DG KHAN/ LAHORE:
A full-fledged, two-pronged military operation against the notorious Chottu gang of Dera Ghazi Khan is expected today (Friday) after hundreds of army troops arrived in Rahimyar Khan and Rajanpur on Thursday night.
Around 500 soldiers, including two groups of Zarrar Commandos, flew into Rahimyar Khan’s Farid Airbase from Okara while two companies of 33 Punjab Regiment from Multan arrived in Rajanpur with four helicopters.
Gangsters kill six, seize 15 policemen in Rajanpur
Nine companies of paramilitary Punjab Rangers have also been deployed in Rahimyar Khan and Rajanpur, with authorities likely to go for the final push within the next 24 hours.
Punjab Rangers DG Maj Gen Umar Farooq Barki and Brig Ziauddin are likely to oversee the operation codenamed ‘Zarb-e-Aahan’.
On Thursday, the crackdown against the gangsters of Rajanpur continued for the 18th day – a day after the outlaws killed seven and abducted 22 policemen in fierce clashes in the Kacha Jamal area in South Punjab.
Only three bodies of the seven slain policemen have been retrieved due to intense gunfights, with the gangsters threatening to kill the kidnapped policemen one by one. The audacity of the gangsters prompted the government to deploy two army helicopter gunships for air strikes on their hideouts. The raids were, however, put on hold with the police chief seeking ground support from the army.
Punjab IGP Mushtaq Sukhera met Multan Corps Commander in Rahim Yar Khan and asked for the army’s help in eliminating criminals from the area.
Three policemen killed in Rajanpur raid
The gang of Ghulam Rasool Chottu, who carries a huge bounty on his head, has more than 100 gangsters against whom at least 54 cases of murders, robberies and kidnappings are registered in police stations across South Punjab.
Chottu has demanded the release of his comrades, withdrawal of police and Rangers and dismantling of security check-posts in his territory, and the return of the gang’s firearms for ending the crisis.
Police have ruled out accepting any demands and are instead planning for a large-scale operation. For the rescue of the 22 kidnapped policemen, locals have been contacted through influential tribal leaders.
Rajanpur DPO Ghulam Mubashar Maikan said the police managed to clear some “no-go” areas in recent raids that had been inaccessible for the past 20 years.
He added the police were ready for a large operation within 24 hours as the bandits had taken women and children hostage in some areas.
With the Punjab government facing serious criticism over the police’s failure to contain the gangsters, a resolution demanding the provincial and the federal governments launch an army-led operation against the Chottu gang was submitted in the Punjab Assembly secretariat on Thursday. The resolution was submitted by PML-Q lawmaker Vickas Hassan Mokal.
Operation Zarb-e-Ahan: Every terrorist will be eliminated, says Sukhera
Opposition leader Mian Mehmoodur Rasheed also questioned the writ of the state in the wake of the hostage situation, expressing reservations over the government’s “casual attitude”.
PTI’s former Punjab president Ejaz Chaudhry held the chief minister and the law minister responsible for the deaths of the policemen in clashes with the gangsters while calling for a Rangers operation in the province. “This situation proves there are different areas in Punjab serving as safe havens for terrorists,” he said.
Speaking to the media outside the assembly, Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said the operation was in full swing with Punjab police leading the crackdown.
He said the Rangers were already supporting the police and help would be sought from the armed forces if it was needed.
Sanaullah said the operation was challenging and outlaws were taking advantage of the dense forestation in the area. He claimed two gang leaders had been killed by the law enforcement personnel.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 15th, 2016.