In their efforts to combat the growing problem of organised crime in the country's rural areas, Pakistani law enforcement agencies have intensified their crackdown on dacoit groups operating in the riverine area on the borders of Punjab and Sindh provinces.
Dacoits -- bandits who have operated in some parts of rural Pakistan throughout its history -- tend to be based along a deeply forested stretch of the Indus river locally called Katcha in the remote districts of Rahimyar Khan and Rajanpur districts in Punjab province and Shikarpur, Jacobabad, Kashmore and Ghotki districts in Sindh province.
Punjab police, in its crackdown launched in early April, has claimed significant successes by arresting and killing dozens of robbers and recovering heavy weaponry, including firearms and hand grenades, from their possession.
On May 3, Punjab police said that several members of the Imrani and Qaisarani gangs, who were wanted for serious crimes, had surrendered after laying down weapons, the department's handout said.
It said that police destroyed the hideout of a key dacoit, Qabil Sikhani, and had recovered weapons from it.
On May 2, Punjab police said that it had arrested several dacoits belonging to the Sabzal Lathani gang in the ongoing crackdown.
On April 27, Punjab provincial police chief Dr. Usman Anwar informed Caretaker Punjab Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi in a meeting that police were clearing about 51,000 acres of land of the dacoits' influence in the Katcha area, Express Tribune reported April 28.
"The police force is using modern technology and armoured personnel carriers (APCs) in the crackdown and establishing police camps after clearing thousands of acres from the dacoits," said Nayab Haider, the provincial police spokesperson.
The police's crackdown involves increased police presence and better co-ordination among law enforcement agencies, particularly involving the Punjab Counter Terrorism Department (CTD), to target known dacoit gangs, he said.
Police rescued several individuals, including children, who were kidnapped for ransom, from the dacoits, said Haider.
The Sindh government is devising its own strategy to tackle dacoit groups in the province's Katcha area.
Sindh police chief Ghulam Nabi Memon said that his department was working on a proposal with complete government support to raise a 5,000-strong "Katcha police force" dedicated to fighting dacoits in its riverine area, Dawn reported May 2.
He asked the media not to glorify dacoits' deeds, which can demoralise the police.
Nexus with TTP
In the crackdown, the police have found a nexus between dacoit gangs and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an outlawed terror group.
On April 18, the Punjab CTD killed two TTP militants in Rajanpur during its crackdown on the dacoit groups.
Punjab provincial police chief Anwar told the media on April 21 that dacoits in the Katcha area are collaborating with the TTP to disrupt peace.
"Dacoits in these areas operate in the form of gangs, target businesses and travellers, and kidnap them for ransom," said Shoaib Ahmed, a social activist in Rajanpur district.
Because of the remoteness and inaccessibility of the Katcha area, the riverine forests and islands served for years as a safe haven for dacoits, said Ahmed.