DG KHAN/ RAJANPUR/ LAHORE:
The military finally launched a full-fledged ground plus aerial offensive in Rajanpur against the notorious Chottu gang on Friday. Soldiers joined the police on the 18th day of Operation Zarb-e-Aahan in an effort to rescue 20 law enforcers abducted by gangsters two days ago.
The army launched airstrikes at about 5:30pm in Kacha Jamaal and Kacha Karachi, where dozens of gangsters have been holed up. Cobra helicopter gunships continued strafing the area for about an hour before releasing teargas canisters to airdrop soldiers for a search operation.
Army-led operation likely against Rajanpur gangsters
With the operation moving towards its conclusion, the district administration has imposed a curfew till 6am Saturday in the area, banning any public movement till further notice.
In view of the ongoing offensive, the authorities have requisitioned 200 Punjab Constabulary personnel to Rajanpur from Lahore.
Sources said the security agencies have decided on a final push late Friday night after the failure of about 2,200 policemen to rescue their colleagues in the Rajanpur operation.
At least seven policemen have been killed and another 20 taken hostage by the gangsters. Around 18 more policemen are under treatment in different hospitals. 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.
Rubbishing reports that policemen were forced to take part in the crackdown, Punjab IGP Mushtaq Sukhera told the media no one was forced to join the operation. “The services of our martyrs will not be wasted,” he added.
Talking at the Rajanpur DPO Office, he announced a compensation package worth Rs9.5 million for slain sub-inspector Hanif Ghauri. The families of the constables martyred in the operation would get Rs7.5 million each.
Gangsters kill six, seize 15 policemen in Rajanpur
The sources told The Express Tribune the stiff resistance coming from the gangsters was partly because of the presence of about two dozen foreign militants in the area. The fighters are equipped with modern weapons and satellite phones and have built concrete bunkers, they said.
They added Ghulam Rasool alias Chottu, who heads the gangsters, had contacted the officials using the seized handsets from slain policemen and offered to surrender before the army while seeking a safe passage for his comrades.
He claimed his gang had 30 hostages, who would be killed one by one if the operation was not stopped.
The notorious bandit demanded action against all gangsters from Gorchani, Mazari and Bugti tribes in the region without any discrimination, claiming the conflict was started by the Jahoo tribesmen.
He also blamed the police for forcing his comrades to take up weapons in retaliation for the killing of their children and women.
Police and security forces have so far detained 240 residents for allegedly providing logistical support to the gangsters. The right-hand man of Ghulam Rasool, Pehlwan Billo who had been supervising the operation against police, has also been killed.
Kacha Jamaal in Rajanpur district has served as a hideout of the Chottu gang for years and even has been named as Chottu Island by the locals. The island is about 11km in length and 6km in width.
Operation Zarb-e-Ahan: Every terrorist will be eliminated, says Sukhera
Ghulam Rasool, who is booked in about 154 cases of kidnapping and killings directly or indirectly, carries a head money of Rs2 million. He has a fighting force less than 200 well-armed but untrained comrades.
For the past three decades, the Rojhan sub-district has been the battleground among Mazaris, Gorchanis and Bugtis. All tribes have supported the gangsters to create a defensive shield against each other.
Earlier, Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said the military and political leaderships were on the same page on the Rajanpur operation and ruled out any compromises with the Chottu gang.
He said the commanding officer on ground would determine which forces would participate in the operation. Rangers will remain in the area for some time, he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 16th, 2016.