Punjab police spokeswoman Nabeela Ghazanfar said on Thursday that policemen were killed in the midst of an ongoing operation against the so-called Chotu Gang in the Kacha Jamal area of Rajanpur district in southern part of the eastern Punjab Province.
"Police killed four top criminals of Chotu Gang and wounded eight, while six police officials are dead and seven injured," she said, adding, "The gang has held 24 persons hostage, including police officials. We are not sure how many civilian and police officials are among the hostages."
She said the mop-up operation was "very difficult," noting that the "gang has made its hideout on a small island, surrounded by water and dense jungle."
At least 1,600 security personnel, including policeman and paramilitary forces, are reportedly involved in the operation to flush out the gangsters from the volatile region.
Pakistani law enforcement agencies say the gang, which is active in the border areas of the provinces of Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan, has been behind hundreds of cases of murder, robberies and kidnapping for ransom.
Pakistan authorities launched an armed crackdown in Punjab after a deadly bombing in the eastern city of Lahore killed more than 70 people last month.
Pakistan's army attention for years has been focused on the Taliban and al-Qaeda militants’ hideouts in a tribal region along the Afghan border.
In the country’s troubled northwestern tribal regions, Islamabad has been engaged in a major offensive against militant hideouts since June 2014, when a deadly raid on the Karachi International Airport ended the government’s faltering peace talks with the pro-Taliban militants.
Pakistan’s army has intensified military operations against the militants since pro-Taliban elements killed over 150 people, most of them children, in an armed assault on a school in the northwestern city of Peshawar in December 2014.
However, criminals and militants have quietly expanded their influence and won recruits in the country's heartland of Punjab. Most of the militants operating across Punjab belong to outlawed notorious terrorist groups known as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Sipah-e-Sahaba.
Pakistan's Inter-Services intelligence (ISI) has long been accused of tolerating or even supporting such groups. The intelligence establishment has vehemently denied supporting any militants.
Thousands of Pakistanis have lost their lives in bombings and other militant attacks since 2001, when Pakistan entered an alliance with the US in the so-called war on terror. Thousands more have been displaced by the wave of violence and militancy sweeping across the country.