LAHORE: The provincial police have declared victory in the Ranjanpur’s river island, three months after the largest security operation was launched against criminal gangs.

The gang leader, Ghulam Rasool Chotu, who killed six elite police officers in the first phase of the operation has not been handed over to the police investigators yet.

Chotu along with his 14 accomplices had laid down arms and surrendered before the Pakistan Army as security forces geared up the major offensive against the gangsters in the tough terrain in April. He had courted his arrest to the Pak Army fearing that he might be killed in a staged shooting by the police.

Punjab inspector general of police Mushtaq Ahmed Sukhera on Friday claimed victory against criminals in the Katcha Area of Rajanpur district. The police chief was presiding over a meeting at the central police office. Bahawalpur’s regional and district police officers attended the meeting through video link.

According to a police spokesperson, the whole area particularly the Katcha area has been cleared and secured on “permanent grounds” for the local residents by eliminating all no-go areas. At least 77 members of five notorious gangs were arrested and the police seized heavy weapons and ammunition from them.

“The Katcha area has been cleared and secured because of successful police operation. The area had become a safe haven for criminals for the last three decades and was a no-go area for the local residents due to their brutalities and atrocities,” the spokesperson quoted the police chief as saying. The criminals used to kidnap hundreds of people for ransom every year. The incidents of murder, robbery, and crop and cattle theft were also quite common in this area, the spokeswoman said.

Sukhera on Friday paid rich tributes to the officers who took part in the operation and announced commendatory certificates and other prizes for them. “Punjab policemen (who took part in the operation) not only boosted up the morale of the force but also got success in achieving the trust and confidence of the people by eliminating these hardcore criminals in the Katcha area,” the IGP said.

The provincial police chief also directed the officers to fully utilize the expertise of Riverine police force in the Katcha area.

According to the central police office, the operation against criminal gangs in the South Punjab has successfully been completed within a period of three months. “In this regard, the departmental report has been compiled.  According to the report, at least 600 police officials including 12 teams of Elite Force participated in this operation which started in April, 2016.”

During the operation, the Punjab police also got the assistance of two adjacent districts Kashmor and Ghotki of the Sindh province. Heavy ammunition and weapon was used by the police during the operation including G-3, SMH, RPG7, HMG, LMG, sniper-guns, and APCs. The weapons and ammunition recovered from these gangs are included anti-craft guns, Kalashnikovs, guns, rifles, pistols, repeaters and others weapons.

Earlier, Rahim Yar Khan District police officer Zeeshan Asgher briefed the IGP about the operation. He told the police chief that the domain of police stations including Machka, Fatehpur, Dolatpur, Mureedabad, Chak Bhara, Thul Kundair and police station Bhong, Kot Sabzal and Ahmadpur Lamma of Tehsil Sadiqabad had become safe places and hideouts for the criminal.

According to him, many people had been killed during clashes between Kosh and Chachar tribes from 1987 to 1988. He said that the people of these tribes used to regard the criminals and proclaimed offenders as their heroes by providing them shelters as they used to generate cash for them.

Zeeshan Asgher further said that police were investigating 77 proclaimed offenders who belonged to Bagga Kosh, Kathoor Ghafoor Kosh, Malawa Jhanga Kosh, Shairbaaz alias Borra Machi and of Jorani gangs.

According to police sources, gang leader Chotu has not been handed over to the police investigator yet.

The Punjab police last year killed more than 460 gangsters, mostly in staged encounters. As a matter of prestige or policy, the criminals arrested in connection with the killings of policemen are eliminated in police shooting across the province. But cops are yet to get Chotu.

Legal experts state that the interrogation and prosecution of criminals is purely the job of the local law-enforcement agencies. In case, the military forces wanted to interrogate any accused or suspect, they are bound to obtain remand of the suspect from the local courts. Gang leader Chotu and his accomplices, said to be in the custody of Army, have not been produced before any court of law so far

Around 40 policemen in four fiber-glass boats raided the positions of Chotu gang but it turned out to be a disaster as the criminals killed six policemen and captured over two dozen. The clash also left seven gangsters dead.

Several retired and in-service police officers said that they believe the decision to launch the ground assault, without aerial back up, against the heavily-armed criminal gangs in the far-flung river island “proved disastrous”.

Police forces, however, successfully encircled Chotu gang in the Kacha area of Rajanpur district as Pakistan Army commandoes were called in the area to rescue police hostages and to fight against hardened criminals hiding there.

Over 2000 Army and paramilitary troops were sent to the river island to lead the largest security operation. Initially, some 1600 policemen were deployed in the Kacha area to launch the operation, codenamed as Operation Zarb-e-Ahan.