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EDITORIAL: It’s been a while, almost two decades, since the provincial government has been trying to reclaim control of katcha areas, (riverine belt) in two southern districts of southern Punjab, Rahim Yar Khan and Rajanpur, from criminal gangs involved in highway robberies, kidnapping for ransom and murder. Yet despite several operations by the law enforcement agencies they keep resurfacing.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif who dealt with these elements as chief minister of Punjab has a special interest in the issue. Following reports that these gangs had re-emerged, during his last Sunday visit to Lahore he presided over a high-level meeting of police officials and gave his go-ahead to a large-scale operation supervised by the Inspector General of Police.

It may be recalled that back in 2016 when the notorious ‘Chhotu gang’ had turned the place into a no-go area the police took action, but had to make a retreat in the face of stiff resistance by that bunch of criminals equipped as they were with sophisticated weapons and speed boats. Army had to be called in to help defeat them. This time the Punjab Rangers and the Army will be on stand-by to provide assistance as and when required.

The operation is to be followed up with various clearance and consolidation measures, including permanent checkposts, police stations, regular patrolling and building of a number of bridges on the river. All this should help, but better policing alone will not completely eliminate the criminal gangs aided and abetted by local influential people as well as others from Sindh and Balochistan.

At present, as explained by a senior police official, these elements have rendered several patches along the banks of River Indus beyond the control of district administrations and law enforcement agencies.

The problem will not go away unless its underlying causes, chief among them abject poverty, are addressed. It is good to note that there is a realisation that lasting success will remain elusive as long as the socio-economic conditions remain the same.

The PM, of course understands, on the basis of his own experience, as to why multiple operations have failed to eliminate these bands of bandits. As per a plan of action he approved at the meeting, once the clearance and consolidation phases are over the focus will shift to socio-economic uplift of the lawless riverside region. The Punjab government is to establish hospitals, schools and roads which would create employment opportunities for the area’s people.

Needless to say, the development plan is vital for the establishment of writ of the government. Nonetheless, considering the economic crunch and political uncertainty it is likely to be consigned to the cold storage in the foreseeable future. One can only hope whatever be the circumstances balancing security with the areas’ uplift will remain a priority goal.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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