THE cold-blooded murder of nine people by members of the notorious Indhar gang in Sadiqabad near Punjab’s border with Sindh for giving the police information about them is a blunt reminder of the growing lawlessness in the area. The brutal act wasn’t the first incident of its kind. Months ago, the bandits operating in the tribal area of D.G. Khan had assassinated two tribesmen for the same reason. Punjab’s districts bordering Balochistan and Sindh have long been infested with well-armed criminal gangs involved in highway robberies, kidnapping for ransom, rape, and killing for money. They continue to operate from their tribal or riverine hideouts in the katcha area along the Indus with impunity despite multiple police actions against them in recent years. They enjoy close links with gangs in the adjoining districts of Sindh. In most cases, the crimes they commit aren’t reported to either the police or media, unless loss of lives or acts of extreme violence are involved.

There are several reasons — including poverty and unemployment — behind the increasing number of such gangs in that area. But political patronage and protection given by local tribal chiefs to the criminals is a key factor behind the failure of action to curb lawlessness. The recent proposal by the Punjab police to extend their operational writ across the tribal areas of south Punjab was strongly opposed by the local chieftains because it dilutes their authority and ability to protect the criminals. Likewise, nothing has been done to provide the police with the equipment and weapons needed to take action against the criminals hiding in the katcha area. In 2016, the army had to be called in to crush the dreaded Chotu gang. The lasting solution to lawlessness in south Punjab lies in breaking the nexus between local tribal leaders and criminals, changing the status of the tribal areas and equipping the police with modern weapons and equipment for successful operations. Punjab and Sindh need to cooperate to permanently weed them out.

Published in Dawn, October 12th, 2021

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