One DSP among hostages, another missing; operation suspended to review strategy
Ten policemen were killed and another 25 were taken hostage, leading to the suspension of the operation against the Chhotu Gang on Wednesday.
It was learnt that two boats carrying 42 policemen advanced on positions of the dacoits who fired at them. SHO Hanif Ghauri , Head Constable Ajmal, constables Tanvir, Ubaidullah alias Fahim, Amanullah, Zabihullah were killed. Four injured policemen were shifted to the Shaikh Zayed Hospital, Rahim Yar Khan, while 25 including DSP Asif Rasheed, SI Abid, Shafi Elahi were among the hostages. DSP Mujahid is reported missing.
The IGP-led Operation Zarb-e-Aahan has been suspended till the formulation of a new strategy.Rajanpur DPO Ghulam Mubashir Mekan said around 200 criminals had rendered the 30-kilometre island-like area into a no-go area. They are armed with sophisticated weapons.
On the other hand, there are reports that five dacoits were also killed in the gunfight. Fifteen others had been injured but they escaped.Given the latest developments, additional contingents of police and Rangers have been called in. The IGP has requested for two army helicopters for carrying out the operation. It was learnt that the besieged dacoits have been asked to surrender before the air strike. Besides other people, women and children havethe last time to leave the area immediately.
Ghulam Rasool alias Chhotu talked to the DG Khan RPO using a wireless set snatched from the police, and listed the names of hostages. He demanded police lift their siege, or they would kill hostages one by one.
Senior police officers, requesting anonymity, criticised the “immature move” and criticised Bahawalpur RPO Dr Ehsan Sadiq and DG Khan RPO Rehmatullah Niazi over their failure to lead the operation successfully besides dragging the IGP into the situation. A police officer privy to the development said former Rahim Yar Khan DPO Suhail Zafar Chattha, who also led a failed operation against Chotu Gang, had also asked the IGP and the Bahawalpur RPO not to launch operation against them now.
The police officers were of the view that Dr Ehsan had served in motorway and it was his first field posting, making him unsuitable to lead a huge operation. They added that Niazi was already disgruntled as he was demoted to the rank of SSP following the Supreme Court orders in out-of-turn promotions case.
Talking about the further strategy, an officer said Sukhera would call army for help besides starting negotiation with the criminals to get the hostages free. It would be a big blow to the IGP, Punjab Police and Rangers, if they had to stop the operation permanently for the fifth time.
Meanwhile, the junior police officers held IGP responsible for the killings. On the other hand, a Punjab Police spokesperson in a handout said the joint operation, which was started on April 05 in the riverine area of Rajanpur’s Rojhan tehsil against the criminal gangs and terrorists was moving ahead and would continue till achieving the targets.
On Wednesday morning, as the force moved towards the Chhotu Gang’s hideouts, the criminals started firing. The policemen retaliated, which resulted in the death of notorious deputy commander of Chhotu Gang Pehalwan alias Pallu. Several of his companions were also injured, the spokesperson claimed.
During encounter, three constables – Qazi Ubaid, Amanullah and Ajmal – were martyred, while others – Haq Nawaz, Ayaz, Saeed and Aftab received injuries. Some police officials could not be contacted due to communication issues.
A couple of days ago, a notorious ringleader of Chotu Gang Ali Gul Bazgeer and his brother ‘Pandi’ were also killed by the forces. Bazgeer was involved in 19 cases including murders, robberies and kidnappings. He was also involved in the kidnapping of DG Khan EDO (Health) Dr Mushtaq Rasool and dozens of other people in 2013. The government had fixed head money on Bazgeer, a close associate of Chhotu who had personally trained him. Efforts were made to contact the IGP but his phone was not responding, while the Punjab Police spokesperson refused to comment on the operational details.