest when 112 people were killed in clashes between police and protesters, according to a senior army officer.
The decade before that had seen a lull in militancy, and numbers are still low compared with the 1990s.With the Indian army stepping up patrols on the border fewer Pakistani fighters have been able to cross in, forcing militant groups to recruit local youth, the officer said.
(Editing by Andrew MacAskill and Robert Birsel)