Arms smuggling probe opens can of worms

Police protocol van of ex-adviser to Sindh CM was used to smuggle weapons

TAHA UBAIDI May 30, 2024


Startling revelations have surfaced during investigation into the alleged supply of arms and ammunition to highway robbers in the riverine area of Sindh.

A police protocol vehicle of Babul Bhiyo, a former adviser to Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah on forests, was used in the illicit arms trade which was seized by police in Jacobabad last month.

The weapons cache seized from the vehicle during the covert operation on the Sindh-Balochistan border included SMGs, LMGs, G3 rifles, and over 2,000 ammunition rounds.

Those taken into custody along with the seizure were charged with under the anti-terrorism law for illegal arms trafficking. The arms were intended for distribution to dacoits, with Mehboob Bhiyo tasked with the procurement. Sources told The Express Tribune that Babul Bhiyo's son, Altaf Bhiyo, had contacts with the gunrunners.

At the time intelligence reports suggested that influential figures in Sindh procure weapons from Naseerabad and Dera Murad Jamali areas of Balochistan, which are then transported to the riverine area of Shikarpur under police escort.

Further investigations conducted by a Joint Investigation Team, led by DIG Larkana Nasir Aftab, exposed Akhtar Lashari as the mastermind behind arms trafficking in Balochistan and Sindh. Lashari purportedly supplied rocket launchers, hand grenades, and modern weaponry to dacoits in the katcha area. Moreover, after a tribal clash in Shikarpur, several people, including Niaz Soomro, Hajan Marfani, and Ramzan Jatoi, were allegedly provided with arms by Lashari.

On April 19, 2024, Mehboob Bhiyo reportedly provided money for the purchase of illegal weapons. Accompanied by Nabil Bhiyo and Zakir, they travelled to Dera Murad Jamali, where they procured arms from Ali Hasan Machhi, sources privy to the investigation told The Express Tribune. During this transaction, Altaf Bhiyo and police mobile officer Imtiaz Ali Bhiyo maintained communication with the sellers. Subsequently, upon attempting to transport the arms to Shikarpur with police protocol, they were arrested by Jacobabad police.

The sources added that statements of Nabil Bhiyo and Zakir Bhiyo corroborate these findings. Imtiaz Bhiyo affirmed that they were deputed to provide protocol to Babul Khan Bhiyo, advisor to the Sindh CM. Allegedly, Altaf Bhiyo and Akhtar Lashari requested help in transporting guests from Balochistan. However, Babul Bhiyo's son denies any involvement, as per his statement recorded by the JIT. Moreover, mobile phones call data records (CDR) indicate that Altaf Bhiyo was not present during the arms transaction.

The JIT's 11-page report underscores the close ties between arms smuggler Akhtar Lashari, Altaf Bhiyo, and police officer Imtiaz Bhiyo. Despite these revelations, Babul Bhiyo, as per call data records, was not in contact with any of the accused. His whereabouts were confirmed to be in Karachi at the time of the arrests.

SSP Jacobabad Saleem Shah, who had thwarted the April 19 arms smuggling attempt, claimed that the weapons were destined for dacoits in Shikarpur. Seven suspects, including three police personnel, were apprehended, and vehicles involved were seized during the successful operation.

They include ASI Imtiaz Bhiyo, Sanaullah, Baqaullah Unar, Zakir Bhiyo, Akhtar Lashari, Nabil Bhiyo, and Taufiq Gujjar. While allegations were made linking the police mobile unit to Babul Bhiyo, the latter denied any involvement and tendered his resignation on April 20, which was accepted by the Sindh CM four days later. On April 26, IG Sindh Police Ghulam Nabi Memon formed a four-member JIT to probe the arms smuggling affair.

Chaired by DIG Larkana Nasir Aftab, the JIT included SSP Jacobabad Saleem Shah, SSP Sukkur Amjad Sheikh, SSP Qambar Shahdadkot Muhammad Kaleem. The team unearthed important details regarding the involvement of influential people in the Jacobabad arms smuggling case.

It highlighted the use of the police protocol vehicle in the illicit trade, raising concerns regarding its connection to Babul Bhiyo. Call record data revealed communication between Altaf Bhiyo and the arrested suspects, further implicating those close to senior government officials.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 30th, 2024.


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