An Indian military operation in the Pulwama district of Indian-administered Kashmir has resulted in the death of four rebel separatists including the commander of Hizbul Mujahideen. Riyaz Naikoo was one of the most wanted men in Kashmir, spending the last eight years on the run and evading Indian security forces. His luck ran out on Tuesday when he was killed by Indian troops in his home village of Beigh Pora. Naikoo had assumed command of Hizbul Mujahideen after the group’s former leader Burhan Wani was killed by security forces in 2016. Naikoo’s killing comes days after militants killed eight Indian security officers in two separate encounters in northern Kashmir.
On Wednesday morning, Indian authorities locked down mobile internet access across the region to prevent large crowds from gathering to mourn Naikoo’s death. The underlying fear here is that such a gathering will lead to more violence and unrest in the region. As a nationwide lockdown to combat COVID-19 continues across India, fighting between separatists and Indian security forces and army troops in Kashmir has intensified. Separatist groups like Hizbul Mujahideen have been fighting against Indian rule for decades, desiring either independence for the Kashmir region or to join Pakistan.
The next month will likely see tensions rise, and fighting increase in Jammu and Kashmir. Snow is beginning to melt in the mountainous region, making it easier for militants to cross the border from Pakistan. Historically, May is the time of the year when infiltration activities across the Line of Control reach their high point.