SRINAGAR: Indian troops killed a ‘commander’ of the Hizbul Mujahideen, his aide and two other fighters in occupied Kashmir on Wednesday and shut down cell phone and mobile internet services during subsequent anti-India protests.
The dead commander, Riyaz Naikoo, was the chief of operations of Hizbul Mujahideen, the largest Kashmiri group resisting New Delhi’s occupation. He shot into prominence during furious protests that followed the killing of the Hizb’s charismatic leader, Burhan Wani, in 2016.
Before joining Hizb, the 35-year-old Naikoo was a maths teacher.
The Indian army and police launched an operation in Pulwama district’s Awantipora area late on Tuesday based on a tip that Riyaz Naikoo was present there. They used earth movers to dig up several patches of land, including a school playground, looking for possible underground bases, residents said.
As the Indian forces began house-to-house searches in the area on Wednesday, they came under heavy gunfire. In the ensuing firefight, two fighters were killed. Police identified one of them as Naikoo.
Two fighters were killed in another gun battle nearby on Wednesday.
Some anti-India protests and clashes between protesters and Indian forces followed in the area where the gunfight occurred.
Authorities first blocked mobile internet service, a common Indian tactic when such fighting erupts. As the fighting continued and word spread that Naikoo was trapped, they also stopped mobile phone service.
Indian authorities say it is necessary to halt cell phone and internet service to prevent anti-India protesters from assembling.
Naikoo was the group’s top commander for almost eight years and was responsible for recruiting Kashmiris to fight India. He carried a bounty of 1.2 million rupees ($15,800) on his head.
Naikoo had joined the Hizbul Mujahideen in 2010, two years after around 100 people were killed by Indian troops during a restive summer marked by protests and violence.
Last year, the Indian government imposed a months-long total communication blackout during an unprecedented crackdown in occupied Kashmir.
Amid a lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus, Indian troops have intensified operations in occupied Kashmir since late March. Thirty-six freedom fighters and 20 Indian soldiers, including a high-ranking army officer, have lost their lives during the period.
Published in Dawn, May 7th, 2020