This was going to be different from any interview that I have ever done in my two decades of journalism. My sources were setting up a meeting with Nazar Mohammad Narejo, a notorious criminal in upper Sindh who is also known as Nazroo Narejo.
On a sunny and pleasant February day, I set out on a motorcycle with my sources, for the riverine plain, known as katcha in local language. We crossed a dyke to enter the katcha area and after travelling on an uneven and dusty path for about 20 minutes we reached the river bank. A small boat is anchored at the shore and two men are lying leisurely in it. When we asked them to drop us to the other side of the bank, the boatmen looked surprised but did not question us and took us on aboard. It took the boat nearly 15 minutes to cross the river; it turned back immediately after dropping us without even charging any fare. We walked through a riverine forest overgrown with weeds and shrubbery. To our right, about 400 yards away from the bank, we spotted a small temporary settlement with few goats grazing and a teenage girl sitting on the ground, holding a stick.
We walked on a dirt track for 10 minutes and then noticed a tall young man coming towards us from the opposite side. When he came closer, he asked the name of my source. After confirming the source’s identity, he announced Narejo had “sent me to fetch both of you.” He was carrying a G-3 gun on one shoulder and a cloth bag on the other; the bag was stuffed with bullets, a torch, water bottle and packets of edibles. We continued walking on the occasionally thorny track for 45 minutes and finally reached a place surrounded by trees and bushes. In the middle of that patch of land, four men dressed in navy blue shalwar kameez and wearing Sindhi caps were sitting on a rilli (a traditional Sindhi quilt) under the shade of a tree, with sub-machine guns in their laps. When we approached them, they all stood up and greeted us.
“I am Nazroo Narejo,” said one of them, firmly shaking hands with me and my mediator. In his late forties and sporting a beard, he was the ‘dreaded dacoit’ I had come to see. Very courteously, he invited both of us to sit with him on the rilli. Clearly he did not fit the stereotype of the dangerous criminal that I imagined him to be. His deputy Mahboob Narejo also sat with us on the rilli. The others sat on the bare land. I observed five sub-machine guns placed against a tree, while an assault rifle was positioned next to Narejo.
After we were seated, Narejo narrated his life story. He hails from Khairpur district and is one of the most senior and notorious dacoits of Sindh. His father Rab Rakhio Narejo, alias Rabbu Narejo, studied at the Sindh University, Jamshoro. But then Rabbu allegedly killed Naseem Ahmed Kharal, a Sindhi short story writer, in 1978 following a land dispute. He was arrested but when released on bail he absconded and became a criminal. Rabbu would spend most of his time in forests after committing dacoities in the cities and Narejo Junior would often accompany him; soon he too turned into a dacoit. In the mid-1980s, Rabbu was killed in a police encounter allegedly at the behest of the Kharals.
His demeanour notwithstanding, Narejo carries two million rupees as head money for his alleged involvement in more than 100 murders and many cases of kidnapping for ransom. As my questions became more specific, his answers turned shorter; many of his responses to my queries were little more than murmurs, indicating that he did not want to explain everything. Often he would stop talking to look around. To make him less edgy, I asked him why he carried the beggar’s bowl with him. His answer was as surprising as it sounded naïve. “Everything I have to eat, I first put that in the bowl and wait. If the food is poisonous, the bowl will break. If the bowl doesn’t break, then I will eat it.”
Narejo claimed that he was unhappy with this life as a criminal as he was forced to live in ‘inaccessible’ katcha area to avoid arrest. It was certainly a difficult life and I asked him how he and his gang members coped when they fell ill. “My people bring doctors to the forest,” he responded.
Would he surrender to the police, I asked. “I would surrender on my own terms and conditions,” he said. “I would not quit killing or abducting people, if needed, in tribal clashes.” He said he did not have the backing of any tribal chief but admitted that he had connections in the police. Would not his friends in police help him in surrendering on his conditions? Narejo merely nodded his head.
Then I spoke to the members of his gang about their leader. They called him badshah (king) or waddo (elder). Badshah is very loving towards us but he gets very angry when any of us does not turn up within the stipulated time when we go to visit our families or friends, said one of his deputies. “He would say to us, it is fine, do not come back, I do not need you anymore. But when he says this we immediately come back to our den,” the deputy laughed. Even though we wish to be with our families, we can never think of leaving him for good, he adds.
A couple of days later, I met another notorious criminal, Shaman Shaikh, who was a police constable before he became a murderer and a kidnapper. To meet Shaikh, I travelled five kilometres in katcha area on a motorcycle before two of his armed companions joined me and took me to his hideout.
Shaikh, dressed in shalwar kameez with a blue cap inscribed with “Sindh Police” perched on his head, was sitting on a charpoy outside a couple of huts. He had his arms and ammunition all around him — I saw his G-3 gun and then in a bag there were bullets, a torch and some other items. I noticed that his fingers were adorned with two stone rings. He was also carrying a packet of Gold Flake cigarettes and a Nokia 1200 cell phone, with the ring tone set to a famous Abida Perveen number, Aray logo tumhara kya, main jaanu mera khuda jaanay [This is nobody’s business, it is between me and my God].
“I joined the Larkana police in 1996 but was implicated in a street crime case and arrested in 2004. I managed to flee from custody and came to a katcha area,” he told me. Since then, he has been leading a criminal’s life. When I probed deeper, he appeared frustrated. “I have not left katcha for 5-6 years and have become fed up of living in the forests,” he responds. Sometimes his family visits him quietly for a few days and then goes back to Larkana.
As for surrendering to the police, he said, “I want to surrender to the police, but only if they assure me that they would not kill me in a fake encounter and withdraw the cases registered against me.” He claimed that two of his accomplices – Saleem Shaikh and Naseer Shaikh – surrendered in February 2011 but the police, instead of taking them to the police station, killed them in Khairpur. He showed me a newspaper clipping in which the police had claimed that both were killed in an encounter.
In his late forties and speaking softly, he also denied being involved in kidnapping-for-ransom cases or, for that matter, any other criminal activity “The police has framed me in 10-12 false cases for murder and kidnapping for ransom,” he claimed. A police officer in Larkana later told me that Shaikh was “actually involved” in multiple robberies and kidnappings for ransom. It is because of these crimes that the government has announced half a million rupees as ‘head money’ for Shaikh’s arrest.
When I was about to leave, Shaikh urged me to talk to the home minister for his safe surrender and pardon for his crimes. Like Narejo, he too seemed to be hankering after a normal life.