DG KHAN/ BAHAWALPUR/ MULTAN/ ISLAMABAD:
The military took over the command of an ongoing operation against criminal gangs holed up in the riverine area of Rajanpur district on Saturday as helicopter gunships carried out more sorties, hitting hideouts of gangsters in the region.
“Army troops deployed. Take over charge of [the] operation. Cordon reinforced,” Lt Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa, the director general of the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) wrote on Twitter. Police and Rangers personnel would continue to participate under the army’s command, he added.
Rajanpur operation: Army takes charge of Zarb-e-Aahan, says ISPR
The operation, codenamed Zarb-e-Aahan, was launched towards the end of March by the Punjab police and the paramilitary Rangers against criminals, especially against the gang of Ghulam Rasool, alias Chottu. The police called in airpower from the military on Wednesday after facing stiff resistance from the gangsters who have also kidnapped around 20 policemen.
Helicopter gunships launched air assaults on Friday but a day later the military decided to take over the operation command. “Whatever resources required will be employed to accomplish the mission,” Lt Gen Bajwa wrote on his official Twitter handle. Updates will be regularly shared with the media, he added.
According to reports pouring in from the front-lines, army troops, backed by 10 helicopter gunships, have gone six kilometres deep into the area controlled by the Chottu gang in the Kacha Jamal area of Rajanpur. Police sources added that 600 commandoes are conducting the operation, while Rangers personnel are used as reserve force.
Reports also suggest that forces have already cleared 50% of the area while making quick advancement. The forces have started a search operation after imposing a curfew in 20 villages of Kacha Jamal, including Kacha Shahuwali, Rakh Shahuwali, Chiragh Shah, Bellay Shah, Sounmiani, Kacha Razi, Kacha Khairpur, Chak Umrani, Chak Suri, Kacha Bohr.
Gangsters kill six, seize 15 policemen in Rajanpur
Residents have been asked to stay indoors because violators of curfew will be shot. Announcements have also been made through loudspeakers asking the criminals to surrender unconditionally or else indiscriminate action would be taken against them.
Sources said that 40 members of the Chottu gang have turned themselves in, while Chottu himself, along with 30 comrades, has fled to the Koh-e-Sulaiman area. Now, only 41 members of his gangs are entrenched in the riverine area. “The gangsters are using the kidnapped policemen as a human shield,” one source said.
Police fighting Chotu gang with great courage, says Shahbaz
Some gangsters dressed up as policemen tried to escape – but failed as army troops have successfully cordoned off the area, not allowing anyone to go in or come out. Sources said the gang is divided over the surrender offer and some of them could give up arms any time before the start of the decisive commando operation. Reports suggest that army commandoes can launch the decisive action against the positions of the Chottu gang any time on Saturday night.
The Chottu gang has threatened to kill the seized policemen, if (1.) the operation is not called off; (2.) arrested members of his gang are not released; and (3.) forces do not vacate the Kacha Jamal area. The Punjab chief minister, however, said his administration would not negotiate with the gangsters.
“No deals will be cut with professional criminals,” Shahbaz Sharif said while speaking to the DPOs of southern Punjab districts of Rahim Yar Khan, Rajanpur and DG Khan through a video link. He added that Operation Zarb-e-Aahan would continue till decisive victory. “We need to clear this area within four days.”
Published in The Express Tribune, April 17th, 2016.