After a nearly three-year-long manhunt, the Army and Jammu & Kashmir Police have succeeded in eliminating arguably the Valley’s most important militant, Hizbul Mujahideen’s Kashmir operations chief, Riyaz Ahmad Naikoo. After the 2016 killing of Burhan Wani, and the subsequent killings of most of the others in that group of a new generation of militants, the much older and more experienced militant from Awantipora kept the PoK-based group in business in the Valley — by carrying out attacks on uniformed personnel and civilians alike, and by manipulating the anger and alienation in a section of Kashmiri youth to recruit new candidates into the group. Naikoo became the face of the indigenous militancy, though he kept a lower profile than Wani.
After the August 5 changes in Kashmir, Naikoo was responsible for civilian killings including that of migrant labour, a fruit trader and a truck driver. Earlier, he had kidnapped several J&K policemen after his father was taken away by the police, releasing them only after the police let his father go. For Naikoo, who chose to give up the blackboard for the gun, a violent end was foretold. For the security forces, his killing is an important turning point in the continuing battle against militancy in the Valley. It shows that despite the turbulence, the police network of informants in every village is alive and kicking — it was on a tip-off that Naikoo was traced to his village Beighpora in Awantipora, where he had gone to meet his family.
It would be misplaced, however, to think that militancy in the Valley has ended with his removal, or that the elimination of dreaded militants alone is the solution to Kashmir’s problems. Only days ago, a new militant group that calls itself The Resistance Front was able to inflict a heavy toll when an operation in a Handwara village went wrong for the security forces. There were more casualties the next day, this time in the CRPF. Despite their hard-won successes, even the Army and police are only too aware of the vital importance of the political process in finding the way out of this tunnel. What Kashmir needs is an open and participatory process that can provide answers to the political vacuum which militancy feeds on, and the new challenges in the wake of the August 5 decision to change the status of J&K. By all accounts, there is less trust in the intentions of the Centre in Kashmir than there was even in the five tumultuous years leading up to August 2019. The Centre needs to acknowledge and address the task ahead with honesty and sincerity. Naikoo’s death is a milestone and the challenge is to build on it — use the space created to secure the peace.
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