UNCERTAINTY surrounds the fate of eight of the nine policemen kidnapped by the notorious Chhotu Mazari gang from two checkposts in the floodplains (katcha) of the Indus near Rajanpur on Sunday. One policeman has already died of his injuries in the custody of kidnappers who have now fled their hideout on a river island together with the hostages. The kidnappers also have with them three civilians kidnapped from Rahimyar Khan. The gangsters, who are said to be linked to the banned Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, had kidnapped the policemen to use them as a bargaining chip for the release of three arrested gang members and the annulment of criminal cases against them. Police were negotiating the freedom of their men with the kidnappers through a provincial PML-N legislator from the area ever since the incident took place. But the talks broke off when the authorities refused to free one of the arrested men.
Police say they preferred negotiations over use of force against the criminals to ensure the hostages’ safe return. ‘Lack of easy access’ to the hideout was another reason that prevented them from carrying out the operation to free their colleagues. The failure to secure the release of their kidnapped colleagues will strongly hurt the morale of the policemen working in the area in difficult conditions and without enough resources. In the meanwhile, the incident has brought public focus back on the lawlessness prevalent in the katcha areas along the Indus in south Punjab and the close links between criminals and banned militant groups. Police have tried to clear the area of criminals a few times previously but such gangs re-emerge after some time. The authorities should take firm action to purge the area of criminal gangs in order to provide security to the people.