LAHORE: The government’s failure to appoint a district police officer (DPO) in Rajanpur independent of local politicians led to the security vacuum which allowed dozens of bandits recapture a notorious Indus island region on Sunday, two years after it was cleared in a celebrated law enforcement operation, according to senior police officers.
On Sunday, a dozen or so police personnel were said to be trying to repel a siege by some 60 bandits at picket number two on Kachi Jamal, one of three river islands in the area, while a force led by the DG Khan regional police officer (RPO) and Rahim Yar Khan DPO was on its way to the region, according to locals and police sources. Speaking on Sunday evening, the operator at the Rajanpur DPO’s office said that a heavy exchange of fire was underway between the two sides.
The government transferred DPOs in all but three districts, including Rajanpur, shortly after the chief minister was sworn in.
A high ranking police official said that Inspector General Khan Baig had suggested to the chief minister that SP Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi be appointed acting DPO of Rajanpur as he was familiar with the situation in the area, but the local politicians had strongly opposed this.
He said that currently, Rajanpur district did not have even an acting DPO. The security vacuum had allowed the dacoits to recapture the islands, he said, adding that it could take years for the police to regain their positions on the islands and to negotiate the release of any cops captured in the action.
Kachi Jamal, Kacha Karachi and Baggiani in the middle of the Indus are strategically located at the junction of Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan. They neighbour Kashmore, Jacobabad and Ghotki in Sindh, Dera Bugti in Balochistan and RY Khan and Rajanpur in the Punjab.
For 25 years, the lawless area had served as a base for gangs of dacoits and kidnappers. Hostages from kidnappings in the three provinces were often brought and kept here while ransoms were negotiated. In a briefing by law enforcement agencies in 2011, the chief minister was told that the criminals here included those patronised by local politicians as well as terrorist organisations.
That year, then Rajanpur DPO Sohail Zafar Chattha led a famous operation to clear the islands. The DPO built a fleet of boats fitted with bulletproof screens and launched an operation that lasted over two weeks. The bandits were sent fleeing to Dera Bugti, Kashmore and Ghotki and the police set up several pickets on the reclaimed islands.
On Sunday, the bandits appeared to have returned.
Senior police officials said the blame lay squarely with local politicians and the Punjab government. They alleged that the local PML-N MNA and MPA had facilitated the returns of the bandits and prevented the appointment of a Police Services of Pakistan (PSP) officer as DPO of Rajanpur.
Leaders of the Mazari, Dareshak and Gorchani tribes, elected on PML-N tickets, approached Shahbaz Sharif after the May 11 elections and demanded that the DPO not be an independent PSP officer, but a police ranker with close ties to them, said the police sources. The chief minister told them that he would make his decision once he returned from China. “They want a DPO who will do what they tell him to. They want a DPO who will ask their permission before registering a FIR, who will follow the decisions made at their deras or panchayats. They want nothing less than to run a parallel criminal justice system, which no PSP officer, at least, would find acceptable,” said a former DPO who has served in the region.
Before the general elections, one PSP DPO was humiliated by Gorchani and Mazari MPAs and forced to leave the district in the middle of the night, said the police sources. Another, who took over the post in the caretaker set up, was transferred three weeks ago by the Punjab government under pressure from new Deputy Speaker Sher Ali Gorchani, whom the DPO had kept behind bars for two days.
Law Minister Rana Sanaullah did not answer his mobile phone. The phones of DG Khan RPO Akhtar Hayat Laleka and Rajanpur DSP (Headquarters) Majeed Chishti were switched off. SP Amir Niazi, who is also involved in the operation to recapture the islands, was not available for comment.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 8th, 2013.