The operation launched soon after the suicide bombing in Lahore against a gang of dacoits holed up on a small island in the Indus River in South Punjab once again witnessed the army completing the job started by the police as it was finally the former’s action that led to the surrender of the gang leader Ghulam Rasool alias Chhotu, along with his 175 followers including women and children. Indeed, in a matter of days, the small-time dacoit gang of Chhotu seems to have brought to its knees the ‘big time’ Punjab police as the former not only succeeded in beating back the latter’s advances but also killing six police personnel and taking hostage as many as 24. The army entered the scene at a point when the dacoits were negotiating from a position of strength with the police for safe passage and release of gang members in police custody.
So, it is not only the Sindh police that is worryingly inefficient but even the one belonging to Punjab — touting a reputation of being encounter specialist and held in awe for its brutality — is also sailing in the same creaking boat. That it is also as politicised as the Sindh police and as criminalised has been well known but not as infamous by reputation until now, perhaps because its political mentors seem to have been more sophisticated in their cover-ups than those that mind the Sindh police. The questions that need to be asked of the Punjab government, its police and the provincial intelligence agencies are: how did the gang of dacoits manage to set up a no-go area under their very noses? Who were the gang’s political facilitators? And what were they doing when the gang was accumulating such sophisticated weapons on the clandestine island? It is highly doubtful that without the connivance of the police itself and the indulgence of elements within the Punjab government, Chhotu would have become such a big threat to the province on his own.
The provincial government’s early reluctance to invite the army to do what is better left to the police, sounded just the right policy when viewed in the context of constitutional division of responsibilities. But the argument sounded too clever by half when tested against the willingness of the provincial government to actually rule by law. Punjab has been known as the breeding ground of extremism. The headquarters of many sectarian terror groups as well as of those that wish to liberate Indian-held Kashmir and see the Taliban recapture Kabul, are still located in various parts of Punjab and continue their activities without any let or hindrance, giving rise to the sneaking suspicion that perhaps the provincial government itself sympathised with these causes.
And of course, while the country’s attention has for years been focused on the Taliban and al Qaeda threat on the Afghan border in the remote northwest, militants and criminals have quietly expanded their influence and won recruits in Punjab. While calling for an overhaul of the country’s police, which urgently needs de-politicisation, merit-based recruitment and state-of-the-art training regimes, one would also like to suggest that the force should be equipped with the resources needed to fight crime in this modern age when even an ordinary criminal can get hold of the most sophisticated arms. Indeed, even the army needed to use aerial bombing, gunship helicopters, heavy artillery and surveillance drones to smother the well-armed dacoits hiding in the dense forest.
The operation is said to be far from over with at least three other gangs believed to be still hiding in the area. While the military has stated that it will be ensured that all no-go areas in the country are eliminated, again, this is a job that our political governments and police forces need to ensure. It remains to be seen whether the operation in Rajanpur will prove to be a catalyst in urging our police forces and governments to start doing the jobs expected of them.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 25th, 2016.
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