In the ongoing operation in southern Punjab about seven policemen have been killed, 18 injured and some 20 taken hostage by Chotu gang after security forces tried to enter a forest in an island in Indus River area between Rajanpur and Rahim Yar Khan. After the failure of Punjab police to capture members of the gang, security operation as a part of Zarb-i-Ahan, was initiated by 1,600 policemen, 300 Elite Police Force commandoes, and dozens of counter-terrorism department personnel.  And now the Pakistan Army has taken charge of the operation and launched a full-fledged ground and aerial offensive. But unfortunately, the operation will not prove to be fruitful; for, the ringleader Ghulam Rasool and the principal dacoits would run away from the forest.

The island where they are hiding is located in the centre of the Indus River. It has 10 to 12 feet high elephant grass and bushes in the dense forest, which is spread over around 50 kilometers and borders Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan provinces. The dacoits are well familiar with all passages and all enforcement agencies taking part are unaware of these completely. In Sindh, many operations against criminals were launched by the police, but all of them suffered failure because – as history is witness – whenever dacoits found that the situation is dangerous and there is threat to their lives, they have opted to run away from the area under operation.

In February, Shikarpur district police assisted by the large police contingent from Jacobabad, Larkana, and Kandho Kot districts, under the leadership of SSP Nasir Aftaf, launched a search operation in village Garhi Tego to recover kidnapped girls. The operation which continued for a month could not make any inroads because the criminals escaped with the help and support of the people of their community. 

The ringleader Ghulam Rasool alias Chotu and all other members who belong to various tribes including Sudwani, Umerani, Bakhrani, Jakhrani and Sikhwani a sub-caste of the Mazari tribe in district Kandh Kot Sindh are the product of feudal clashes. Hence, the gang members will be helped by their tribesmen to run away, providing safe passage. Unlike urban terrorists, the rural criminals are not different in outlook from the local people, so they can dodge the army, Punjab police, Elite Police Force commandoes, and personnel of the counter-terrorism department easily.

The criminals of interior Sindh and Balochistan have established strong unity. They help one another in crisis. When criminals of a particular area are under threat, the criminals of other safe areas invite and provide them with guaranteed shelter in their areas.  Since the forest in an island in Indus River area between Rajanpur and Rahim Yar Khan shares border with Punjab, Balochistan and Sindh, the Chotu gang ringleader and his close accomplices can abscond to Balochistan or other safe areas of Sindh. It’s more than plausible that Chotu gang leaders might have already fled the area. However, it is possible that some members of the gang will be killed and hostages are recovered.

As some policemen have seen, these gangsters use sophisticated weapons including 12.7mm heavy anti-aircraft machineguns. On other hand police forces deployed in the operation lack proper equipment, weapons and boats to launch an assault on the island.

To exterminate criminals from the provinces permanently, the Punjab and the Sindh governments have to take concrete measures to empower police by equipping it with state of art weapons and machinery, ending political interference in the police system and introducing reforms in police law.