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Wednesday February 28, 2024

De-weaponisation key to solving Sindh dacoits problem

June 04, 2021

KARACHI: Though there are scores of influentials harbouring dacoits in Sindh, but Sindh Assembly Speaker, a Sindh cabinet minister, two parliamentarians and some tribal chiefs are reportedly involved in harbouring some of the recently-declared 45 most-wanted dacoits operating from the crime infested districts of Kashmore, Ghotki, Khairpur and Sukkur with havens in the riverine areas among the thick forests, equipped with sophisticated, military grade weapons, police and security agencies confirm.

Names of several ‘Patharidars’ (harbourers) of the dacoits, who are influential in their own right either because they are political elite or tribal chieftains, are already circling in the media. Dacoits or ‘Dharials’ as they are called in Sindhi, are a pernicious problem, an evil but necessary appendage of the tribal-feudal system empowering the political elite of the country. Political harbourers use them to pressurise rivals in elections and control hundreds of acres of illegally acquired riverine areas, where the criminals hold sway. These patrons often charge protection money from these criminals too. “Most times the criminals remain under the influence of the political leadership and powerful tribal chieftains, but many times they act independently and simply refuse to release hostages," sources in police and security agencies familiar with the dynamics of the dacoit-patron relations, state. But this is one important aspect of the deep rooted and multifaceted problem.

According to sources in the police and security agencies, eight of the Jagirani criminals with recently announced head money, in district Kashmore, are allegedly patronised by Mir Ahsan Khan Sundrani. “Another bunch of most wanted criminals involved in kidnappings and being again sought by the home department belong to District Ghotki and are strongly suspected to be patronised by MPA Shahryar Shar. Senior MNA and former minister Ghous Bux Mehar, Bhayo Babal and Abid Jatoi are some others delving in the business. Besides Sindh Assembly Speaker Siraj Durrani, as revealed by former SSP Shikarpur Kamran Nawaz, is also among those harbouring the dacoits.” Shikarpur runs along the border with Balochistan is also home to sitting Sindh Minister Imtiaz Shaikh, who according to police report of Jan 2020 by SSP Shikarpur Rizwan and recent one by SSP Kamran Nawaz, harbours Sardar Tegho Khan Teghani, lording over a virulent group of Teghani dacoits.

GDA’s Information Secretary Sardar Rahim strongly rejected the police report citing Ghous Bux Mahr as a harbourer of dacoits. Rahim said "Ghous Bux Mahar is an honourable and popular politician who has been repeatedly elected by his constituents. Mahar has never been accused of harbouring criminals like other PPP's influential personalities of the area. To involve Ghous Bux Mahar as patharidar is a failed and malicious attempt to malign and tarnish Mahar's fair name.”

At the same time, PPP’s Secretary Information, and MNA Nafisa Shah termed it defamation of politicians. She outright rejected the notion of any politician's involvement either in facilitating dacoits or supporting a particular group in tribal feuds. Shah described the tribal feuds a misnomer, calling it “essentially lawlessness and police failure to control that.” She said police are duty bound to manage and control the lawlessness and bring those involved to book.

The Teghani gang, once again figured in the tragic police action of May 23, when dacoits under his influence killed four cops, causing a furore leading to the arrest of the Sardar and his sons from Karachi. The incident invited the attention of the PM, forcing the CM Sindh to undertake a day-long visit of the troubled Shikarpur district where he swiftly ordered the transfer of officers, including DIG Nasir Aftab who oversaw the botched up operation which was not his first time. To his discredit, DIG Nasir Aftab has many times sent cops into the harm's way. Acting in a knee jerk fashion, he often ignores the intelligence assessments and thrusts the force without estimating the threat perception, inflicting colossal damage of men and morale.

Some of the DPOs (SSPs) are known to have bent backwards trying to keep peace with the strong tribal chiefs harbouring criminals to keep their districts free of kidnapping and highway robberies, and in return allowing criminal hideouts where often hostages are kept. “Two of the SSPs went overboard to manage the notorious Taighani tribal leaders, and the IGP Mushtaq Mehar is known to have taken them to task, which further confirms the pattern. But the kidnappings for ransom and highway robberies is an ongoing phenomenon."

The kidnappings for ransom and highway robberies were a serious problem back in early '80s, but it grew into an alarming problem again in early '90s when the first Syed, PPP leader Naveed Qamar, was kidnapped alongside the son of Kachelo, the Mango king of Sindh and businessmen from Karachi. It was tough then and several operations including those from the army, rangers and police brought it to a manageable level, "where the nagging problem continues." The Sindh Police have managed to keep the pressure through low profile, intelligence based actions. The police records shows to have gunned down over 70 active criminals in the last three years (2018-21) in five districts of upper Sindh (Shikarpur, Khairpur, Kashmore, Larkana, Ghotki and Sukkur). Of these, 19 were killed in the last eight months alone, reducing kidnappings for ransom and the incidents of highway robbery in the last few months in repeated operations.

But, one of the most alarming trends of the riverine criminals is the availability of military grade heavy weapons smuggled from across the country that blow holes in any police action. It is a known fact now that over the years, these dacoits were equipped with rocket launchers, anti aircraft guns, heavy machine guns and even recoilless rifles, which raises more serious questions. The common availability of such expensive and sophisticated weapons is not an overnight development and establishes a long period of ignoring the weapon smuggling to a point where the police are left with only light firearms. These in the last two years have seen police literally being mowed down by the heavily armed dacoits. The most tragic one was when two DSPs besides some junior policemen were killed in the APCs almost two years ago but there have been several other police casualties too.

While DIG Nasir Aftab, Sardar Taighani and his political patrons are the immediate cause of the May tragedy, the availability of military grade weapons through smuggling channels is essentially the failure of the state. It all looks too familiar and tragic pattern when the CM Sindh suddenly woke up to the reality after the pressure mounted from the federal government, calling for deweaponisation and setting up of police camps -- at least the former is a long order. Many senior police officers believe that many of the “most-wanted dacoits” have already dispersed, gone to Balochistan or lying low after warnings from their channels of information in the police and political circles. Besides many always shift from their hideouts in the riverine areas ahead of the monsoons when the Indus floods its banks. However, that is not exactly a complex problem, because through effective intelligence, those on the run can be brought to book sooner or later, but there is a caveat. The state has to show serious commitment to the deweaponisation of these outlaws if it wants to root out the problem.