WHILE the banditry problem in Sindh, especially the province’s northern half, is indeed better than the chaotic situation that prevailed in the 1980s and part of the ’90s, it is still by no means ideal. The issue was highlighted recently when a famous Sindhi singer and his troupe were captured by dacoits in Shikarpur district, apparently for not bringing along female dancers to a performance. The singer and his band were set free on Thursday night, but only after family members of the suspects were held in ‘tit-for-tat’ detentions by the police. This reflects a classical colonial approach to law enforcement, reminiscent of the Frontier Crimes Regulation, and is out of place in the 21st century. Moreover, the police were clearly outgunned; an area DSP tragically lost his life when he stepped out of a police APC and was attacked by an anti-aircraft gun used by the criminals during the operation to free the entertainers.
This pathetic situation in upper Sindh exposes the tall claims of the provincial government that ‘all is well’ in the province. While Karachi suffers from unabated street crime, the northern districts of the province — Shikarpur, Ghotki etc — have been left to the mercy of dacoits, who take advantage of the riverine area, known as kutcha in local parlance, to hide from the law. The lawlessness in upper Sindh has also echoed in the provincial assembly, with the opposition criticising the government’s lackadaisical approach to crime-fighting. While the terrain may indeed be difficult, this is no excuse for the state to let dacoits operate at will in the districts concerned. The police need to be given training and equipment to take on the criminals, while an operation is required to seize the heavy weaponry the dacoits possess. If ungoverned spaces are left for criminals to exploit, security in Sindh will remain a pipe dream. The provincial administration must take the threat of such criminals seriously and establish the writ of the state in upper Sindh’s kutcha areas.
Published in Dawn, August 24th, 2019