Mir Shaukat Ali, Srinagar/ Rupa Debroy,Delhi
With the army tied down on the LOC, the Jammu-Kashmir Police took the lead by shooting Hizbul Mujahideen’s operational commander, Riyaz Naikoo in a fierce encounter on Wednesday.
Naikoo, on the run for eight years, died along with an associate, in the encounter in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district, not far from the scene of a major terror strike that prompted the Modi government to order an airstrike in Pakistan’s Kashmir last year.
Naikoo, a former mathmetics teacher, was a designated A+++ category militant with a cash reward of Rs 12 lakh on his head.
The police said the operation to nab Naikoo was launched Tuesday night in Beighpora region of Pulwama — his home village — after intelligence inputs about militant presence in the area.
Naikoo’s killing comes days after militants killed eight securitymen including an Army Colonel, a Major and a police SHO, in two separate encounters in north Kashmir.
Naikoo joined Hizbul Mujahideen in 2012. Five years later, he took charge after Hizb commander Yasin Itoo was killed in an encounter in Shopian.
Naikoo’s sudden elevation in 2017 was unexpected but was possible because another Hizb commander, Zakir Musa, broke away from the group to float Ansar-ul-Ghazwat-ul-Hind, that swore allegiance to Al-Qaeda.
Musa was the face of Kashmir militancy after the elimination of popular militant commander Burhan Wani on July 8, 2016.
Wani’s killing led to massive street protests, giving militant leaders to step up recruitment in a big way.
Naikoo was rewarded because he successfully prevented a drift of Hizb cadres towards Musa’s Ansar-ul-Ghazwat-ul-Hind.
A tech-savvy militant, frequently delivering audio messages, Naikoo epitomized the homegrown element in Kashmir militancy who experimented with tactics.
In 2018, Naikoo’s Hizb militants kidnapped 11 family members of policemen , compelling police to release his father Asadullah Naikoo from their custody.
The police had picked Asadullah from his Awantipora home in south Kashmir, a day after militants had killed four policemen in Shopian.
Later, in an audio message, Riyaz had warned the police of dangerous consequences if the relatives of militants were not released.
No wonder, the J&K police had a score to settle with Naikoo.
That was the first exchange of prisoners since 1999 when Maulana Masood Azhar and Mustaq Ahmed Zargar had to be released by India to secure the freedom of passengers of the Indian Airlines aircraft hijacked to Kandahar from Kathmandu.
The Indian army’s fire assault on terror launchpads across the LOC has yielded results.
“Fresh induction of terrorists into the Valley has dropped as their handlers found it difficult to push them in. That is helping us round off the existing squads whose presence has been revealed,” said a Major-general leading operations in the Valley. ” The police is filling gaps in the counter-insurgency grid brilliantly.”
Indian and Pakistani troops continued their artillery duels for the fourth consecutive day but the intensity of the fire assault dropped from both sides. Pakistan army , baving bolstered its deployment in at least four sectors , were trying to back off from pushing terrorists in . Indian defence minister Rajnath Singh told Easternlink on Wednesday the “targeted strikes” on terror launch pads along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir would continue .
Singh made it clear the Indian army would not ‘lower their guard at all’ in Kashmir and along the LOC , even as they continued to help the government in battling the C-virus.
“The Indian armed forces are prepared for all exigencies and we are prepared to defend our sovereignty from adversaries, whatever the scenario,” Singh said.
” On the LOC in Kashmir, we are dominating the enemy through targeted intelligence based strikes on their launch pads and eliminating them before they set foot on Indian soil,” Singh told Easternlink.
” We will foil the terror campaign planned and sponsored by Pakistan to undo the gains of Kashmir reorganisation , the world must take notice that Pakistan is trying to take advantage of the Covid pandemic to unleash terror on India,” Singh said.
Army Chief Gen Gen M M Naravane visited various forward locations along the LoC last week to assess the intensity of Pakistan’s “push-in-terrorists” operation .
Military sources said a large number of terror launch pads along the Pakistani side of the LoC were destroyed by the Indian Army in the last few days.
India has been retaliating strongly to the Pakistani “misadventure” by targeting terror launch pads and ammunition storage across the LoC.
Military officials told Easternlink’s Mir Shaukat Alithat the artillery barrages were most intense in Poonch, Rajouri, Akhnoor and Baramulla sectors.