Srinagar: Six years ago, Kashmir’s most wanted militant commander Muzaffar Iqbal Naikoo alias Muza Molvi had become the poster boy and top strategist of Lashkar-e-Toiba in the Valley. His tales of audacity thrived and had entered folklore in north Kashmir, where he was based for a decade as a guerilla leader.
Four years later, that authority and eminence he carried in the Lashkar broke down. The Hafiz-e-Quran (one who memorises 30 chapters of the Quran) from an Islamic seminary in Uttar Pradesh was left to fend for himself when the Lashkar disowned him in 2015, calling him extortionist and accusing him of being close to Indian establishment.
The dormant Al-Badr took him in when he was on the run, but the Lashkar accusation marred his credibility in pro-freedom circles. “That made him take refuge in Al-Badr,” a police official said.
According to many police officials who tracked him and were involved in anti-militancy operations in north Kashmir and Srinagar, Muzaffar “challenged” Laskhar. “He raised questions against some Pakistani militants and accused them of being hand-in-glove with security forces. It did not go well with the outfit,” an official told Kashmir Reader.
Muzaffar had not gone to Pakistan for arms training and once he questioned the outfit’s leadership, he turned a suspect in the eyes of the Lashkar. “He was a troublemaker and a good strategist,” the official said. “He revived militancy and lured youth to take up arms yet he was not trusted as he wanted outfit’s leadership to be led by locals.”
Muzaffar’s operations were not limited to north Kashmir. He would train youth and was mostly after cops in Srinagar. One such case happened in 2011, when it surfaced that he provided the weapon to a militant tasked with killing a cop in Srinagar’s Hazratbal.
Muzaffar’s ability to escape cordoned areas like a bird from a hunter’s trap is well-known in police circles. Three years ago, the police’s special operation group zeroed in on a house in Sopore’s neighbourhood where he was hiding. The operation was planned in a disguised manner with policemen gathering in civvies. But, before he could have be cornered, he sprayed bullets everywhere, killing a police officer Kafeel Ahmad, and escaped.
“We laid many traps to catch him but luck always helped him,” a police officer told Kashmir Reader.
The following year, serious differences started to erupt after Muzaffar started questioning the Lashkar leadership. He was cut to size and shown the door. The outfit issued a public statement accusing him of “extortion and working for Indian agencies”.
Even before that, his reputation in public had been marred after police accused him along with two others for the heinous killing of two teenaged sisters, Akhtara and Arifa, in Sopore. Those killings drew strong outrage in Kashmir and both the United Jehad Council, a grouping of more than 10 militant outfits, and the Hurriyat Conference led by Syed Ali Geelani condemned the act.
“Local resentment started brewing against him after his name surfaced in those killings,” said a Sopore resident, pleading anonymity. Otherwise, Muzaffar was the most popular face before Hizb’s militant commander Burhan Wani, he added.
When Pakistan-based Al-Badr owned him following the Lashkar statement, he attempted to revive the dormant outfit. But the police again scuttled his plan and arrested his accomplice Irfan Ahmad, leaving him a recluse.
“He would move from north to south Kashmir to actually fend for his own safety,” a police official posted in Sopore said. Interestingly, in police records he was an A++ militant carrying a bounty of Rs 12 lakh on his head. But when he was killed, he carried a mere pistol and two grenades, clearly indicating that the most wanted and longest surviving militant lacked logistics–both men and arms—even at a time when the region is considered fertile ground for armed militancy.