A group of bandits holed up on islands in the kacha area of Rajanpur district shot and killed one of their police hostages on Tuesday, reducing the likelihood of a peaceful outcome to their standoff with the police.
The two sides began negotiations on Monday, two days after the bandits overran police pickets on three islands – Kacha Karachi, Kachi Jamal and Baggiani – and took nine police personnel hostage.
On Tuesday morning, the body of Ghulam Abbas, one of the policemen, was handed over by the bandits to the mediators in the dialogue. Abbas, who appears to have been the only policeman on the island to have resisted the bandits, had been surrounded behind some bushes. He was shot dead on Tuesday.
Following the attack on the pickets, police forces from Bahawalpur and DG Khan led by DG Khan RPO Akhtar Hayat Laleka and acting Rajanpur DPO Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi were sent to the area and they cordoned it off. They also picked up 24 relatives of Chotu Mazari, the leader of the bandits.
On Monday, police officials said that their first priority was the release of the hostages, in exchange for which Chotu Mazari was seeking safe passage and the release of his family members.
MPA Atif Mazari of the PML-N and dozens of other tribal elders including Ahmad Khan Khird met with the bandits on Tuesday and were handed Ghulam Abbas’s body.
Senior police officials at the scene told The Express Tribune that Atif Mazari had assured the bandits that the deal for their safe passage would not be compromised by the killing of the policeman.
The MPA, they said, had urged the police not to attack the bandits in a quest for vengeance.
However, senior police officials said that they had refused to provide any such guarantee to Atif Mazari. “They killed a policeman. Letting these dacoits move around freely now would hurt police morale,” said one of the officers.
The MPA, meanwhile, said he would approach the chief minister regarding the matter on Wednesday.
Punjab Police Inspector General Khan Baig visited the area on Tuesday and was briefed on the latest developments. He also took an aerial view of the situation in a helicopter.
The kacha area of Rajanpur was once a notorious haven for gangs of kidnappers and dacoits that was off limits to the police.
A massive police operation in 2011, coupled with some negotiations, pushed the bandits off the islands and into adjoining districts in Balochistan, Sindh and the Punjab. The police then set up 22 pickets on the islands, which were overrun by some of the returning outlaws on Saturday.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 10th, 2013.