Neutralising Riaz Naikoo, the self-styled ‘operation commander’ of Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) is no doubt a spectacular and praiseworthy achievement for Indian security forces and intelligence agencies. Whereas this is certainly a setback for the Hizbul Mujahideen, but at the same time to say that Naikoo’s removal from the scene will have a major adverse impact on terrorism in Kashmir is not only far-fetched, but also misleading. Its far-fetched, because Naikoo may have been conferred with an impressive sounding title of ‘operation commander’, but in reality, he was merely a supervisor who faithfully executed orders passed down to him by his masters from across the Line of Control (LoC).
So, opining that his death is a ‘major blow’ to terrorism in Kashmir in effect amounts to conveying the specious impression that Naikoo was some sort of irreplaceable icon, a rallying point for youth picking up guns or an ideologue whose absence will create some sort of void. While there’s no doubt that he had a charismatic personality and good oratory skills, which he fully exploited, but at the end of the day Naikoo was (just like his predecessors), nothing more than an elevated pawn, whose replacement will not be hard to find. We have been seeing this for the last three decades since terrorism erupted in Jammu & Kashmir!
Giving deceased terrorist ‘commanders’ a larger than life image may add to the ‘feel good’ factor, but it simultaneously reinforces Islamabad’s blatant lie that it has no linkage with violent activities in J&K. In fact, exactly this is what happened on Wednesday, when Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan claimed that ‘violence in Kashmir was local’, and tweeted “I have been warning the world about India’s continuing efforts to find a pretext for a false flag operation targeting Pakistan. Latest baseless allegations by India of ‘infiltration’ across LoC are a continuation of this dangerous agenda.” Readers will recall that even after Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) accepted responsibility for the Pulwama suicide attack, Khan, in his UNGA (United Nations General Assembly) address tried to shift the blame on “a Kashmiri boy radicalised by Indian forces.”
Imran Khan was able to level this bizarre allegation because a section of our media, certain ‘intellectuals’ and ‘activists’ tried to justify a cowardly act that took 40 lives by projecting the perpetrator as a simple soul who was driven to do what he did because of ill-treatment by security forces. We don’t seem to realise that our unproven utterances give desperate Pakistan a ‘life line’ needed to peddle its pack of lies. Remember how during hearing of Kulbhushan Jadhav case at the International Court of Justice (IJC), Pakistani Attorney General quoted articles written by Indian authors Karan Thapar, Praveen Swami and Chandan Nandy to buttress his claim that Jadhav was an” Indian spy” who was “involved” in an “espionage mission” in Pakistan! Similarly, Khan supported his claim of Modi government’s anti-Muslim agenda by saying, “The Congress party gave a statement that terrorists were being trained in RSS Camps”— incredible but true!
Even in Riyaz Naikoo’s case, there’s been a deliberate effort to portray only one side of his character– of him being an underprivileged child from a very humble back ground who struggled against all odds, excelled in academics, got degree and became an affable school teacher who was adored by his pupils. No one seems to remember that he was the same Naikoo, who in his November 2018 audio message released alongwith the videotape of Safanagiri resident Nadeem Manzoor being brutally ‘executed’ in Islamic State style defended this gruesome act by claiming that the victim was a ‘mukhbir’ (informer).
It’s also surprising that none one of our eminent intellectuals and activist recollect how in August 2018, Hizbul Mujahideen terrorists barged into the house of a middle-aged lady named Shamima Bano and without even questioning her, shot her several times. Naikoo had ordered this ‘hit’ as he suspected that Shamima Bano had provided information to security forces that led to the neutralisation of Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist Sameer Ahmad Bhat alias Sameer ‘Tiger’. What’s really surprising is that while some people and news agencies have dug out Naikoo’s past ever since he was a child and even found a ‘plausible cause’ that justifies his picking up the gun, none considered it necessary to recount how after Shamima’s murder, slain terrorist Bhat’s own father went on record to say that he was very sure that Shamima did not compromise Sameer’s whereabouts. How could our hyper-sensitive activists forget her son Musain Ahmad Bhat’s anguish that made him lament that “If my mother was an informer (then) like the other informers, why didn’t militants shoot a video of her, like they have done, naming the names? … Why did they not talk to her? Why did they directly pump bullets into her body?”
I just can’t fathom what compels our learned ones to exhibit such pronounced subjectivity while brazenly defending the indefensible, knowing that it would erode their credibility. But all one can say that whatever they must be getting in return for their indiscretions would most certainly be something really very precious! So, while this tribe may assign a plethora of reasons ranging from lofty ideals like emancipation, right to self-determination and expression of dissent to outrageous thoughts like ‘resisting occupation’ and justifying terrorism as being the ‘natural consequence of oppression’, for a layman like me the fact that terrorism in Kashmir has been able to survive for so long, is not because of leaders like Burhan Wani or Riaz Naikoo but only due to Pakistan Army’s continuous support to terrorist outfits which are based on its soil and fighting in Kashmir.
Our beliefs need to be based on facts and not illusions and there’s no doubt that terrorism in J&K is the manifestation of Pakistan’s proxy war– a low cost venture using Kashmiris to bleed India through ‘a thousand cuts’ and the following indisputable facts support this contention. Can anyone deny these?
- HM chief Syed Salahuddin himself admitted that “We are fighting Pakistan’s war in Kashmir.”
- In 2009, President Asif Ali Zardari revealed that “Militants and extremists emerged on the national scene and challenged the state not because the civil bureaucracy was weakened and demoralized but because they were deliberately created and nurtured as a policy to achieve short-term tactical objectives.”
- In 2010, during an interview given to Der Spiegel, Pakistan’s former President and ex-army chief Gen Pervez Musharraf acknowledged institutional involvement in the creation of “underground militant groups” when he said “They were indeed formed. The government turned a blind eye because they wanted India to discuss Kashmir.”
- In 2017, Mahmud Ali Durrani, who was National Security Advisor of Pakistan when Mumbai attacks took place said “I hate to admit that the 26/11 Mumbai attack carried out by a terror group based in Pakistan on November 26, 2008 is a classic trans-border terrorist event.”
- In 2019, during a discussion at United States Institute of Peace, PM Khan admitted that “when you talk about militant groups, we still have about 30,000-40,000-armed people who have been trained and fought in some part of Afghanistan or Kashmir.”
- Former CIA director Michael Hayden in his book ‘Playing to the Edge’, has mentioned that “His (former ISI chief Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha’s) investigation (of Mumbai attacks) had revealed that some former ISI members were involved with Lashkar-e-Taiba (no surprise there). Pasha admitted that these unspecified (and still uncaptured) retirees may have engaged in some broad training of the attackers.”
- Hayden’s revelation is corroborated by former ambassador of Pakistan to America Husain Haqqani in his book ‘India vs Pakistan: Why Can’t We Just Be Friends?’ Haqqani writes that on a query as to who had carried out the Mumbai attacks, Lt. Gen. Pasha had told him “Log hamaray theh, operation hamara nahin thha,” (The men were ours but the operation wasn’t).
While neutralising terrorists is both essential and unavoidable to prevent the situation spiraling out of control, the notion that this menace can be wiped out solely by dispatching these terrorists is incorrect. Since it is Kashmiris who are being killed, the same doesn’t bother Islamabad at all. Furthermore, since the separatist camp thrives on generous financial grants from across the LoC, encouraging terrorism suits them, especially since they keep their own kith and kin at an arm’s length from the gun. It’s true that Junaid Ashraf Khan, son of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat chairman Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai is a Hizbul Mujahideen cadre, but he’s never been heard of participating in any attacks on security forces; if I am wrong and he’s actually a hard core and dedicated fighter, then let’s see if he is chosen to replace Riaz Naikoo?
Tailpiece: Terrorism in Kashmir can only be effectively countered by addressing it both at the micro and macro levels. While the former includes action at tactical levels to prevent infiltration and conduct anti-terrorist operations, the latter pertains to diplomatic and if required even the conduct of military actions with high deterrence quotient across the LoC. Three decades is a long time, but if Rawalpindi still wants to test our patience, let’s take the hard decision to formulate our own strategy of bleeding Pakistan through a thousand cuts, so that the message is conveyed to Rawalpindi in the language it understands!