The government has agreed to release three members of the Lashjar-i-Jhangvi in exchange for eight policemen held hostage by a gang led by notorious bandit Chotu Mazari and the handover is expected to take place on Monday night, The Express Tribune has learnt.
On Sunday night, the bandits released three civilians kidnapped months earlier for a reduced ransom of Rs2 million, after talks between MPA Sardar Atif Mazari – representing the government – and Ataullah, aka Patt Umrani, an ally of Chotu Mazari.
The gang of some 50 to 60 bandits had taken the police hostages a week ago when they stormed pickets on islands in the riverine region in Rajanpur. Earlier negotiations with Chotu Mazari for the release of the hostages had failed because the police had refused to give up all three LJ men arrested a few months ago. The bandits then fled the area with the eight police and three civilian hostages in tow.
Sources told The Express Tribune that Chotu Mazari had handed over the 11 hostages to Umrani and asked him to negotiate on his behalf. After negotiations with the MPA on Sunday night, Dr Wazir Khan, his 18-year-old son Shahzeb Khan, and a dispenser – all of them from Rahim Yar Khan – had been released in exchange for Rs2 million.
Chotu Mazari had earlier demanded a ransom of Rs10 million. The hostages had been kept in the tribal area of DG Khan and in Rakni, Barkhan district, Balochistan province.
Tahir Khan, the doctor’s son, said he did not want to comment on how the release had been arranged, but added that he and the rest of the family were very pleased to see his father and brother again.
Atif Mazari told The Express Tribune that he would ask the police to give the family a vehicle belonging to Chotu Mazari as compensation. The vehicle had been confiscated by the police a few months ago. Regional Police Officer Umar Akhtar Hayat Laleka said Dr Wazir Khan had been recovered from one of the islands in the Rajanpur kacha area. He said that the police had cordoned off an area of 50 square kilometres from Rojhan to Kashmore and Chotu Mazari was on the run.
According to sources privy to the negotiations, Atif Mazari and Umrani are to hold talks on Monday night for the release of the police hostages in exchange for Chotu Mazari’s companions.
The sources said that the three LJ men had been released by the Basti Malok SHO into the custody of RY Khan District Police Officer Sohail Zafar Chattha, who in turn had handed the men over to Atif Mazari. They said that Mazari and Umrani were expected to finalise an exchange deal on Monday night. The bandits had sought a similar deal a week ago, but the negotiations were thwarted when the police declined.
Atif Mazari said that Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif had directed him to facilitate negotiations between the bandits and the police. He said he was confident that the eight police hostages would be recovered.
According to police sources, Chotu Mazari is a member of Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and has also donated money to Jaish-i-Muhammad. He had received training in Afghanistan. His three allies are also active LJ members, they said.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 16th, 2013.