LAHORE: Leader of the infamous Chotoo gang, Ghulam Rasool, along with 13 gang members has “surrendered unconditionally to the army”, the military spokesperson announced on Wednesday.
Addressing a press briefing regarding the ongoing operation in Rajanpur area, Lt Gen Asim Bajwa said “the military has successfully completed operation Zarb-i-Ahan”.
He also confirmed that the 24 policemen taken hostage by the Chotoo gang have been rescued.
“The army will not vacate this area until all the miscreant elements are neutralised,” Bajwa maintained.
The military media-wing chief said that security forces will eliminate this ‘no-go area’ and any other such area across the country.
Earlier it was reported that members of the Chotoo gang surrendered to the Army and at least 170 gangsters were taken into custody by the armed forces.
Rajanpur District Police Officer Ghulam Mubashir Maikin had told Dawn that the return of hostages to their families was “in process”.
A senior police officer earlier told Dawn that the gang had been using the hostages as a human shield to protect their women and children.
A search operation is also being conducted to secure Rajanpur’s Kacha area.
Police launched the Rajanpur offensive after a go-ahead from the interior ministry. After seven police officials were killed and 24 others taken hostage, the Army announced on April 16 that it would be taking over the operation.
Director General Inter-Services Public Relations Lt-Gen Asim Bajwa had said a cordon was being reinforced and police and Rangers had already been deployed to participate in the operation under the Army.
The Chotoo gang, led by Ghulam Rasool, alias Chotoo, was given a deadline by the Army to surrender on Monday, failing which, the Army said it would begin a full-scale operation in the area.
A source in the police department said that Chotoo had demanded safe passage for himself, his family and some loyal accomplices to proceed to Dubai in return of safe release of the captive policemen, Dawn earlier reported.
The rise of Chotoo and his gang
Ghulam Rasool alias Chotoo, the ringleader of the Chotoo gang worked as a security guard for MPA Atif Mazari for three to five years in Rojhan, according to police officials.
He also worked for the Punjab police as an informer till 2007 and used to inform police about gangs involved in robberies and kidnapping for ransom in Rajanpur and Muzaffargarh districts.
According to locals and police, Chotoo belongs to Bakrani clan of Mazari tribe of Rojhan area. He later developed differences with police over unknown reasons and established his own gang to carry out criminal activities.
Some small and prominent gangs operating in Rojhan, Dera Ghazi Khan and adjoining districts of Sindh and Balochistan also joined the Chotoo gang. They include Bilal alias Bilali Jaakha, Baba Long, Gumani Gopang, Sindhi group, Bosans of Muzaffargrah and Khalid Kajlani.
The riverine area of Kachi Jamal in Rajanpur, a stronghold of the Chotoo gang, has a population of more than 10,000 people living in small villages. They depend mostly on rearing animals and farming. Chotoo is known for helping the locals and never carried out any criminal activity in the area. But he made it a no-go area for police who found it almost impossible to get information about him from the locals.
The biggest operation carried out by Rajanpur and Rahimyar Khan police against the Chotoo gang was in 2010 which continued for three months, but to no avail. The last operation was conducted in 2013.
During an operation in Kotla Mughlan area of Rajanpur some years ago, police, however, succeeded in recovering a doctor from the gang and killing a gangster.