Every year, we see terrorists being eliminated in the valley. The reasons for them joining militancy are almost always the same and the reasons for their death are the same too. Hizb-ul-Mujahideen chief Riyaz Naikoo’s elimination is a major blow to the local terror groups active in the area. He became a terrorist in May 2012 and was a close associate of former chief Burhan Wani who was eliminated in July 2016. Naikoo is said to have killed many, turned many youths into terrorists, and aggressively targeted security forces across police and army. He was killed on Wednesday, May 6, along with his associate in an encounter in Beighpora village of Awantipora in Pulwama district of Jammu and Kashmir.
Naikoo was trapped in Beighbora village in Pulwama and encounters began at 9 am. Indian security forces surrounded the small village where he was hiding, dug trenches to prevent civilians from coming to his rescue, and shot him dead. The operation was carried out jointly by the CRPF and the J&K Police. The operation was supervised by Jammu and Kashmir director general of police Dilbag Singh. He had been cornered by the security forces in Kashmir on several occasions but had managed to slip out every time. A senior police officer described Riyaz Naikoo’s elimination as a huge success. There is a huge chance that inputs on his presence could have been given by a rival terrorist outfit or a civilian as Naikoo had a bounty of Rs 12 lakh on his head.
Who was Naikoo?
In 2010, when the death of a teenager from Srinagar (due to a teargas shell fired by a policeman to quell protests) triggered unrest, several young boys were arrested from across Kashmir under the Public Safety Act. Naikoo was one among them and was jailed for two years. When he walked out of jail in 2012, he spent a few weeks at home. On May 23 that year, he left home to meet his friends never to return. His family stopped the search for him when the police informed them that he had joined militancy. Born in south Kashmir 1985, he was known as ‘master’ among his friends. A government report says he was a school teacher for two years, delivering lectures on Islamic topics.
Before his death, he was wanted in 11 terror-related cases, he became “head of operations in Kashmir” after taking over from Yaseen Ittoo, a top terrorist killed in an encounter in September 2017. Naikoo was said to be a good a student who was “traumatised” to see his friends being “hauled off to torture centres”. He completed his graduation from Government Degree College in Pulwama and started teaching in a private school before he was detained by security forces during the unrest in 2010. Post that, he was never to be seen until in 2016 when he made a dramatic appearance at the funeral of a terrorist in Shopian carrying a Kalashnikov rifle.
Naikoo was famous for several killings. These many a time included people from the forces, but also the father of a sarpanch, migrant labourers, truck drivers, fruit traders, jail staff and more. He also gained prominence for looting nine weapons from the residence of former MLA Wachi. He was considered to be the mastermind behind the killings of Jammu and Kashmir policemen. Naikoo gained notoriety for indulging in serious violence not only against the security forces, but also the local population. He resorted to brutal killings of civilians by branding them as informers of the police. In 2018, Naikoo-led Hizb militants kidnapped 11 family members of policemen, compelling the police to release his father – Asadullah Mir, from their custody. He is also believed to have revived the tradition of paying tributes to slain militants in Kashmir at their graves by firing shots in the air, wearing combat pouches and carrying an AK-47. His demand was the same of every militant to have come out of the valley – that India pull out from the valley.
Social media and tapes-
Naikoo played a key role in using social media to indoctrinate and recruit young Kashmiri men into terrorism. He had been continuously making audio and video clips and putting up them up on various platforms on social media to inspire youth to join terrorism. He was a mastermind behind the revival of his outfit in the state. He also released videos and audios on a number of occasions carrying pro-Pakistan and separatist propaganda.
Naikoo is said to have looted orchard owners and farmers to collect funds for his outfit and collected booty from illicit cultivation of opium in South Kashmir. Naikoo’s outfit was also involved in a narco trade case in Jammu.
Naikoo’s killing is seen as a major jolt to militancy in Kashmir. A category A++ militant, he rose in the Hizb ranks to take over the reins of the outfit in the Valley in 2017. The official described Naikoo as a sharp-minded militant who planned and carried out several attacks on the security forces. His first ‘daily diary’ entry in police records at Awantipora, dates back to June 6, 2012. Police say he is said to have been a loner who rarely trusted others in his outfit. He resurfaced in videos on social media sitting next to automatic weapons and grenades, rebranding himself as a fighter. He was highly tech savvy and never left electronic trails say policemen who were tracking him for years. His movements were generally noticed in South Kashmir. He was said to have started a trend of giving gun salute to militants who were killed in encounters with security forces. The problem with Naikoo was not only that he wanted independence, but also that he was extremely pro-Pakistani. He was chiefly involved in promoting Pakistani propaganda. He was also said to be extremely close to the Pakistan-based Hizbul chief, Syed Salahuddin, who was declared a global terrorist by the US in 2017.
There is absolutely no doubt that his death will start a fresh wave of unrest, whether it is small or big is hard to say. Post his encounter, locals apparently came out and pelted soldiers with stones in an attempt to disrupt the operation; demonstrators had to be beaten back by troops. Several protesters have received pellet injures and three of them have bullet wounds. They have been hospitalised. Protesters also set fire to two police vehicles in Pulwama.
Rebels and separatists have fought an armed conflict against Indian rule since 1989. About 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the resultant Indian military crackdown. The beginning and end of most militants has been the same. Once again, the valley will see suspension of mobile internet services, lockdowns, and curfews, becoming a new normal for the ordinary Kashmiri.