Decisive action likely as Chhotu gang given deadline to surrender

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Security personnel had given heavily armed gangsters on an island hideout in Rajanpur until Sunday night to release the abducted policemen and surrender, or ‘be wiped out’.

The army on Friday evening took control of the operation to dislodge the Chhotu gang holding hostages on the island hideout in Rajanpur. The security operation involving more than 2,600 security forces is now in its 20th day, with soldiers deployed to flush gangsters from the 10 kms long island in the centre of the Indus River.

Speaking at a press conference in Rahim Yar Khan, IG Punjab Mushtaq Sukhera said they faced defeat in the first phase of the operation, and expressed his regret and grief over loss of policemen’s lives. He said police were not playing a frontline role in the operation anymore as Pakistan Army troops are in charge now.

He said over 100 facilitators of the Chhotu gang have been arrested so far.

At least six police officials have been killed since the start of the operation – Zarb-e-Aahan – to recapture the island.

According to reports from the area, troops have cordoned off the area from all four sides, leaving no space for members of the Chhotu gang or their accomplices to escape.

The gang – led by Ghulam Rasool also known as Chhotu, a longtime criminal active in the border areas of the provinces of Punjab and Sindh – is blamed for hundreds of cases of kidnapping for ransom, murder and robbery.

The battle is taking place near Rajanpur, one of the poorest districts in Punjab, where the Panjnad River flows into the Indus River.

On Friday, Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah had given the gang 48 hours to surrender or “be wiped out”.

The Chhotu Gang seems to be on the defensive after the army took over the command of Operation Zarb-e-Aahan on Friday evening and launched an offensive under a new strategy.

The army gunships targeted the criminals’ hideouts early Saturday morning but no further action was reported since then. Also, the Chhotu Gang did not offer any resistance to the troops.

The safe recovery of the policemen who were taken hostage is seemingly a priority for the army commandoes. Also, the army wants to capture Chhotu rather than eliminate him in order to interrogate him.

The army men have received shoot on sight orders, adopting zero tolerance for criminals.