; The Phenomenon of Dacoits in Sind
Learning Center
Plans & pricing Sign in
Sign Out
Your Federal Quarterly Tax Payments are due April 15th Get Help Now >>

The Phenomenon of Dacoits in Sind


  • pg 1
									Phenomenon of Dacoits in Sind
                                                                                SAAD S. KHAN

                     The Phenomenon of Dacoits in Sind

                           Genesis, Growth and Eradication

 Paper Read at Pir Hassamuddin Shah Rashidi International Conference on the

                                History and Culture of Sind

                               University of Jamshoro, Sind

                                     18-19 October 2008

The Land of Indus:

Sind, is the nerve centre of Pakistan in more ways than one. It can also be said to be the “parent

province” of the country. It is here that Islam entered South Asia with the conquest of the

coastal fortress of Deebal by the Arab armies (712 A.D.) sent by the Caliph of the Islamic

world, thereby making it the first ever part of the Muslim empire from South Asia, and also

making it the rightful claimant to the title Bab-ul-Islam (Gateway of Islam). And around

thirteen centuries later, the basis of Pakistan was this very ideology that Muslims constituted a

separate nation than the rest of the inhabitants of the South Asian subcontinent.

Phenomenon of Dacoits in Sind
                                                                                              SAAD S. KHAN
In the Pakistan movement too, Sind‟s role had been pivotal and quintessential. Sind was the

first province, of the eleven provinces of the British India, to have returned a Muslim League

Ministry through popular vote. Again it was Sind Assembly which remained the first--- and the

only--- provincial legislature in the pre-independence united India to have adopted a resolution

in favor of the creation of Pakistan. Sind‟s role did not end there; it gave its city of Karachi to

be the first capital of Pakistan and also accepted millions of Muslim refugees uprooted from

various parts of India, who chose to settle in Pakistan. True to their nature and spirit, the

Sindhis became willing hosts to their co-religionists from other ethnic and linguistic


Pakistan‟s father of the nation, Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, was also the son of the

soil--- by birth. He was born in Karachi in 1876 and there he died in 1948, where a grand

mausoleum to commemorate him, stands proudly. Sind is also the nerve centre of Pakistan‟s

economy as two of Pakistan‟s six ports (Karachi Port and Bin Qasim Port) which account for

over ninety percent of Pakistan‟s international trade sprawl the province‟s coastline. Likewise,

a significant part of Pakistan‟s industrial and service sectors are located in Sind, making the

province the largest contributor to Pakistan‟s federal tax revenue receipts.

The capital city of Sind, Karachi,1 is a cultural melting pot of all communities living in the

country, has become a mini-Pakistan because of its diversity. Sind, in more ways than one, is

the embodiment of Pakistan, reflection of its cultures, and reflection of the national values.

  The Government of Pakistan, in February 1960, decided in principle to shift the national capital from Karachi to
North of the country, a little away from the Garrison city of Rawalpindi in Northern Punjab. Thus, anew city of
Islamabad was built in the next decade. Karachi, became the capital of Sind Province upon the dissolution of the
One Unit in 1970.

Phenomenon of Dacoits in Sind
                                                                                                SAAD S. KHAN

The law and order problem in Sind:

In this backdrop, it is all the more painful to note that Sind has been afflicted by an incidence of

violent crime, that on average, far surpasses the other three provinces of Pakistan. The most

critical issue is the problem of dacoity (armed robbery) and its concomitant problem of

kidnappings for ransom. The prevalence of such heinous crimes has deprived the citizens of

Sind from any sense of security and peace of mind. The poor law and order has also negative

affected the economic growth --- to the extent of retarding it in some places--- and brutalized

the fabric of the society and social order as a whole.

In „the nineties‟, i.e. the last decade of the 20th century, the situation had become so grim that

major roads all over Sind were considered unsafe for night travel. 2 Even the Karachi-

Hyderabad Super Highway, the main communication artery of the province linking the two

biggest cities, was closed for individual traffic nearing sunset. Vehicles would be stopped by

the authorities at the entrance of the highway and would, at the top of each hour, be allowed to

travel in a convoy of hundreds of vehicles for the purpose of --- and as the only cost effective

method of ensuring---- safety. Even these convoys were escorted by a Jeep or Pickup of armed

police at its head and tail. This arrangement used to continue till the dawn the following

morning. In villages and smaller towns of the districts most affected by the rise of violent

crime, one still finds small observation towers atop most houses, as people had built them as

firing posts in case they were attacked or surrounded by dacoits. Saeedabad town near

Hyderabad, off the Super Highway is a living vivid example of this. Kidnapping persons from

  There are no exact figures available, however, a rough estimate of active dacoits in the decade of nineties puts
their number at around 17-20,000. (Sahito, 2005: p. 31)

Phenomenon of Dacoits in Sind
                                                                                             SAAD S. KHAN
home of the victim had not remained infrequent during those years. It was not for nothing that

twice during period, once in the eighties and once in the nineties, the armed forces had to be

called in, in aid of civil power, in anti-dacoity operations.

“Why Sind?” is the question in everybody‟s minds. If the incidence of poverty or incompetence

of the law enforcement machinery of the State or any other single or combination of factors is

responsible for violent crime, even then most parts of Sind fare poorly regarding crime

statistics compared to areas of analogous poverty from other parts of the country.3 Has the

centre adopted a deliberate anti-Sind policy as many nationalists so fondly believe? Is it a

conspiracy by foreign hands or from hands within to weaken Sind, as the conspiracy theorists

among every nations would be tempted to suggest? Or should the phenomenon be attributed to

(a) some biological factors in the Sindhi nation or (b)some topographical factors in Sind‟s

landscape and terrain or (c) social factors emanating from societal collapse due to unhealthy

traditions, such as Karo Kari, tribalism and/or Wadera system?

This paper attempts to place the issue in proper perspective and traces the roots of dacoity in

Sind to two fundamental problems, namely, political disempowerment and the failure to

strengthen administrative [read: bureaucratic] structure, in the wake of vacuum left by British

withdrawal. All other factors, such as economic, social and genetic, it will be argued, a far

lesser role in the genesis and growth of the phenomenon.

 For instance, there are poor areas in all four provinces and ordinarily kidnappings for ransom may have occurred
anywhere in the country. But between 1990-94, of the1651 kidnappings reported in all four provinces, 1521 yook
place in Sind alone. (Sahito, 2005: p. 91) So how do we explain that 92% kidnappings took place in one province
and a mere seven percent in the remaining three provinces, the AJK and the federal territories combined?

Phenomenon of Dacoits in Sind
                                                                               SAAD S. KHAN
Studying Dacoity in Sind:

Rationale: The foregoing discussion makes the study of dacoit phenomenon all the more

fascinating as well as having significant policy relevance. The dacoit phenomenon has

tremendous social, political and material costs not only on Sind, but, by extension, the whole of

Pakistan. There are three major reasons that the study of dacoits phenomenon is important.

Firstly, that Sind, as noted at the beginning of this paper is the nerve centre of Pakistan and

Pakistan movement. Sind‟s pain is a pain for the whole Pakistani nation. Secondly, Sind is the

biggest revenue basket for the country and consistent poor law and order situation in the

province has held down, if not pulled back, the economic growth of the whole country. And

lastly, no serious academic or administrative study of the phenomenon of dacoits has so far

been carried out and published.

Research Questions: Who are these dacoits of Sind? Where do they come from? Why do they

engage in such activities? And why is the government helpless in controlling this menace?

These are the questions that my research found out, defy concise answers. However, we shall

first discuss the causes of rise of dacoity one by one and then suggest some remedies at the end

of this paper.

Research Methodology: There is an extreme dearth of material on the dacoit phenomenon,

since this is an underworld activity and most evidence is circumstantial or anecdotal. All the

more, there is no “Centre of Excellence” or a Research Institute in the whole country on

criminology and criminal sciences.

Phenomenon of Dacoits in Sind
                                                                                SAAD S. KHAN
In the present case, most of the material was collected from internet and newspaper cuttings

especially some old issues of Karachi‟s monthly Newsline. There are also a couple of books

available on the issue; one written by Dr Sarwar Jamali titled Kidnapping for Ransom in Sind

and another by Imdad Hussain Sahito named The Decade of the Dacoits. Neither book provides

an exhaustive or incisive detail but in the given circumstances that there is an acute shortage of

written material on the subject, even they were a boon.

Several interviews were conducted by this writer with the people who had at any time in the

past been directly concerned with anti-dacoity operations in Sind, such as SP Sarwar Jamali

(now DPO, District Umarkot), DIG Sarmad Saeed (now Director Training at the National

Police Academy), Col Burki of the FF Regiment and Col Musa Khattak of the ISI. Visit to the

National Police Academy, Islamabad has also proved useful. To all the persons mentioned

above, I am extremely indebted and grateful.

What is “Dacoity”?

Principally, there are two categories in which crimes are placed: crimes against person (like

murder, rape, kidnapping etc) and the crimes against property (theft, bank fraud, fake currency

transaction etc.). In Pakistan, the legal framework of countering the crime consists of laws

dating back to the British times. Thus, the two sets of crimes are, respectively, dealt with

through the Code of Criminal Procedure, called the CrPC (1898), and the Code of Civil

Procedure, called the CPC (1908).

Phenomenon of Dacoits in Sind
                                                                             SAAD S. KHAN
Dacoity consists of robbery, i.e. depriving the other person of his valuables, but entails two

more elements: (a) the use or threat of use of violence, and (b) committed by more than one

person. Thus, the Tazeeraat-e-Pakistan or the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) under Section 391

defines dacoity as an act of robbery committed by five persons or more. Section 395 of the PPC

goes on to prescribe the penalty of the offence which may be simple imprisonment for Life or

Rigorous Imprisonment (RI) of between four to ten years. The Court is further empowered to

impose a fine too.4

The English word “dacoity” seems to have its roots in the Sanskrit word Dashtaka meaning

crowded. Implying thereby that the crime refers to one that is committed in groups. Thus

organized gangs of robbers, as opposed to individual offenders, were called Daku or Dakait. In

Sindhi language, the term used is Dharail which comes from Dharo meaning oppression,

cruelty or outrage by violence. Thus all linguistic roots and connotations of the words used to

describe the phenomenon imply “violence” and “group”--- hence, dacoity is a “group violence”

committed for the purpose of extorting money or property.

    See relevant provisions of Pakistan Penal Code (1861)

Phenomenon of Dacoits in Sind
                                                                               SAAD S. KHAN
Understanding Criminal Behavior:

It must be underlined at the outset, however, that the phenomenon of dacoits is not unique to

Sind, or for that matter, Pakistan alone. Crime has been there throughout History in all parts of

the world, criss-crossing the bounds of time and space. Crime is a social deviance--- it is an

aberration from the normative behavior of the society or the polity. Thus, it is as much a social

or a political phenomenon (or a combination of both), as an administrative issue.

It is veritably said that “democracy brings harmony”. This means that where the political and

social norms are based on consensus or, at least, have the broader approval of the community,

the level of violence and crime tends to go down. This was true for the first Muslim state of

Medina, during the reign of the right-guided Caliphs when common crime had almost vanished

as the system of Islamic democracy, based on the twin pillars of social justice and

accountability of the rulers, appeared to be firmly in place. This near absence of violent crime

is true in many democratic countries of today‟s modern world. For example, such diverse

welfare states in the far corners of the world like Japan in East Asia, New Zealand in far south

of the Oceana and Scandinavian states in the Northern Nordic region of Europe, can boast of

violence free societies.

This is not to suggest that all democracies are crime-free. Far from that, crime is innate in

human nature. There are people who are congenitally, genetically, or cognitively deviant. Thus,

by birth some people have a higher propensity of committing crime, while others are made so

by their upbringing, social environment, bad company or their personal circumstances. Thus,

from New York to Karachi and from Jakarta to Rome and Lagos, urban mega centers have seen

Phenomenon of Dacoits in Sind
                                                                                   SAAD S. KHAN
rise in crime in the past few decades. This owes to higher income inequalities, poor living

conditions in the ghettos, ease of crime due to communication revolution and new inventions

such as mobiles, cameras and sophisticated fire arms, and other incidental causalities.

Dacoity in History: Sind and Beyond

But as noted above, crime is as old as the presence of humanity on this planet. There were

whole nations that indulged in such activities. The greatest example is that of Vikings,

distinguished for their two-horned helmets, who for generations and for centuries indulged in

piracy on the high seas. Many Nordic nations in present-day Scandinavia are descendents of the

Vikings. Likewise, Highwaymen, as dacoits were called in England, have been a feature of ---

and a danger to--- the inter-city travel in that country for centuries and ages.

Before the dawn of Islam, dacoity had been one of the most prevalent crimes in the Arabian

peninsula and convoys of pilgrims coming to Makkah to perform pilgrimage were routinely

looted. That is why, the Arab tribes in pre-Islamic times, had declared four (04) months of their

lunar calendar as Haram (sacred) in which no bloodshed was allowed5. This convention

enabled the commercial activity of the Arab tribes as well as provided them security for

performance of several religious rites that involved travel to holy places.

Islam, was as much a religion as a social and reformatory movement, that started from Arabia.

That is why Islam took the issue of highway dacoity (called Haraba in Arabic language) very

seriously) and tried to crush this menace along with other bad practices such as female

infanticide, rampant adultery, false beliefs in gods, magic and witchcraft, and gambling etc.
    The four months are Zi’qad, Zil Haj, Moharram and Rajab.

Phenomenon of Dacoits in Sind
                                                                                            SAAD S. KHAN
Thus, the seven sins, that Islam not only forbids but also proposes punishments for them [these

seven punishments are called Hadd6 ---all other punishments left at the discretion of the

Muslim rulers or people to legislate upon, are called Taz’eer] includes Harabaa for which a

severe punishment of amputation is prescribed by the Holy Quran. Nevertheless, the

phenomenon of highway robbery continued in Arabia for centuries and Hajj caravans were

seldom safe from the menace till as late as early 20th century when the hold of Ottoman empire

on mainland Arabia had become very weak.

But interestingly enough, and paradoxically too, Islam‟s arrival to South Asia in the early

eighth century--- and by implication Pakistan‟s creation thirteen centuries later) owed its raison

d' etre to the activities of the dacoits of the coastal areas of the present day Sind who had the

audacity to plunder ships carrying gifts from the King of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to the Caliph

of Islam, then seated at Damascus. The Ommayyad Caliph, Waleed bin Abdul Malik (r. 705-

715) wrote to the ruler of the area, Raja Dahjr, to punish the dacoits and make compensation

for the losses, or face the consequences. The latter‟s evasive response, that he had no control

over the dacoits, led the Caliph to authorize his Governor of Basra, Hajjaj bin Yousaf, to send a

punitive expedition, which the latter did, nominating in turn, his nephew and son-in-law,

Mohammad bin Qasim (695-723 A.D.) to lead the mission. The battles of Deebal and Rawar,

led to the conquest of Sind and making it part of the Islamic empire. The latter battle resulted in

the death of Raja Dahir too.

  The seven sins for which Hadd is imposed are: Apostacy, Murder, Rape or Adultery, Haraba (Armed dacoity on
roads or public places), theft, gambling and consumption of liqor. It must be underlined, however, that
punishments of some of these offences are derived from Koran, others from the practice of the Holy Prophet, and
the last two from the practice of the earlier Right-Guided Caliphs. Hence, there are theological disputes on
classification of these crimes, as well as, on the legal maintainability of various penalties. However, that lies
beyond the scope of the present paper.

Phenomenon of Dacoits in Sind
                                                                                          SAAD S. KHAN

Contrary to popular perceptions, promoted through State-sponsored school textbooks, not all

the people of Sind found the advent of Muslims a welcome development---not, at least,

initially. In fact, there still exists a tribe in Sind, calling themselves Dahiri, in the name of Raja

Dahir who defended dacoits rather than submitting to the invaders from lands of the yore. Why

mentioning this was important because we have to understand the proud nature of Sindhi nation

in order to place the phenomenon of political dissent-based dacoity of recent decade, in its

proper perspective.

Coming down to modern age, the phenomenon of dacoits never vanished totally and became a

nuisance not only for the Jam and Kalhoro ruling dynasties of Sind, but later to the British

administration, and lately, became a headache for successive governments of Pakistan. There

have been anti-dacoit operations time and again. Even the army had to be called in to take part

in anti-dacoit operations most recently in the eighties under the cruel rule of Zia-ul-Haq who

used the forces ruthlessly both against political activists and ordinary criminals, without

discriminating between them, people turned against the government and took up arms and

became dacoits by default. Thus, the Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD) also

became the “movement for revival of dacoits”, at least, in the context of Sind. Thus, many

Sindhis did not become dacoits for criminal intent but this was the only viable alternative to

express their resentment against a revengeful and repressive military dictatorship, without

giving in on their ego and their pride.7

  Mustafa Jatoi is an obvious example that comes to mind since he was an MRD leader but turned dacoit when he
found out that Police were after his blood.

Phenomenon of Dacoits in Sind
                                                                                             SAAD S. KHAN
Gradually, the situation became out of control and crime became institutionalized. At this time,

Paru Chandio became a notorious name in the world of crime. Soon to follow were Kanu

Jhakrani and Suleiman Buledi. For a time, Nadir Jaskani also instilled terror on the roads of

Sind. So in the nineties, under the civilian rule of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto (1953-2007 A.D.),

operations led by army were authorized against armed criminals, guided and supervised by her

Interior Minister, Naseerullah Khan Babar. Same was the case with the government of Mr

Nawaz Sharif who called the army in aid of civil power, invoking Article 147 read with 245 of

the constitution of Pakistan, and utilized them in anti-dacoity operations.8 The thrust in the

former operations was the urban Sind and in the latter one, it was the rural Sind.

Dacoity as a political phenomenon:

Save for isolated instances of responsible government in the History of the world, such as the

reign of the right-guided Caliphs in Medina 732-661 A.D. or the rule by an elected Senate in

ancient Rome or consensual government in some African tribes in the Middle Ages and so on,

Democracy has been a recent development. Otherwise, unjust and unrepresentative systems

such as autocracy, absolute monarchy, oppression and colonialism remained the order of the


The rulers bought the loyalty of the public by bestowing favors; monitory or otherwise. Since

the resources of the State are never infinite so it was never possible to buy the loyalty of all the

subjects through dole-outs. Thus the magnanimity of the State could be enjoyed by the elite and

 The Operation Blue Fox, as it was known, was launched on 28 May 1992 and ended on 2 January 1993 at a cost
of Rs. 200 million. Military casualties included 24 army officers and another 46 injured. (Sahito, 2005: p. 117)

Phenomenon of Dacoits in Sind
                                                                               SAAD S. KHAN
a limited section of the common population who became the privileged ones. The rest of the

public was controlled and subjugated through brutal repression.

Time and again, the oppressed people broke the law just in order to challenge the writ of the

state. Nothing could be more effective than making the roads and routes of the country unsafe

through dacoity that, by disrupting the communication system, gave a political message to the

sovereign that his rule stood contested. History has made this evident from the time of the

Sultanate of Delhi, during the Mughal dynasty and later the British era too.

In view of nexus of dacoity with political dissent, and sometimes with acts of courage, dacoity

has not always been an issue of negative perception among the public. Sometimes, dacoits have

been eulogized or glorified in public perceptions, folk lore or legends. Robin Hood was a

famous dacoit in the Nottingham area of England in the 13th century who along with his

accomplices in the Sherwood forest where he would plunder the rich and give to the poor.

Likewise, in the Punjab province during British era, the Malangi dacoit became famous for

such like activities and also for challenging the British rule. Thus the phenomenon of dacoity

has in it, concepts of romanticism, valor and pride etc. And it has also generated concepts such

as „social bandit‟ and „noble robber‟, although such terms appear as oxymoron at first sight.

Nevertheless, throughout human history, the State also never hesitated to take every affront to

its writ as a criminal, as opposed to political, offence. Hence the distinction between political

outlaws and criminal outlaws always remained blurred. In fact, an unholy nexus got created

each time between the political outlaws and criminal elements in some sort of symbiotic

Phenomenon of Dacoits in Sind
                                                                                             SAAD S. KHAN
relationship where this unnatural alliance was a must for survival for both sides against the

might of the State.

Even today, many states that are facing civil wars or uprising against foreign occupation or

domestic dictatorship such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Congo etc, there is a complete

breakdown of law and order as genuine political fighters have been penetrated by terrorists and

ordinary criminal elements. Many political fighters thus are complicit in ordinary crime, either

owing to fear, or for desire to finance their own ammunition and logistic requirements, or

because such elements distract the law enforcement arms of the State in multiple directions.

Thus, given the history of repression by the British government, and later successive, long and

brutal stints of military rule in Pakistan, where fundamental rights of citizens including those

from Sind, had been usurped, it is neither surprising nor unique, that the dacoity phenomenon

has afflicted the province of Sind with a vengeance.

As early as 1830s, that is well before the Sind province was formally annexed to the British in

1843, the British had to come face to face with the dacoity problem and started taking

preliminary measures to protect their military and commercial convoys movement across Sind.9

By 1871, they made the first Criminal Tribes Act specifically for Sind. Yet challenge to the

State through acts of violence, both for purely criminal and/or political purposes, continued to

haunt the British administration. The British also dubbed legitimate movements of political

dissent as criminal movements; the two Hur movements are cases in point.

 In one of his first proclamations issued on 21 October 1843, Charles Napier said “Every man who commits
murder shall be put to death…The merchants and travelers shall pass along the roads with safety, death be to the
robbers and murderers. Such is the law of God,” (Sahito, 2005: p. 21)

Phenomenon of Dacoits in Sind
                                                                              SAAD S. KHAN
Even after the creation of Pakistan, the phenomenon of dacoity only raised its head when the

people‟s rights were trampled. The biggest boost to dacoity was the MRD movement because

political activists who ran away to the jungles to evade arrest, could never return for fear of

being apprehended by the police and army and be subjected to torture, humiliation and

inhuman punishments such as public floggings and even hangings. They became dacoits by

force of circumstances. Others became because of revenge, when their families back home

were mistreated by Police, including rape etc, to force them to surrender to police. Yet others,

simply became dacoits when they came into contact with such elements in the hideouts in

jungles and found it to be a profitable means of income.

If only democracy had survived in Pakistan; if only elected Prime Ministers belonging to Sind

such as Prime Ministers Liaqat Ali Khan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and more lately, Mortarma

Benazir Bhutto had not been murdered/assassinated elsewhere in the country; had lands not

been allotted in Sind to bigwigs including the military personnel belonging to other provinces

which gave the impression, rightly or wrongly, or continued colonial rule; and had the military

regime of Zia, not crushed the movement for restoration of democracy in Sind, as ruthlessly

and mercilessly as he did; Sind would have been a much more safer and prosperous place.

Twin Roots for the dacoity in Sind:

The two most fundamental reasons are discussed below:

Phenomenon of Dacoits in Sind
                                                                                SAAD S. KHAN
(I) Political Failure/ Democratic Deficit: Although the political dimension of crime has

adequately been discussed in the preceding sections, at the cost of repetitiveness, here we shall

contextualize it with reference to Sind. In Sind, dacoity phenomenon had a political genesis.

From the two uprisings of the followers of the Pir of Pagara--- in 1895 and 1946, respectively--

- to the movement to oust military dictatorship of Zia-ul-Haq in 1983, it suited the interest of

the rulers to dub the political dissidents as common law criminals and treat them accordingly.

Little wonder, the State policies contributed to making them as such.

Simply put, dacoity in Sind is rooted in criminal activities for political purposes coupled with

political activities for criminal purposes. But gradually, a close nexus developed over time

between the political bigwigs and the criminal elements. Some of it owed to necessity as

politicians need funds to run political campaigns and the criminals are in need of political clout

and backing to save them from the clutches of law.

But many a times, linakges developed involuntarily. For instance, dacoits of Sind hid in fields

belonging to independent landlords and threatened owners with death if they reported their

presence to the Police. Consequently, instead of becoming unwilling connivers, some landlords

became willing patrons, so much so that the dacoits would hide their loot and spoils, in the

landlords‟ homes. The landlords then had vested interest in dacoits not being caught by police,

since if any accused breaks under police torture and names the landlord as a protector, then the

latter‟s own interests are at risk, as he may be caught and tried by the law. Thus, this vicious

cycle sucks in more and more persons into the crime net.            Accordingly, in the public

perception, there is not a single political party in Sind, be it the PPP, the MQM, the Jiay Sind,

Phenomenon of Dacoits in Sind
                                                                                  SAAD S. KHAN
or even the Jamat-e-Islami, who can claim that none of its local political leadership or cadres

has any contact with the underworld.

(II) Administrative Failure/ Police Inefficiency:

       Police are those citizens who are paid to give full time attention to job that is incumbent

       on every citizen.

                                                              - Lord Peel

                                                              (Former British Prime Minister)

The Magistracy and Police are not the only ones responsible to ensure respect for law, Rather

this is the duty of every citizen. Magistracy and Police are there to assist them. The weakening

of these two institutions, however, led to strengthening of the dacoits phenomenon.

Political-based appointments, made possible under wide statutory powers enjoyed by the

political governments in Sind (unlike in other three provinces) is the singular contributory

factor that led to collapse of administrative efficiency. Direct recruitments in such sensitive

institutions, even to fairly senior operational; ranks of Sub Divisional Magistrates (SDM), also

called Assistant Commissioners (AC), and Deputy Superintendents of Police (DSP) has been a

norm in administration and the Police force in Sind. Every MPA who gets elected to the

provincial legislature for the first time, first makes sure that one of his real brothers or sons is

inducted as an SHO in Police to look after his interests. And I rank it as the most crucial

explanation for mushrooming of dacoities.

Phenomenon of Dacoits in Sind
                                                                                SAAD S. KHAN
The military regime of Musharraf (1999-2007) destroyed the very fabric of civil service and

destroyed the service structures of all law enforcement services. The attempts at abolition of the

DMG service and the institution of Deputy Commissioner and all his Magisterial organization

was tantamount to writing an obituary of the rule of law in the country. For personal ends, his

government extended the politicization of administrative services to beyond the boundaries of

Sind to whole of the country. The present Pakistan People‟s Party-led Government of Sind has

decided to undo the infamous Local Government Ordinance of 2001 and is in the process of

restoration of the Commissionerate system. However, Magistracy cannot be the sole check on

corruption and inefficiency of the Police. A lot more needs to be done.

Of course, there is corruption in the Police, but that again has reasons of its own. After all,

Pakistan has had its share of model police forces such as the Motorway Police, Elite Force of

Punjab and model Islamabad Traffic Police, recruited from the same population base in the


The problem lies in the systems, not in the individuals. If better training and resources are

afforded to Police, plus reasonable wages and they are shielded from political influence, then

the same Police can deliver.

Sind Police has always been under-resourced, under-equipped and under-trained. In the British

times, the definitive edge of the Police was in terms of their weaponry (three-nought-three

Rifles compared to ordinary lathis by the dacoits) and communications, such as telegraph and

later wireless. Over the decades, and mainly due to the self-destructive policies carried out by

Phenomenon of Dacoits in Sind
                                                                                              SAAD S. KHAN
successive military dictators in Pakistan, the balance shifted to the dacoits side. With Pakistan‟s

policy of fighting a proxy war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan on the behest of the

United States, Pakistan‟s own polity was inundated by sophisticated weapons such as

Kalashnikovs etc that were originally intended for Afghan Mujahideen but got smuggled into

our country, and eventually landed in the hands of lawless and anti-State elements.10

So the situation is that today dacoits have better weapons, easy communication through

mobiles, and sometimes even better vehicles than the outdated Police jeeps. Police is not

supposed to keep old vehicles since they are unreliable in action. They have higher operational

costs and prove notoriously inefficient in chasing the outlaws, off the metalled roads. In such

circumstances, it is unrealistic to expect the policemen to put their own lives in danger in direct

encounters with the dacoits. However, most police vehicles are older than five years and most

have been declared „condemned‟ but still are in use. In any case, the total number of transport

available with Sind Police to patrol such big province is just 2,376 vehicles against a much

higher authorized number. Likewise, they have only 62, 537 weapons against the sanctioned

93,979. and 2,837 wireless sets as against authorized 15,584.11

There is also a serious institutional failure on part of the Police to care for the families of police

officials killed in action against the dacoits. A one time lump sum grant of Rs 100,000 or so,

seldom solves the life long problems of the families of the deceased. Corruption in the Office

of the Accountant General also complicates the problem as it is well nigh impossible to get

   The influx of Klashinkov due to Afghan war “brought about a revolution in the criminal world” as for the first
time, the dacoits found themselves decisively better armed than the Police. (Sahito, 2005: p. 43)
   Sahito, 2005: p. 115.

Phenomenon of Dacoits in Sind
                                                                                              SAAD S. KHAN
released the assistance package without greasing the palms. Policemen belong to poorer

families and it is not easy for widows to arrange for tens of thousands of rupees as bribe unless

they get the compensation cheque. The AG office lower staff foot drags the issuance of cheque

until they have been bribed, so the vicious cycle makes the lives of families of Police martyrs

very miserable. Likewise, civil suits between family members, for instance, two wives of the

same deceased also cause delays. All these factors are heavily demoralizing for the Police

personnel who do not find it worthwhile to take life risks for the society or for the institution of

Police when both have shown little capacity of taking care of the families of brave officers.

The budget under the head of POL12 is so meager that Police usually has to ask the victims, i.e.

the complainants or dacoity to pay for the fuel of their jeeps to visit the site of offence or to

pursue the criminals.13 The training needs of the Police drivers are seldom met since POL

shortage forces Police to restrict driving training to classroom instruction only. Similar is the

case with the ammunition stocks. How can a policeman be expected to be a good rifle-shooter

when he is given just 30 rounds in his whole one year training for firing practice instead of at

least a thousand rounds in all throughout the training? Another problem of course is the poor

infrastructure conditions of police stations, lack of equipment required for investigation such as

that is required for taking finger prints and/ or for forensic analysis etc.

  Fuel for vehicles and other forms of mechanized transport. POL stands for Petroleum, Oil & Lubricants.
  In a personal interview, SP Sarwar Jamali, former AIG (Finance) of the Sind Police, disclosed to this writer that
as per own ceilings and allocations of POL per vehicle by the Finance Department, Govt of Sind, the Provincial
Police was entitled to a budgetary release of Rs 433 million for operational expenses of the vehicles in 2001.
However, only Rs. 139 million were provided under this head to the Police. He argued that one cannot have fuel or
ammunition ceiling at least for the Police department, if crime has to be countered effectively.

Phenomenon of Dacoits in Sind
                                                                                  SAAD S. KHAN
With all shortcomings, it still remains to the credit (or discredit) of Police that dacoity remains

a terminal disease for the perpetrator as they have a very short active life in crime of around

three to six years. The dacoits die due to infighting, or through target killing by their mentors or

protectors for various reasons. But mostly, they meet this gory fate at the hands of the Police in

armed encounters, some of which are stage-managed, just to eliminate the dacoits as

prosecution in the courts of laws do not always result in convictions. A living dacoits instills

terror even from behind the bars and people seldom take the risk of providing evidence in the

courts of law. “Better a devil dead than one who may be a threat again” makes Police favor on-

the-spot “bayonet justice”. Now this phenomenon of fake encounters has contributed to dacoits

becoming unwilling to surrender to face the law, even when cornered by the Police, for fear of

being killed on spot by the Police for getting promotions or showing efficiency to the


Other incidental causes:

(i) Economic Causes: Many of the people might have turned to dacoity purely to earn a living.

It is well known that many areas in Sind have majority of population living well below the

poverty line. Hence, many of the daring unemployed youth turn to dacoity as a profession. In

fact, when the district administration was negotiating the release of thee Chinese Engineeers

working in Guddu Barrage who had been kidnapped for ransom, one of the demands of the

dacoits to release them was to provide them (the dacoits) some low-paying government jobs.

Usually when one enters the business of dacoity, there is no way out. Changing a profession

and trying to live a settled life becomes impossible since Police would definitely nab for past

Phenomenon of Dacoits in Sind
                                                                                           SAAD S. KHAN
offences. Plus, the easy money coming from dacoity becomes an incentive in itself. Thus, with

other economic indicators dwindling due to poor law and order, the crime thrived at an

industrial scale. In fact, kidnapping for ransom, became an industry in itself both in terms of the

number and scale of incidents, but also the dividends it brought for the criminals, like Rs. 4-5

million as ransom for a hostage, than, say, Rs 40,000 or less for plundering a bus. 14

There were also other sources of revenue for the dacoits which went beyond robbery and

kidnappings. Capturing State lands and becoming de facto masters of it is another business and

the farmers working there are made to pay protection money to them. Extortions are made from

other smaller landlords in return for protection, or just a guarantee that he will not be looted.

(ii) Social Causes: Pride and honor are basic human instincts. Police excesses and use of torture

have contributed to the phenomenon of “reactionary dacoits” who want to take revenge since

after some serious kind of public humiliation they cannot face the society and the family and

become outlaws. Iqbal Punjabi was a soldier in the army. He turned a dacoit when somebody

abducted his wife and he failed to get justice. Naseer Noonpoto became so when his maternal

uncle usurped his share in the family property. Rahmat Arain turned to dacoity to take revenge

against Police brutality.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of black sheep in law enforcement machinery as well. As the

notorious Tando Bahawal incident of 1992 bears out, ruthless killing were occasionally carried

  IN the decade between 1894-94, the number or reported kidnappings in Sind was a staggering 11,436. (Sahito,
2005: p. 31)

Phenomenon of Dacoits in Sind
                                                                                SAAD S. KHAN
out by security personnel either to settle personal scores such as family feuds or for financial

gains such as usurping land or property.

Another social ill is the propensity among illiterate villagers to name their rivals or opponents

within the village for any act of dacoity in the First Information Report (FIR) before the Police.

So that even if property has been lost to unknown dacoits; facts can be twisted to settle personal

vendettas by implicating innocent rivals. More so, even if one person from opposite side was

known to have taken part in an offence, it is considered natural to implicate all male members

of the offenders‟ family in the case. People who cannot bribe their way out from police

investigation, tend to become outlaws.

(iii) Geographical Reasons:       There are several geographical reasons for the incidence of

dacoity. Parts of Sind provide a natural hide outs for the outlaws such as jungles or the

unpassable Katcha areas on both sides of Indus river. In such sandy wetlands, it is impossible

to chase the dacoits in jeeps or even APC‟s15 which get stuck in mud, and rescuing the

policemen trapped in the vehicle becomes another logistic nightmare.

Some of the crops that Sind produces such as sugarcane and bananas are such that their

fields/orchards become natural hideouts for the criminals to take refuge. In 1990-91, sugarcane

was cultivated on 225,280 hectares, banana on 19,770 hectares and mango garden were on

36,723 hectares.16

     Armored Personnel Carriers
     Sahito, 2005: p. 160

Phenomenon of Dacoits in Sind
                                                                                SAAD S. KHAN
The biggest dacoits:

Whenever a discussion on the phenomenon of dacoits, robbers or thieves takes place, one

question that is definitely raised is “what about the biggest robbers, those who plunder billion

of rupees from our national exchequer and go scot-free?” The question is very valid since it is

only in unjust societies that one who steals a few rupees to buy food for self and family gets

imprisoned and those who, due to political influence, take huge bank loans on fake business

plans and get them written off, remain pretending as honorable citizens and elite of the nation.

On this account, it is argued that biggest dacoits are not those who deprived this nation of its

wealth. Far bigger dacoits are those who contributed to the collapse of the rule of law and

committed high treason by overthrowing and weakening the judiciary. Nothing can be

accomplished without a free and independent judiciary. Those who committed dacoity by

depriving the nation of impartial judges and made a horrible example out of them are the worst

dacoits of this nation.

Likewise, the people who robbed this nation of the right to be ruled by chosen representatives

and committed sedition by becoming part of coup d‟etats, overthrowing elected civilian

governments, are also the most dangerous dacoits. Four of the three dictators who ruled

Pakistan are dead already; one is living. It is imperative that post humous trials for the first

three and a military court martial of the living dictator be carried out without delay to bring

them to justice.

Phenomenon of Dacoits in Sind
                                                                               SAAD S. KHAN
Another factor that is little realized in our country is the weakening of the Federal and

Provincial Public Service Commissions in the past few decades. The sanctity and inviolability

of the FPSC is as much as that of the Supreme Court. Likewise, the sanctity of the PPSC in

each province is as important as the High Court of that province. The spate of irregular

appointments in public service, most disastrously in the Police department, in sheer violation of

merit is the single most important reason why the rule of law has collapsed, especially in Sind.

Thus, the regime of former military dictator Musharraf, was equally guilty of high treason

when they sent home the then Chairman and members of the Federal Public Service

Commission, back in 2005, as they were when they sent home the judges of the superior courts

on the 3rd of November 2007. It is unfortunate that his regime‟s vandalism with FPSC evoked

much less hue and cry than that when it played havoc with the Supreme Court.

It must be realized that dacoity, like many other political and social problems, can be tackled

through a top down approach. Make the parliament sovereign, make the judiciary independent,

and make the Public Service Commissions autonomous at the top levels. The systems down the

line will get streamlined in due course automatically. The institutions of state cannot be

strengthened unless and until the culprits of the past are not brought to justice. They are the

biggest dacoits and are responsible for the pain and miseries of the countless ordinary victims

of street crimes and ordinary dacoities.


The dacoity in Sind is so deeply and inextricably linked to the political upheavals and

instability that without a prolonged and stable stint of democracy, there appears to be no quick

Phenomenon of Dacoits in Sind
                                                                                              SAAD S. KHAN
solution to the problem of lawlessness and dacoity. No amount of use of force and no extent of

economic incentives can curb in a short span of time. Dacoity is not the disease in Sind, it is the

outer manifestation of deeper malaise that has been afflicting Sind. This is a big question mark

as it is a failure on part of the state, rather than on part of the affected province, that democracy,

justice and the rule of law could not be ensured in this country.

It has been argued that successive governments‟ failures in assuring development and economic

growth for Sind, guaranteeing a decent standard of life for the Sindhis, the political

marginalization during long military rules and collapse of institutions of state during civil rule

all have contributed to the sad phenomenon of dacoits. It has also been pointed out that

inequality in regional development, iniquitous income distribution, lack of vocational training

for most people, political exploitation17, poverty, unemployment, topography, social problems,

biological tendencies to crime and other like factors have their share of culpability in the rise of

dacoits in Sind. But by far, the most crucial role in this negative development can be attributed

to lack of democracy (and consequent marginalization of citizens) and the violation of

meritocracy in recruitments (especially those in Police) that are the twin root causes of the


It is further argued that this phenomenon cannot be treated in isolation. A holistic approach,

covering a major focus on over all economic development of the province, especially

  One big oft-given example of exploitation is the land given to non-Sindhis in Sind. The Sindhis own 65% of the
cultivable land, while 30% is held by Punjabis and 5% by the Mohajirs. The Policy of allotment of land to Punjabi
settlers dates to the British rule when the Jamrao canal was opened in 1899, Punjabis were settled there. Again in
1932 when Sukkur barrage was opened, military personnel were allotted lands. Unfortunately this policy was not
reversed by Pakistan government when they allotted lands to military personnel both on completion of Kotri
Barrage (1956) and then Guddu Barrage (1962). (Sahito, 2005: p. 134-5)

Phenomenon of Dacoits in Sind
                                                                                  SAAD S. KHAN
investments in education and infrastructure, coupled with emergence of political will to adhere

to the rule of law, may curb the menace and give the citizens the much needed relief. There are

no quick solution but we have to take a start from somewhere, after all. To begin with, two

actions are suggested (a): restoration of deposed judges of previous regime, thereby making the

superior judiciary truly independent; and (b) fresh recruitments in all law enforcement agencies

especially the Police through autonomous public service commissions, to meet the manpower

deficiency, undoing all irregular or politically-motivated appointments of the past. If the civil

society and conscientious citizens of the country come together on this these two agendas under

a single banner, Pakistan will eventually get rid of most of the problems afflicting it.

Phenomenon of Dacoits in Sind
                                                                      SAAD S. KHAN



Jamali, Sarwar, Kidnappings for Ransom in Sind, Hyderabad: Veer Publications, 2004.

Sahito, Imdad Hussain, The Decade of Dacoits in Sind: 1984-94, Karachi: Oxford
University Press, 2005.


Abbas, Azhar, "Return of the Dacoit?", Monthly Herald, Karachi, May 1995, pp. 26-30,
32-33. 168.

Bakhtiar, Idrees, "The Return of the Death Squads," Monthly Herald, Karachi, July
1997, p 27

Siddiqui, Aziz, "Sparring with the Enemy," Newsline, July 1995, pp.42-49.

Interviews with concerned law enforcements officers with past experience of anti-
dacoity operations in Sind

Author’s Interview with SSP Dr Sarwar Jamali, District Police Officer, Umarkot, Sind,
on 22nd September 2008

Author’s Interview with DIG Sarmad Saeed, Chief Instructor, National Police Academy,
Islamabad, on 3rd October 2008

Author’s Interview with Col. Musa Khattak, ISI Detachment, Peshawar, on 10th May

[The writer is a well-known scholar, author and an officer of the District
Management Group of Pakistan civil services. Presently, he is posted as Deputy
Secretary, Finance Division, Government of Pakistan, and Islamabad. He can be
reached at his Email: saadskhan@yahoo.co.uk]


To top