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Dealing with the Dacoits

Time to get tough on the riverine gangsters of Sindh and their political patrons

A sizable chunk of Pakistan’s landmass is under the dark shadows of dacoit’s rule. Yes, this is no exaggeration. It is a fact of our national life, and a hovering threat to security and development of millions of people in the dilapidated Northern Sindh bordering Southern Punjab, and parts of the adjoining province of Balochistan. This region is at a tipping point—increasingly threatened by crime, tribal feuds, extremism, political corruption, and last but not least, separatist and parochial tendencies.

This area prominently known as ‘Kutcha’ has been a breeding ground for unscrupulous elements for long. It is a perfect hideout, deep in the thick jungles of oasis-cum-desert and the tricky hilly ranges. The swirling River Indus bifurcates the downstream province into two flanks of muddy bastions, which serve as the refuge for men in oblivion. But the surprising point is that this nuisance is well-guarded and patronized by the feudal, influential and administration officials – who go on to raise and mushroom a militant wing at their beck and call, on the premise of Serfs in early European history.

These dacoits do all they are asked to do by their ‘masters’, and cease their activities when required. This is power politics at its best, at the cost of innocent and hapless people, who merely serve as a fodder. It is an attempt to control the political and economic resources of the ill-fated area. All this goes unchecked as landlords, who incidentally are duly elected parliamentarians to the august houses, flex their political muscles – and get away with the trauma and terror right under the blind-folded idol of law and justice.

This could have been conveniently done away with a stroke of the pen, had feudalism been abolished right after the Independence. Bangladesh did it. But we played to the gallery in the form of so-called Land Reforms, and institutionalised a political land-wielding class that will go on for ages to control the ballot, and usurp the rights of the people. It’s all about ‘revenge’ in the name of ‘pseudo-democracy.’

To recall a leaf from history, when it came under the purview of land reforms during the era of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, this Kutcha belt became a tool of nepotism. It was highly-contested for political power, too. To stall land from being taken over by the State, it was doled out to ‘favourites’ and ‘cronies’, who in lieu promised to stuff the ballot box with votes from the subjects of Lesser God in their domain.

Thus ‘democracy’ and ‘vote’ is a tool through which the poor farmers, fishermen and downtrodden are exploited and the feudal wins his way to become an aristocrat on the premise of dacoits’ plague. The booty that comes from the dacoits, and subsequent terrorism, go hand in hand as power reaches its zenith in the form of electorates. The State looks back in a ‘state of shock.’

What has been the toll to this day, and how come? Known as the Golden Belt, billions are minted in an undocumented economy by feudal-politicians and their undercover gangsters’ hand-in-glove with the police. Though not all are abettors in this crime-track, power corrupts, and easy money makes it more miserable to take a moral stance.

The outcome is gunrunning, arson, abductions for ransom, extortion, target-killing, vehicle snatching, loot and plunder. These impugned acts are carried out anywhere, as far as Karachi and Islamabad; and the ‘subject’ conveniently moved to the thick and thin of Kutcha! Then on it is a tale of connivance and submission, which carries a price tag. These days yet another operation is underway in Kutcha, especially in areas adjoining Kashmore, Sukkur and Shikharpur.

This time the operation is against the notorious Ladi gang. According to reports, police have set ablaze hundreds of suspicious hideouts in an attempt to ward off dacoits, as they move in to mop the area. The gangsters had in the last few weeks killed a number of policemen on duty in the area, and resorted to excessive force resulting in the killing of a photographer, too. It is no less than a theatre of war with the non-state actors in a duel with the State of Pakistan.

This is neither the first of its kind operation by the lethargic provincial and federal authorities, nor will be the last one. Several such unfruitful expeditions were conducted in the past, including the military-led Operation Blue Fox from 1992-94. Yet, the gangsters thrived on. The reason for their mushrooming is political patronage, wherein the state takes a backseat for reasons of exigency.

This is why the Sindh High Court in an observation, on the ongoing operation, questioned the “rationale and strategy” behind the move to crush the gangsters with an “uneven” might! The criminals are well-armed and possess sophisticated weapons, including armoured vehicles. The police often are found as sitting ducks, and fall prey.

Both flanks of River Indus are muddy and dozens of metres high. They were erected to save the agrarian lands as the magnanimous River Indus water thrusts into the southern province of Sindh, before submerging into the Arabian Ocean. This phenomenon of water flow and high altitude presence is noticed from May to September, as glaciers melt in the north and the seasonal monsoon strikes the subcontinent usually by mid-July.

The stretch between the Kutcha muddy walls extends from two to twenty kilometres, as the river swings down the south. It leaves behind a fertile territory with lots of dividends, plus freshwater fish catch. This cash-flow to the tune of billions of rupees is pocketed by the landlords and the influential in collaboration with dacoits, who work as their mercenary watchdogs. Moreover, these conscripted men commit crime at impunity.

They abduct the big and the powerful, snatch cars and motorcycles, and even loaded trucks of goods vanish in these jungles of Kutcha. All this goes on under the watchful eyes of hefty power-wielding politicians and the district administration ‘Babus’! Siblings and children of senior officials and judges too were abducted and taken for ransom to these hideouts from 1985 onwards. Thus from 1984 to 1994, it was the decade of dacoits in northern Sindh and southern Punjab, along with the territorial peripheries of Balochistan adjoining Sindh. It was – and is – Black Raj, to say the least.

There are accounts of this issue being raised in Apex Committees of Sindh when the Army and Rangers were calling the shots. But to the surprise, it was mostly brushed under the carpet – by the civilian faces on the committee, for reasons of political exigency. The outcome was the rise of Chotu Gang in Southern Punjab, against whom another half-hearted operation was conducted in 2016. The remnants, however, live on.

This landscape has a well-entrenched political mosaic. It is a silent vote grabber zone, without much ado. Conventional voting trend continues with the landlords calling the shots, and the poor peasants obliging to the whims and wishes of their master. It is irrelevant for the voter as to who is the candidate for the assembly, and what it means for them. All he/she has to do is to submit on the day of the ballot.

Perhaps this is why Federal Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, after his emergent visit to Karachi to take stock of the surging dacoits’ nuisance in Kutcha, came back with a dropped jaw! Political and tribal considerations acted as an impediment in tackling the menace head-on. He was surely disappointed.

The ‘no go areas’ are ‘political’ in essence. Though the veteran promised big fire power and muscles to ‘take out the dacoits’, along with Drone surveillance; he was not quite sure of it. Wheeling-dealing in Southern Punjab – where the ruling PTI has stakes, callous approach of ‘Shah Sarkar’, and a wayward response from the disjointed coalition in Balochistan makes a meaningful ‘operation’ a far cry. But there should be a full stop somewhere. This gangster Raj cannot go on in an age of 5G.

The nexus between criminals and tribal chieftains is quite toiling. It’s high time to concentrate on capacity building of law-enforcement agencies, especially the police. This incredible new force should have no political strings attached. Dacoits and their patrons are an incredible threat to the civic peace of the society.

All it needs is a grand cleansing operation on the lines of Zarb-e-Azb against these riverine gangs. It goes without saying that it is terrorism under political garb. Save the State by unmasking the abettors!

Note: This article appeared in TTI Magazine.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are of the author and do not necessarily represent Institute’s policy.

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