LAHORE - The provincial police were not in a position to singlehandedly launch a large-scale security operation against the Chotu gang in the tough terrain.

Several retired and in-service police officers state 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.

The officers who spoke to The Nation on the condition of anonymity said that over two dozen policemen were held hostage by criminals since “there was no back up, aerial support or reinforcement”.

“Military forces are always well-equipped as compared to the civil law-enforcement agencies. The ground assault should never been launched without proper reinforcement plan,” a police officer told The Nation.

He said that, “The authorities should have built a bridge to reach the river island instead of launching the operation on fiber-glass boats”.

A former police officer said that sending police force without backup to fight in a tough terrain means leaving these officers at the mercy of dacoits. “And this happened in the Chotu case. If one evaluates the operation strategy, he will find many flaws in it. The operation was planned properly but some decisions taken on the ground further complicated the situation,” another officer said.

The provincial police failed to catch gang leaders sans Pakistan Army support in the river island although hundreds of cops were given six week-long special training before launching the ground assault against the Chotu gang.

Around 40 policemen in two 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.

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.

It’s the fifth attempt in the last 10 years by the provincial police to clear the river island of criminals where Chotu gang was entrenched. The military-led operation is still underway there. All the previous police operations were also launched in the wheat harvesting season and they all failed. A police officer said that the police failed in all previous operations against the gang leaders because they used to flee in bordering districts before the launch of any operation. “This time the police did a good job. They cordoned off the river island from all sides and the gang leaders had no choice to flee”.

Also, the police set up dozens of pickets in the region to restrict the movement of criminals before the arrival of military troops.During background interviews some seasoned police officers blamed transfer-posting policy, corruption, and mismanagement as key reasons behind the police failures.

Early this year, the provincial Police Department demoted as many as 3,700 junior officers in the light of the verdict of the country’s top court. But a good number of such police officers are still occupying important postings. This selective implementation of the court verdict triggered uncertainty and rift among thousands of officers of the largest law-enforcement agency. The move came after the Supreme Court of Pakistan declared “out of turn” promotions as illegal.

Also, many corruption-tainted and incompetent police officers are enjoying important postings in the police department. For instance, SSP Dr Abid and SSP Sarfraz Virk who were declared as responsible for the terror attack on Sri Lankan cricket team by the Judicial Commission are working as DPO Sialkot and Sheikhupura. In February, at least 19 powerful police officers were demoted to the rank of SP, DSP, and Inspector.

DG Khan Regional Police Officer Rehmatullah Khan Niazi who was leading the police operation in Rajanpur district is also among hundreds of demoted officers.

Similarly, demoted police of the rank of DSP are posted as District Police Officers in Gujrat, Mandi Bahauddin, Khushab district and SP CIA in Lahore.

According to Punjab Inspector General of Police, the joint operation had been started with the collaboration of other law-enforcement agencies.

He said that before launching the operation the police force had been properly trained. “At least 50,000 rounds were fired and mortars shells and other equipments were also demonstrated during the training. Two Colonel-rank officers of SSG were also taken on board”.

Mushtaq Ahmed Sukhera had insisted that the operation was launched with a proper strategy and the force was also provided bullet proof jackets, helmets and five magazines of rounds along with all essential gadgets and ammunition.

Meanwhile, police sources revealed that Ghulam Rasool alias Chotu surrendered and laid down arms before the security forces after his son and daughter-in-law were captured from a district of the upper Punjab. The son of Chotu is said to be a college student near Murree.