LAHORE - Major political figures of southern Punjab have been having direct or indirect linkages with criminal gangs at different times for different reasons, an investigation by The Nation finds out.

The investigation focused on Ghulam Rasool Mazari alias Chotu’s links with political figures but interviews with security officials and southern Punjab politicians as well as intelligence reports revealed that many of the influential in the area remained connected with different criminal enterprises at different times.

The criminal gangs exist in the inaccessible ‘no man’s land’ starting from Punjab’s southern borders with Balochistan and Sindh since long under the patronage of the influential political figures and corrupt law enforcers, security officials who have served in the southern Punjab region said during background interviews.

“The gangs like Chotu can simply not operate in the kacha area (riverine belt) without the assistance of the local influential, which mainly belong to political class of sardars, as well as dishonest police officers,” added the officials.

The districts of Dera Ghazi Khan, Muzaffargarh and Rahim Yar Khan in particular and other districts in general had many cases of patronage to criminal gangs by politicians and dishonest police officers.

Both kinds of ‘godfathers’ would eliminate a gang when it attracted too much attention of the authorities sitting in provincial capital or if the gangsters tried to create their own clout. The game never stops as one gangster is replaced by another more suitable one, they said.

Members of Mazari, Dreshak, Gorchani, Leghari and Khosa, the major tribes of Dera Ghazi Khan division, and members of Jatoi tribe of Muzaffargarh remained connected with the gangsters directly or indirectly at different times for different reasons. Some of them supported a particular gang exclusively for financial benefit, while most of them did that for sustaining political sway.

Members of Bugti, Marri, Mengal and Khetran tribes in Balochistan are connected with gangs in Kacha area through the local gangs. In Sindh, members of Mahar, Lund and Chachar tribes of Ghoti also have direct or indirect linkages with these gangs.

In Sukkur, members of Chandio, Gabol and Leghari too have linkages with the criminals in southern Punjab, said the security officials sharing the information.

In hard times, the gangs of southern Punjab have been taking refuge in Ghotki and Sukkur (Sindh) by availing shelter of local crime lords who operate under the patronage of their political influential.

In Balochistan, they find refuge in the Bugti, Marri and Mengal farari camps and shelters of Khetran when facing operations in Punjab, they added.

Some politicians belonging to Dera Ghazi Khan division identified their rival sardars’ linkages with the Chotu and other criminal gangs operating in the area at different times.

Ali Raza Dreshak, MPA elected from Rajanpur district, in an interview to this paper alleged that Atif Mazari another - MPA from the district - and his brother Shamsher Mazari were the ‘godfathers of Chotu gang’.

“My cousin Dr Hafeez Dreshak - who is an elected MNA from the same district - used to patronise the Bosan and Bhand gangs, he claimed. “(But) both the gangs were eliminated and did not exist anymore.”

Though Mr Dreshak identified his colleagues connected with criminal gangs but the two Mazaris he named were once part of their political group.

“Atif and Shamsher were part of our political group but they separated from us when we started operation against the Chotu at a time my elder brother Hussnain Bahadur Dreshak was provincial finance minister. Both the Mazari brothers warned us to halt the operation,” he claimed.

At one time Ghulam Rasool Mazari alias Chotu held a press conference at Kacha Jamal and declared the riverine belt as no-go-area for the provincial government.

Chotu had been buying weapons and ammunition from dishonest police officials who would report in police records that ammunition had been used in encounters with criminal gangs and assault rifles were snatched from policemen posted at outposts in kacha area by the gangsters, he revealed.

Another gang operates under the patronage of Punjab Assembly Deputy Speaker Sardar Sher Ali Gorchani and his father Pervez Gorchani under the name of “Mureeda Nokani”, claimed Mr Dreshak. One of his close accomplices, Ali Gul Bazgir was killed in a staged encounter with the connivance of Gorchanis as Bazgir had developed differences with them, he said.

An EDO Health was kidnapped for ransom by Nokani gang. Pervez Gorchani managed his release by delivering ransom to the gang and received his cut, he said.

Kidnapping for ransom, extortion, land grabbing and gun-running were the major businesses of Chotu gang. Atif and Shamsher have been getting their share in crime profit from Chotu, he added.

“We kicked Chotu out of our area through an operation. The gangster slipped into Balochistan and took refuge at a shelter of Abdul Rehman Khetran. Chotu came back and took refuge in a hideout of Mureeda Nokani who works under the patronage of Pervez Gorchani,” Dreshak claimed.

On the other hand, Deputy Speaker Sardar Sher Ali Gorchani in a similar interview with the paper alleged that Dreshak family had accumulated extensive lands in the riverine belt of Rajanpur with the assistance of Chotu gang.

He also named Jaffer Khan Leghari, Owais Leghari and Jamal Leghari as key land grabbers in that area who were patronising different gangsters including Chotu. “The Dreshaks bought 250 acres and Legahris 170 acres in kacha area,” he added.

Gorchani also named some police officials who he said were involved in helping the criminal gangs – some on the behest of politicians and others on their own.

The officials include SP Maqsoodul Hassan, SP Bahar Hussain Shah, DSP Mujahid Gormani, Inspector Qazi Farrukh, Irshad Hussain Shamsi, Haji Nazar Hussain and Chaudhary Fiazul Haq.

On behest of Nasrullah Dreshak, when he was part of PML-Q government, 40,000 bullets and more than 45 assault rifles were given to Chotu gang. At that time Atif and Shamsher Mazari were part of Dreshak group, said Mr Gorchani.

Sindhi gangsters, Baloch militants and members of other banned outfits were connected with Chotu gang, he added while giving details about the accomplices of notorious crime lord.

Gorchani endorsed the point of Dreshak that Chotu operated under the direct patronage of Atif and Shamsher Mazari.

A number of intelligence reports at different times identified linkages of political figures with Chotu and other gangsters in southern parts of the province who also had assistance of dishonest policemen.

The intelligence reports also identified banned outfits’ resurgence after they established connections with Baloch militant groups and dacoits in southern Punjab which enabled them operate more easily. The agencies also identified no-go-areas and recommended immediate action but nobody knows what measures were taken following the reports.

Reports had been sent to the government informing them about the movements of foreign nationals in the riverine area of Rajanpur as well as transportation of building material to the gangs operating from the island. Some of their mid-ranking facilitators had also been identified.

Some foreign nationals spotted in the surroundings of Dera Ghazi Khan nuclear facility were also taken into custody who were found connected with hostile intelligence agencies.

Intelligence reports of assistance of local political figures and corrupt police officials (facilitators) to Chotu and other gangs had also been sent to the government with recommendations to deal with the issue.