KARACHI, May 4: In a surprise move, the law-enforcement agencies without achieving the targets the police chief had announced just a day ago pulled out on Friday evening from the strife-hit areas of Lyari, suspending the operation for the next 48 hours.

While both sides suffered casualties during the weeklong gunbattles between the law enforcers and ‘gangsters’ allegedly belonging to the defunct People’s Amn Committee, residents remained without access to basic amenities.

The operation conducted by police and the Frontier Constabulary under the supervision of CID SP Aslam Khan left at least 36 people, including five police officials, dead and over 150 others wounded during the past week.

The announcement for the suspension of the operation was made by Sindh IG Mushtaq Shah and later by the interior minister after several officers had expressed their reservations over the crackdown during a meeting held at the central police office.

Since the launch of the crackdown last Friday, it was the first time that guns fell silent after sunset. The exchange of gunfire had died down during the day, but some localities remained reverberated with intermittent gunfire.

Although the only objective the police chief reiterated during his three press conferences was to get the area cleared from gangsters, the operation was so haphazardly conducted that the law enforcers remained unable to push the gangsters out. The gangsters put up stiff resistance and apparently did not even attempt to flee.

On Friday night, Interior Minister Rehman Malik formally announced the withdrawal of police from Lyari and the suspension of the operation for 48 hours, with yet another warning to gangsters to surrender.

Uzair Jan Baloch, one of the Amn Committee leaders wanted by police, had earlier told the media that he could surrender himself to the Rangers or the Punjab government on the assurance that he would not be killed after being captured. But he retracted the offer on Friday, explaining that his supporters had insisted that he should not surrender at any cost.

During the weeklong operation, the police were not able to advance much from their base camp at Cheel Chowk.

According to rough estimates, over 100,000 rounds of ammunition were fired during the crackdown, yet the police could not capture even a single known gangster. Instead the police suffered a major loss when the Civil Lines station house officer was killed in a gun attack on his armoured personnel carrier in Afshani Gali. Some policemen had also sustained bullet wounds in the incident.

Four other police officials were killed in rocket, grenade and gun attacks during the operation.

While police claimed to have killed many gangsters during the crackdown, they were not able to show their bodies to the media. The bodies of two youngsters they let journalists see were not gangsters, according to their families. “They had been picked up before being killed in a fake encounter.”

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