The changing theatre of insurgency: Riyaz Naikoo's death and beyond
With increased radicalisation, the coming years might see Hizbul becoming a shadow organisation as the ideologues of AQIS and LeT will gain ground in this changing theatre.
The recent killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Riyaz Naikoo — in an encounter with security forces in his native village of Pulwama in South Kashmir — has rendered a severe blow to the local militancy in Kashmir. Naikoo rose to prominence within the Hizbul Mujahideen ranks after the killing of HM commander Burhan Wani in 2016. Riyaz Naikoo took over the reigns of operational commander after Burhan's deputy Zakir Musa defected from Hizbul Mujahideen. Zakir Musa operationalised Ansar Ghaswat Ul Hind (AGUH) — a part of AQIS in Kashmir — after he had a serious fall out with Hizbul chief Syed Salahuddin.
During that period, Riyaz Naikoo was able to keep the cadre of Hizbul Mujahideen largely intact and also fought a vicious turf war with the Zakir Musa-led AGUH in South Kashmir. His men not only hunted down the AGUH cadre but sources on the ground indicate that his OGW network was instrumental in providing intelligence to security agencies on the location of AGUH militants thus getting them eliminated.
Naikoo was instrumental in unleashing a reign of renewed terror particularly in South Kashmir. His men started kidnapping and killing innocent civilians which were either labelled as mainstream political workers or informers. They also targeted unarmed policemen who were off duty, visiting their homes and families in the villages.
Hizbul Mujahideen surfaced in the Valley in 1989 as a pro-Pakistani militant organisation with a sole purpose of integrating Kashmir with Pakistan. They fought a bitter turf war in the early 1990's with the Yasin Malik-led JKLF — a pro-freedom militant organisation and ultimately emerged as a dominant militant organisation in the Valley.
Hizbul Mujahideen has been responsible for killing of scores of innocent civilians in the Valley — with its primary targets comprising mainstream political workers and leaders in the Valley. The prominent ones killed by Hizbul Mujahideen are the religious leader Mirwaiz Farooq and a moderate Hurriyat leader Abdul Ghani Lone besides other mainstream leaders. The politico-religious organisation Jamaat-e-Islami has been its ideological mentor in the Valley.
As militancy waned in the late 1990s all through to the early 2000s, Hizbul activities became more limited. With locals unwilling to join militant ranks and with its dwindling resources, the outfit's role was limited to the killing of mostly political targets, while Pakistan pushed foreign terrorists from Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed to carry out the more deadly attacks against the security forces. The Hizbul Mujahideen was also used by the Jamaat-e-Islami to settle political scores with its opponents in the Valley.
With the rise of Wani as Hizbul commander and his use of social media to propagate militancy, the Hizbul Mujahideen was rejuvenated in South Kashmir. Wani became the new poster boy of Kashmiri militancy. His death in 2016 in an encounter and the ensuing violence provided a fresh impetus to the Hizbul Mujhaideen to recruit new cadres, mostly in South Kashmir. But with tighter security grid around the Line of Control, the supply of arms and ammunition from Pakistan had dried up drastically in the Valley, turning out Hizbul cadres who were largely ill-trained and ill-equipped to undertake any major terror attacks.
With the change in status quo after the abrogation of Article 370 on 5 August last year, the theatre of insurgency is once again changing in the Valley.
Pakistan is again aggressively pushing well-trained and heavily-armed men from across the border to fight a renewed insurgency in Kashmir. According to sources, since 2016, Pakistan has focussed on training a new group of hardcore insurgents to fight specifically in Kashmir. Many local boys are reported to have crossed over towards the other side of the LoC to receive arms training in guerrilla warfare. Most of the training camps are run by the LeT.
The recent operation in the Keran sector where a unit of five elite paratroopers lost their lives in a firefight with militants who had recently crossed over from the LoC, followed by the Handwara encounter in which the commanding officer of the 21st Battalion of the Rashtriya Rifles along with a major and three other members of personnel from the army and police were killed while fighting a wanted Pakistani terrorist, are signs of a deadly insurgency taking shape.
After being grey-listed by the FATF over terror-financing charges, Pakistan has repackaged the terror organisations like LeT and JeM under the new banner of The Resistance Front (TRF). The focus now is to increase the terror footprint in other parts of the Valley. The LoC has been hot and the artillery has been booming from both sides continuously since last year. Terror activity has picked up recently and reports of fresh infiltration from across the border has kept the security agencies on their toes.
While the LeT/JeM insurgents will keep much of the theatre going on in the Valley, the Hizbul Mujahideen will return to its old turf of killing soft targets and terrorising common people.
The most noticeable change in the Valley over the past decade has been the constant spurt in radicalisation among the youth. Radicalisation has become an major tool for militant organisations like Hizbul Mujahideen and others to recruit new cadres. With increased radicalisation, the coming years might see Hizbul becoming a shadow organisation as the ideologues of AQIS and LeT will gain ground in this changing theatre.
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