DACOITS OF SINDH Sindh’s dacoits (bands of robbers) who harassed the countryside, with the rural poor as their main victims, go a long way back into history These bands sometimes worked for the waderas (the large landlords), extorting taxes from the small peasants on behalf of the landlords However, it was only after the agitation launched in 1983 by the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD) against the martial-law government of General Zia ulHaq that the dacoits turned to politics and began to receive arms, training, and organizational support from the political parties that opposed military rule The army was called in to eliminate the threat that the dacoits now posed to the national economy But its operations seemed more costly to the army in terms of personnel lost in the confrontation with the roving bands than to the dacoits themselves Despite the presence of the army, the dacoits continued to operate with impunity from the sanctuary offered by the katcha, the bed of the Indus River, five to seven miles wide between the river’s protective embankments With the flow in the river controlled by the Tarbela Dam, the bed now supported thick vegetation from which the dacoits could launch operations without much fear of detection The army was reluctant to move into the katcha itself For a number of years, the dacoits were not only able to harass the local authorities but were also able to disrupt traffic on the national highway connecting Karachi with the interior On a number of occasions, they also disrupted traffic on the main railway line connecting Karachi and the province of Punjab

They staged raids on trains carrying both passengers and goods It was only after the return of representative government in the province of Sindh in 1988, and the subsequent withdrawal of support to the dacoits, that the latter were brought under control In the meantime, however, they had exacted a heavy toll on the province’s economy

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