Chotu’s surrender and bigger problems | Pakistan Today

Chotu’s surrender and bigger problems

It ain’t over yet

After more than 22 days of fierce resistance, Ghulam Rasool – aka Chotu – along with his gang, surrendered unconditionally to the army. All 24 policemen who were taken hostage by Chotu gang during the operation were rescued alive.

Operation ‘Zarb-i-Ahan’, which started after Lahore blast, aimed at eliminating all sorts of terrorist and criminal elements in Southern Punjab.

Based on small islands in the riverine belt, the gang had the advantage of staying hidden from the police. Geographical location posed a big hurdle for police which lacked modern equipment to cross the river onto the island.

The seeds of Jihadism sown in 80s have grown into poisonous plants and trees, which Tohid believes, need to be severed.

Using two boats, which were rented from the locals, police lost 6 of its men in an attempt to assault the Island.

Although he belongs to a non-Baloch (Bakrani) caste, Chotu lived in Rojhan, district Rajanpur – a predominantly Baloch area. His associates included from various Baloch tribes like Sikhani, Sudwani and Lund. An insider source told me that he was not funded by any element; because his main source of revenue was kidnapping for ransom.

“His victims were not essentially from the upper class. He would target middle class, peasants or even labors,” the source added.

In 2009-2010, there were a total of 564 kidnapping for ransom cases in Rahim Yar Khan alone. Police rarely registered the cases against these incidents, warning the victims of revengeful attacks from Chotu’s gang.

DPO Sheikhupura, Sohail Zafar Chattha was appointed DPO Rajanpur in 2010. Before he could serve any blows to the gang, flood devastated the whole southern Punjab and he had to focus on the relief activities. “Chotu and his gang members integrated with flood affectees to get the aid provided by relief organizations,” he recalled.

When Javed Iqbal was appointed IG Punjab, the one-point agenda assigned to him by then CM Punjab was to clear the ‘Kutcha’ area off all sorts of criminals.

Chattha headed the operation which, cleared the area. “As DPO Rajanpur in 2010-11, I launched an operation on the direction of the CM and IG Punjab in Kutcha area i.e., Kutcha Jamal, Kutcha Moro, Kutcha Karachi, Kutcha Hyderabad (all in Rojhan Tehsil). Punjab police successfully vacated whole Kutcha area first time in the history of the Punjab,” he said.

To breach the Islands, police improvised to make temporary bullet proof ship. Named as Rajanpur Shark, the ship was equipped with 12.7 mm Anti-aircraft rifles, two LMGs, rocket launchers, grenade throwers, wireless communication system and dewatering pumping system in case the ship was hit.

After zero success to penetrate the Island through boats, Punjab police requested gunship helicopters’ support from Pakistan Army was not materialized immediately – adding to the delay.

“We established 26 police posts on these islands after conquering them one by one in three months,” Chattha added.

Police struck a deal with Chotu in 2013 to free 12 hostages, including 8 policemen from the gang. In return, Chotu demanded release his brother and two other people from the Bahawalpur jail. He further demanded removal of police pickets, which were established after successful police operation back in 2011.

Those 3 criminals, which police freed later committed 13 murders of police officials from Muzaffargarh, Rajanpur and Rahim Yar Khan. With pickets removed, Chotu returned to the Kutcha area last year to establish his influence once again.

In ‘Zarb-i-Ahan’, lessons from the past were not learnt as the operation was launched in the haste, without any adequate planning. While inefficiency of some police officials cannot be ruled out, the main reason for their lack of progress was necessary equipment.

After zero success to penetrate the Island through boats, Punjab police requested gunship helicopters’ support from Pakistan Army was not materialized immediately – adding to the delay.

It was until Army took over the operation that aerial support was provided. “The army pounded the gang’s sanctuaries through aerial bombing till late Monday night and the gangsters responded with equal vigour,” Pakistan Today reported.

This operation, however, was the one against hardcore criminal elements present in Punjab. The real challenge many believe, is yet to come – the terrorist networks which have infiltrated the area for years.

The Jihadi culture, which flourished in 80s and continued unchecked in 90s, is rooted deep in the Punjab. During Cold War era, when Pakistan’s Islamists fought to defeat Communism in Afghanistan along with translational terrorists, Punjab offered human resource in huge numbers. With the initiation of Kashmir Jihad, Punjab became the hotbed of terrorists’ activities as Jihadism became a household name.

“Now there are headquarters of JeM, LeT, Sipah and its militant wing LeJ, sleeper cells of Al Qaeda, Taliban, Ideological support for Daesh – all in Punjab,” says prominent journalist and analyst Owais Tohid.

The seeds of Jihadism sown in 80s have grown into poisonous plants and trees, which Tohid believes, need to be severed.  “PML (N) leadership needs to realize if it doesn’t act now then it will be too late. It should not let political compulsions, if there are any, of losing vote bank in Punjab, eclipse the ongoing fight against terrorism and extremism,” he further added.

The recent operation in Rajanpur has revealed several deficiencies, which include lack of operational training and planning. However, in the ongoing war against terrorism, it can be used as an asset, rather than using them as a political tool – which has become its stereotypical image.

“No war can be won without human intelligence and policemen are the best weapon available on ground,” Tohid asserts.

With a long war ahead, it is expected of government quarters to provide better resources and training to the police force to prepare them for the brewing storm.

Umer Ali

The writer is a journalist based in Islamabad. He focuses on human rights issues, social problems, and more. He can be reached at: [email protected], and on Twitter at: @iamumer1.



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