The law-enforcement operation to cleanse Rajanpur district in south Punjab of a criminal gang, has turned into a bloodbath far too quickly. The task proved to be too daunting for the local police forces, who unfortunately lacked the proper training and equipment to conduct such an extensive operation in the difficult topography. The dacoits have retreated into an old hideout on an island in the middle of the river Indus, and they managed to overpower the police forces. Six brave men have lost their lives while twenty-seven others are being held hostage. The hostage situation cannot be tolerated at any cost. The military and civilian forces must unite and put their efforts and collective resources together to save these men at the frontlines. There is no time for inter-agency negotiations, or dwelling on jurisdictions.

According to security officials, the weapons at the disposal of these gangs are highly sophisticated and they are getting continuous reinforcements from their complex networks of other criminal gangs around the area. Earlier, the Punjab Police asked for helicopter gunship support from the Pakistan Army, but to no avail. From the beginning, as soon as this operation was announced, there have been disagreements on how it should be conducted and who should take a lead on the situation. The military’s decision in the Lahore aftermath, to unilaterally go ahead with the operation for which it had been pressuring the civilian leaders for months, was a hard pill to swallow for the government.

It is integral that the civilian and the military leadership as well as the officials on ground, remain on the same tangent instead of diverging on principles in this sensitive time. While the military is better equipped to deal with highly dangerous and well-backed insurgents, the civilian law enforcement agencies can provide a better understanding of ground realities, and provide invaluable intelligence and counterterrorism support. Operation planning ahead of such large-scale operations cannot be overlooked, and this all security agencies must work together to achieve if it hopes to achieve its objective with minimum collateral damage. The Punjab Police have proved their mettle and have put up a fierce fight, but in the face of a stronger enemy it must allow the army and the paramilitary forces to demolish the threat once and for all and save the hostages, whose lives are more precious than the appeal to establish authority.