Naikoo's killing came as a blow to one of Kashmir's oldest rebel outfits but also revealed the Modi regime's aggressive approach to the Kashmir conflict isn't bearing any fruit.

In the past few weeks, India-administered Kashmir has witnessed a sudden spike in violence amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

Indian armed forces have been entrapping Kashmiri armed rebels in small hamlets and suburbs, cordoning off the houses where insurgents are holed up, and gunning them down. 

On Wednesday afternoon, Kashmir's local authorities announced that they had killed Riyaz Naikoo, a 35-year-old commander of Hizbul Mujahideen, one of the oldest surviving insurgent outfits in the disputed territory, which is declared a terrorist organisation by India as well as the United States and the European Union. 

Indian Twitter broke into celebrations with several Indian politicians from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), journalists and people from other walks of life posting photos of a Hindu God killing a demon and congratulating Indian army for "eliminating" Naikoo or "dispatching him to hell".

Minutes after Naikoo's killing, mobile internet was suspended in Kashmir and a strict military curfew was imposed in several districts of the disputed region. 

The rationale behind the move is to prevent Kashmiri people from attending Naikoo's funeral during the pandemic. But large processions at the burials of anti-India rebels is a common sight in Kashmir. Many regional observers see it as a sign of the widespread support that insurgent outfits like Hizbul Mujahideen enjoy among the local populace. 

While the troubled region has been reeling under the pandemic, it's also witnessing a serious escalation between India and Pakistan on its de-facto border, commonly known as Line of Control (LoC). Several civilians have been killed on both sides of the LoC since early April. Indian troops also intensified their crackdown on rebels in Kashmir with confirmed reports of gun battles every now and then, which suggests Prime Minister Narendra Modi's aggressive approach has largely failed in suppressing anti-India dissent in Jammu and Kashmir region.

Naikoo, one of the longest surviving rebels, was renowned for his ability to keep the ranks of Hizbul Mujahideen together at a time when one of his close associates Zakir Musa had a falling out with him. While Naikoo strived to keep the focus of armed rebellion on the political solution of Kashmir, Musa wanted to take the insurgency beyond the margins of the Kashmir conflict and merge it with the aims and ambitions of global terror group, Al Qaeda. 

But Naikoo's organisational skills and strategies, according to Indian intelligence officers quoted in a Huffington Post article, soon overshadowed Musa's hardline rhetoric.

With a bounty of more than $17,000 on his head, Naikoo singlehandedly organised an online campaign, asking local recruits of the police from Kashmir and Jammu provinces to give up arms or face death.

The call left an impact as several policemen submitted resignations and many among them even uploaded recorded statements on social media, seeking Naikoo's forgiveness. 

Naikoo always spoke the language of inclusion. In one of his interviews with Al Jazeera, Naikoo said he and his outfit morally supports all struggles against tyranny. 

"To the people all over the world who might be reading this, let me assure them that we are in solidarity with all those people, irrespective of their religion and their geography, who are living under occupations and are fighting struggles for their freedom," Naikoo said. 

A Kashmiri Muslim woman watches as police and army soldiers launch an operation against Riyaz Naikoo in Awantipora area, south of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Wednesday, May 6, 2020
A Kashmiri Muslim woman watches as police and army soldiers launch an operation against Riyaz Naikoo in Awantipora area, south of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Wednesday, May 6, 2020 (AP)

Humble beginnings

Born in 1985 in a small hamlet of south Kashmir's Pulwama district, Naikoo grew up in humble surroundings. His father Asadullah ran a tailor shop and worked in fields in his spare time along with his wife, Zeba. 

From a young age, Zeba told the Huffington Post in late 2018, Naikoo was a quiet, soft-spoken boy, who loved to paint roses and read the Koran. He was studious by nature and scored well in school. He was good at mathematics too, and as he became an adult, he began teaching the subject in a private school. 

In 2010, when Kashmir erupted in rage and anger over the killing of a teenager Tufail Mattoo in a police shooting, Naikoo began showing signs of resistance to India's rule in Kashmir. That summer he abandoned his plan to apply for a post-graduate degree at a university in Bhopal, a city about 1,500 kilometres away from Srinagar, the capital city of India-administered Kashmir, and disappeared into far-off woods only to emerge as an armed fighter. 

Naikoo seemed to be inspired by revolutionary figures like South Africa's anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela and Palestine's anti-occupation writer Ghassan Kanafani. He often invoked them to justify his choice of taking up arms against India. 

On several occasions, Naikoo has used Kanafani's quote —  "the conversation between the sword and the neck" — to defend his position of saying no to direct talks with India. Naikoo supported the idea of a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute only if a dialogue was held between the rightful parties, which meant India, Pakistan and the Kashmiri leadership. 

Naikoo was also behind "abduction day", when 11 family members of six policemen were kidnapped by the rebels of Hizbul Mujahideen in four different districts of Kashmir.

Naikoo's aim was to send a message across the Indian state— that they must not punish his blameless family members. He released all the hostages after Naikoo's father was set free from police custody. 

His outfit Hizbul Mujahideen has always favoured the complete merging of Jammu and Kashmir with Pakistan. 

Naikoo had escaped death at the hands of Indian armed forces three times in the past. This time his associate Adil tried to break the army cordon but they both fell prey to a hail of bullets. 

Source: TRT World