Constable martyred, three colleagues hurt as gang attacks police van amid ‘massive operation’ in Sindh's katcha areas

Published June 16, 2021
Senior police officers and personnel salute martyred constable Sajjad Khaskheli at his funeral. — PPI
Senior police officers and personnel salute martyred constable Sajjad Khaskheli at his funeral. — PPI

SUKKUR: Despite immense pressure of what is being termed a “massive operation launched by suitably equipped police force under a wisely devised strategy” in the katcha areas of three upper Sindh districts, a gang of criminals inflicted casualties on a police party by ambushing their mobile van, this time in the Sindh Dhoro locality of Ghouspur town in Kandhkot-Kashmore district.

One police constable was martyred and three others were seriously wounded in the attack carried out while the van was on a routine patrol along Indus Highway on Monday, the Ghouspur police said.

They said the attackers were hiding in thick woods along the highway and disappeared into the katcha area “after an encounter that ensued”.

They said that the police party got out of the vehicle, after it came under indiscriminate fire, and took positions to counter the attack. The encounter lasted about one hour during which constable Sajjad Khaskheli, a resident of Khairpur, was martyred and his three colleagues, Nazeer Ahmed Naseerani, Sikandar Ali Soomro and Mohammad Aslam Shar, sustained bullet wounds, they added.

Kandhkot-Kashmore SSP Amjad Shaikh, along with a police force, rushed to the scene. The area was cordoned off and a hunt for the gangsters was launched.

The body of constable Khaskheli was taken to the Kandhkot Civil Hospital, where the wounded policemen were provided emergency medical assistant before they were shifted to civil hospitals in Larkana and Sukkur for proper treatment.

Later, Khaskheli’s funeral was held at Kandhkot police headquarters. RPO Dr Kamran Fazal, Larkana DIG Mazhar Nawaz Shaikh, SSP Amjad Shaikh, Rangers Wing Commander Rai Jawed Asghar and a number of Rangers and police personnel attended the funeral.

Speaking to local reporters RPO Dr Fazal said that a ‘targeted action’ against gangsters in the area was under way. He pointed out that a massive police operation was already under way in the katcha areas of Kandhkot-Kashmore and Shikarpur with the coordination of Jacobabad district police.

The operation had been launched several weeks ago and was prompted by an attack by another gang on an armoured personnel carrier (APC) with a rocket in the Garhi Tegho area of Shikarpur district on May 23. Two policemen, a private guard of an SHO and a private photographer working with police were killed and six policemen were wounded in the attack. Police somehow managed to collect the bodies and get custody of the wounded personnel from the outlaws.

The attack posed a serious challenge to the police and Sindh government, especially after a video showing gangsters climbing up the APC and waving sophisticated weapons went viral on the social media.

In an initial reaction, the police department complained that its personnel had to use substandard APCs, whose body could not withstand bullets of heavy guns. Secondly, the weapons available to police were inferior as against those possessed by gangsters, it said, pointing out that the gangsters appeared equipped with anti-aircraft guns and rockets, besides other sophisticated weapons.

Following Monday’s attack on police mobile van, the RPO (additional IG of Sukkur region) Dr Fazal said that APCs made of stronger double-gauge iron sheets had now been employed to ensure protection of police personnel.

The May 23 attack had also attracted the attention of federal authorities as several federal ministers, besides Sindh Minister for Mines and Minerals Mir Shabbir Bijarani, who hails from Kandhkot-Kashmore district, talked of army to be invited to assist the police in the anti-gangs’ operation in the katcha areas. It was noted with serious concern that the gangs having set up an unspecified number of hideouts within the katcha areas had long been kidnapping people for ransom and negotiating deals with their relatives under the patronage of influential feudal lords. The hostages used to be kept in the hideouts until receipt of ransom money and some of them are killed if ransom demand is not met.

However, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah appeared not ready to give any role to the army in the police operation until failure of the provincial police force.

RPO Fazal says police were fully capable to meet the challenge but army’s help could be sought “if, at all, required”.

There are no authentic figures as to how many people are in custody of the gangsters at the moment. It was earlier estimated that they have been holding 30 persons hostage. Some reports suggest that many of them were released on payment of ransom and at least eight more are in the custody of different gangs.

Larkana DIG sure of success

Newly posted DIG of Larkana police range Mazhar Nawaz Shaikh has dispelled the impression that the operation in the katcha areas is failing. “Neither it has weakened, nor been stopped or suspended,” he said while speaking to this reporter.

“Considering nature of the areas — thick woods infested with heavily armed gangs — we have devised a strategy to pre-empt armed men after completely surrounding the vast territory while cordoning off the entry/exit points,” he said, adding that under this strategy police had succeeded in overrunning a number of hideouts, which were destroyed with the help of APCs or torched to dismantle them in Shikarpur district.

“Our priority is safe recovery of hostages without risking casualties on police,” he said.

According to him, the operation in Shikarpur and Kandhkot-Kashmore districts is being carried out in an organised and planned manner to ensure success.

Permanent police posts are being set up in the ‘retrieved’ areas. More areas deep inside the katcha land will continue to fall to the police in the days to come.

DIG Shaikh said that the strategy has been chalked out with the aim of establishing and consolidating police posts deep inside the katcha area; ensuring permanent and strong police signature by elimination of ‘no-go’ areas; clearing the katcha areas of criminal elements; ensuring motorable access routes; destroying all hideouts of outlaws and ensuring that no kidnapping and highway robbery takes place during the operation and afterwards.

Law and order in the katcha areas of upper Sindh has never been considered as ideal although three IGs have put in their best efforts to restore peace there over the last three years. Rather, the situation has been worsening with the passage of time and police suffered casualties whenever they tried to enter the ‘no-go’ area to get hostages freed.

Tribal feuds also take their toll in armed attacks and counterattacks over different issues like land dispute, honour, theft, trespassing etc which invariably cause long-term hostilities, bloodshed and material losses.

Published in Dawn, June 16th, 2021

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