With the killing of the Hizbul chief commander, Riyaz Naikoo on Wednesday, operation ‘Jackboot’ conceived and supervised by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval has claimed its last high-value target.
The operation codenamed ‘Jackboot’ was conceived by Doval when the south Kashmir districts of Pulwama, Kulgam, Anantnag and Shopian were claimed as ‘Liberated areas’ by the militants.
Homegrown militancy had become a big problem for the security forces. The Burhan group of Kashmiri youth — Burhan Wani, the poster boy and chief commander of the Hizbul and his associates Sabzar Bhat, Waseem Malla, Naseer Pandit, Ishfaq Hameed, Tariq Pandit, Afaqullah, Adil Khandey, Saddam Paddar, Wasim Shah and Anees — had added new colours to militant activities.
Foreign terrorists were relegated to the background as the 11 local faces were enough to attract scores of youth from the valley to join the militant ranks.
Homegrown militancy had become the newfound romance for many educated, unemployed Kashmiri youth moved and motivated by the Burhan gang as the group caught their imagination.
Local Policemen were harassed, tortured and in many cases killed to dissuade them from joining the anti-militancy operations.
It was common knowledge in the Valley that whenever a group of local militants showed up in any village of these districts they sang and held parties without any fear of being caught or trapped. They had built a powerful network of local informers since all 11 members of Burhan group were local boys.
Any whiff of the movement of the security forces would reach the group seconds after there was any activity in the camps of the security forces in these districts.
The National Security Advisor had to take a tough call. But, then he was known to have “eyes and ears” in Kashmir which were not even known to the top brass of the security forces.
These were called “Doval Sahab Kay assets” in intelligence circles.
Operation Jackboot claimed its victims with surgical precision. It even included those local commanders who were not in the picture that had gone viral showing Burhan with his 10 associates.
For example, Lateef Tiger, a top Hizbul commander and a close associate of Burhan not in the picture of 11 was among the three militants killed by the security forces in Shopian district on May 3, 2019.
Burhan had already by then eliminated on July 8, 2016.
Much in the style of ‘Operation Wrath of God’ of the Israeli government’s secret retaliation against the Palestine Liberation Organisation after the Munich massacre at the 1972 Summer Olympics, Doval appeared to have written the obituary of each member in the poster of Kashmir’s homegrown militancy.
Others from the group who were eliminated were Sabzar Ahmed Bhat (May 2017), Wasim Malla (April 2015), Naseer Ahmed Pandit (April 2016), Afaqullah Bhat (October 2015), Adil Ahmed Khanday (October 2015), Saddam Paddar (May 2018), Wasim Shah and Anees. Besides Md Rafi Bhat who was killed along with Paddar. Another Burhan associate Tariq Pandit was arrested in 2016.
After the elimination of Burhan, Hizbul desperately needed a local face who could replace him and become the new poster boy of homegrown militancy.
None better than Riyaz Naikoo to fit the bill and the void left behind by Burhan. Naikoo was an educated school teacher known to be some sort of a mathematical wizard. He was also a painter who loved painting roses. He wore glasses like Burhan did sometimes.
Naikoo was the one militant commander who saved the Hizbul from complete disintegration when Zakir Musa split from the group in 2017. Musa formed his own group called Ansar Ghazwatul Hind that claimed to be the Indian affiliate of the Al-Qaeda. Musa was killed in Dardsara village of Tral tehsil of Pulwama district on May 23, 2019.
Naikoo had become the most wanted militant commander in the post Burhan gang phase and for this he carried a reward of Rs 12 lakhs on his head. Naikoo rose in the ranks of the Hizbul Mujahideen eight months after the killing of Burhan Wani. His elimination on Wednesday not only avenged the deaths of security personnel killed on May 3, but also came as a major relief for the security forces for Naikoo was a master propagandist.
After taking over the spoils from when Musa left the Hizb, Naikoo launched massive campaign asking J&K policemen to give up their jobs and join the Hizbul ranks. He also urged terrorists to stage gun salutes at the funeral of terrorists. He also planned abduction of families of police officers who did not shun the force.
He proved more dangerous because of his propaganda. He also held a considerable amount of sway with the youth and was capable of recruiting in large numbers. In the post Article 370 phase he had announced major dark plans not just for the youth but even younger generation.
The 35-year-old Hizbul commander had been on the run for the last eight years. With the group of 11 and their legacies now wiped out one by one as envisaged by Ajit Doval — it looks like the inland version of Doval’s cross LoC operation filmed by Vicky Kaushal in “Uri: The Surgical Strike’.
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