Leader of the Opposition in the Punjab Assembly Mian Mehmoodur Rasheed on Friday reiterated his demand that the command of the Katcha area operation be handed over to the Armed Forces.
He condemned the government for not having established its writ in the area and said that the operation had been deliberately delayed.
On Monday, Deputy Speaker Sardar Sher Ali Gorchani allowed an adjournment motion submitted by Rasheed earlier in the session to be taken up out of turn.
Speaking on the matter, Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said the operation would conclude in the next 24 to 48 hours. He said the military and the political leadership were on the same page regarding the operation. “The government will ensure that the operation is a success,” he said. He said that after the Kacha Area between Rajanpur and Rahim Yar Khan districts was cleared of outlaws the police would establish permanent presence in the area.
He said that the terrain in a 10-to-15 kilometre stretch was extremely difficult to access. On the failure of previous attempts to establish the government’s writ in the area, he said outlaws had evaded arrest by escaping to Balochistan. This possibility had been excluded this time, he said.
Sanaullah said it had taken the law enforcement agencies six to eight days to cordon off the area. As many as 46 picketing points had been identified for the purpose. He said the police high command was present on ground to lead the operation. He said it had been decided that the Elite Force would enter the area with cover provided either by the Rangers or through gunship helicopters. As many as 700 shells had been fired on the criminals’ hideouts helping the Force enter the area through three points two days ago, he said. He said the police advance through two points had been successful and had resulted in the establishment of bases near the hideouts. The team that had advanced through the third location had been besieged by a group of outlaws, he added.
Sanaullah said the services of two retired army officers had been obtained to train 1,000 police officers who would remain in the area after the operation. He condemned the Opposition for not respecting the sacrifices of LEA officials who had lost their lives in the operation. He said the officers had put up a strong fight and killed six members of the criminal gang. He dismissed the claim that the policemen were not well equipped. He said that each officer had been provided with a bulletproof vest and 150 bullets.
He said the Chotu gang had requested safe exit but the government would accept nothing short of surrender.
While the Treasury members welcomed the law minister’s speech by thumping their desks, the Opposition dismissed it saying there was no justification for the delay in starting the operation. “I’m amused and disappointed over the law minister’s explanation,” Rasheed said. He said that if it had not been for the Army and the Rangers initiative following the Gulshan-i-Iqbal attack, the government would not have taken any action against Chotu gang. He said the incompetence of the IGP had been responsible for the delay in the crackdown against the outlaws in the area.
His speech was interrupted by the Chair who prorogued the session indefinitely amid anti-government slogans raised by the Opposition.
Earlier, the House offered prayers for the policemen who had lost their lives in the Kacha area operation.
Points of Order
Several points of order were taken up during the session, including one on the absence of parliamentary secretaries. The Chair explained that the presence of the parliamentary secretaries had been made mandatory very recently. He said it would take some time to enforce the rule. Discussion on lifting of ban on weapons’ licences and identification of low-income areas to ensure effectiveness of the Benazir Income Support Programme was postponed.
The Chair sought an inquiry into a report about a Christian student asked to take Islamiat examination instead of ethics over lack of a teacher for the latter subject at a Jaranwala school. He turned down lawmaker Farzana Nazir’s demand that blue passports be issued to Provincial Assembly members, saying that he was himself giving up a blue passport issued to him.
Chief minister’s presence
The Chair also dismissed PTI lawmaker Asif Mehmood’s demand that information regarding chief minister’s attendance in the House should be made public. The demand was put forth in view of a citizen’s request under the Right to Information Act about details of the chief minister’s attendance. In its response to the request received in February, the Assembly Secretariat had maintained that under Rule 37 of the Rules of Procedure of the House it maintained attendance records only for the MPAs. It had said no records were maintained for the chief minister and members of his cabinet.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 16th, 2016.