‘Katcha’ troubles

A policemen stands in a bunker as he takes part in an operation against criminals in Rajanpur district in southern Punjab province. -AFP/File

DESPITE months of ‘action’, yet another state-sponsored operation to rein in the lawless elements who rule large swathes of the riverine areas of upper Sindh and lower Punjab has failed to bring peace to these troubled lands. Gangs of dacoits continue to brazenly challenge the state, perhaps emboldened by the fact that they seem better equipped and more determined than the law-enforcement personnel sent in to establish the state’s writ. The ongoing operation, as countless others before it, seems to be meandering, and the authorities have very little to show for the men, money and ammunition they have expended in what increasingly looks like an aimless campaign.

It is particularly concerning that the katcha gangs have continued to target the minority Hindu communities that live in the affected areas with impunity, abducting both young and old, rich and poor, for ransom. A protest has been ongoing in Kashmore for several days to highlight the matter. According to a local leader, around 40 citizens have been kidnapped over the past few months. On Sunday, large protests were also held in several cities, including Karachi, against increasing incidents of robberies and abductions in the katcha areas, with citizens inviting the army to intervene in the katcha operation. With anecdotal accounts suggesting that powerful elements patronise these dangerous gangs, it seems obvious why the problem refuses to go away. Compared to the alacrity with which the police forces of both provinces have cracked down on unarmed protesters in urban areas, their helplessness when going up against actual, hardened criminals presents a rather unflattering assessment of their capabilities as professionals and strategic planners. The authorities must stop wasting public resources and give the operation more attention. With the economic situation turning dire, vulnerable communities cannot continue to be left to the wolves. At the very least, the security of life and property must be ensured in these testing times.

Published in Dawn, September 6th, 2023

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