RAJANPUR/ BAHAWALPUR: A notorious gang of criminals has killed six and seized 15 policemen in fierce clashes on Wednesday prompting the police to request for airpower against the gangsters holed up in the Kacha Jamal area of Rajanpur district in South Punjab where an operation against outlaws has been ongoing for the past 17 days.
DPO Ghulam Mubashir Maikan, who is leading the operation codenamed ‘Zarb-e-Aahan’, confirmed the casualties and hostage-taking. “The SHO of Bangla Acha police station, Hanif Ghouri, is among those seized by the gang of Ghulam Rasool, alias Chottu,” he said.
Pakistan launches much-awaited operation in South Punjab
Chottu, who carries a huge bounty on his head, radioed a message to the police to call off the operation, release his arrested comrades and vacate the area or else the hostages would be killed one by one.
According to details, police commandos moved to the hideouts of the Chottu gang in the Kacha Jamal area Tuesday night. The gangsters were anticipating the action and were prepared to take on the police. They fired indiscriminately at the advancing police party, killing six and forcing the rest to retreat.
On Wednesday, police commandos mounted another operation to recover the bodies but the gangsters put up a fierce fight and seized 15 of the policemen, sources said. Action is ongoing to rescue the hostages. Sources said the gangsters also fired mortar shells at the police positions.
“Around 1,600 policemen from seven districts of Punjab are taking part in Zarb-e-Aahan,” DPO Maikan said. However, the police could not achieve any significant success thus far prompting the high-ups to use firepower against the hideouts of gangsters. “The police could not move past their trenches set up at a distance from the hideouts,” one police source said. “The area is thickly forested which is also hindering the police advancement.”
Now, the police have decided to use air power to soften the target before mounting a ground operation. The Punjab government has requested the Pakistan Army to deploy two helicopter gunships for air raids – and two helipads have been set up in the Kacha Sounmiani area for this purpose, DPO Maikan said. Drones have also been used for aerial surveillance of the area to ensure targeted air strikes.
Army chief, PM meet to discuss Punjab operation
He went on to say that cellular services in the area have been blocked to make sure the gangsters cannot communicate among themselves or with their sympathisers. “Aerial strikes can begin anytime,” he added.
According to sources, bullet-proof ‘mobile casings’ have also been arranged for police commandos for the final push. The mobile casings, made up of steel, will save the commandos from the intense firing of the gangsters, and will help them get closer to the hideouts.
A control room has also been set up in the Kacha Sounmiani area where IG Punjab Mushtaq Ahmad Sukhera himself will monitor the operation. IG Sukhera visited the forward positions on Wednesday to meet the policemen taking part in the operation. RPO Bahawalpur Dr Ehsan Sadiq, RPO Dera Ghazi Khan Rehmatullah Niazi, DPO Maikan and other senior police officials accompanied him.
“Operation Zarb-e-Aahan is progressing according to the plan,” IG Sukhera claimed. “Our mission is to rid the Kacha area of hardened criminals forever,” he added. “The morale of the policemen is sky-high, and they will not make any compromise in the fight against criminals.”
DPO Maikan said more than 100 gangsters were associated with the Chottu gang which has 54 cases of murders, dacoities and kidnapping registered against it in police stations across South Punjab. He added that the next 24 hours were important as Operation Zarb-e-Aahan has entered the final phase. “So far, we have arrested 110 facilitators of the gangsters, and soon the Kacha area will be purged of them,” he claimed.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 14th, 2016.