Dangerous gangs

Published June 3, 2021

THE tribal belt of south Punjab is virtually ruled by well-armed, violent gangs of criminals who operate with impunity from their riverine hideouts in katcha areas along the provincial border with Sindh and Balochistan. These gangs, small or big, are involved in all kinds of crimes ranging from robberies to smuggling to kidnapping for ransom to murders. They are patronised and protected by the local tribal chiefs. This problem of south Punjab makes it to the headlines every few years as no effort to get rid of the criminals has succeeded despite countless police actions and the loss of scores of lives. Another operation has been underway for the last few days against the notorious Ladi gang. It was launched after a video showing the brutal murder of two tribesmen, who were said to be police informers, went viral on social media. Though the police claim to have destroyed a few of the gang’s hideouts and arrested some members, most of them, including their ringleader, are said to have fled to the mountainous region of bordering Balochistan.

Why has no action against the riverine gangs succeeded? There are multiple reasons for that. For starters, the tribal status of the region is a big factor hampering the extension of the Punjab police’s writ to the areas where such gangs thrive. The Border Military Police are not trained or equipped to deal with them. Support and protection provided by the tribal chiefs to them is yet another reason. More importantly, the gangs are better armed with more sophisticated weapons than what the police have and know the escape routes. The government had to call in the army to quash the infamous Chotu gang and force its ringleaders to yield after weeks of gunfight and several deaths in 2016. A permanent solution to this decades-long problem can’t be found without breaking the nexus between criminals and the tribal leadership as well as changing the legal status of the tribal areas to bring them under the jurisdiction of the provincial police.

Published in Dawn, June 3rd, 2021

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