Neha Patil

1971 Indian Airlines hijacking

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Site  Lahore, Pakistan
Aircraft type  Fokker F27 Friendship
Date  30 January 1971
Operator  Indian
Survivors  All
Aircraft name  Ganga
Summary  Aircraft hijacking
Location  Lahore
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On 30 January 1971 an Indian Airlines Fokker F27 Friendship aircraft named Ganga flying from Srinagar to Jammu was hijacked by two Kashmiri separatists belonging to the National Liberation Front (the antecedent of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front), Hashim Qureshi and his cousin Ashraf Qureshi. It was flown to Lahore, Pakistan where the passengers and crew were released and the aircraft was burnt on 1 February 1971.

Contents

Ganga was one of the oldest aircraft in the Indian Airlines fleet and was already withdrawn from service but was re-inducted days before the hijacking.

India retaliated to the hijacking and subsequent burning of the aircraft by banning overflights by Pakistani aircraft. This overflight ban in the run up to the December 1971 war between the countries had a significant impact on troop movement into erstwhile East Pakistan, now Bangladesh.

Planning

Hashim Qureshi, a Srinagar resident who went to Peshawar on family business in 1969, met Maqbool Bhat, the leader of the National Liberation Front (NLF), a self-declared 'armed wing' of the Azad Kashmir Plebiscite Front. He was persuaded to join the NLF and given an ideological education and lessons in guerrilla tactics in Rawalpindi. In order to draw the world's attention to the Kashmiri independence movement, the NLF planned an airline hijacking fashioned after the Dawson's Field hijackings by the Palestinian militants. Hashim Qureshi, along with his cousin Ashraf Qureshi, was ordered to execute one. A former Pakistani air force pilot Jamshed Manto trained him for the task. However, Qureshi was arrested by the Indian Border Security Force when he tried to reenter Indian-held Kashmir with arms and equipment. He negotiated his way out by claiming to help find other conspirators that were allegedly in the Indian territory, sought an appointment in the Border Security Force to provide such help. Maqbool Bhat sent Qureshi replacement equipment for the hijacking, but it fell into the hands of a double agent, who then turned it over to the Indian authorities. Undeterred, the Qureshis made look-alike explosives out of wood and hijacked an Indian Airlines plane called Ganga on 30 January 1971.

Burning

The hijackers landed the plane at Lahore and demanded the release of 36 NLF prisoners lodged in Indian jails. However, they succumbed to pressure from the airport authorities and ended up releasing all the passengers and the crew. Years later, Ashraf Qureshi admitted that they were naive and didn't realise that "the passengers were more important than the actual plane." Pakistan's Prime Minister Zulfikar Bhutto showed up at the airport and paid a handsome tribute to the hijackers. Indian Government then refused to carry out the demands. The plane lay on the tarmac for eighty hours, during which the Pakistani security personnel thoroughly searched the air plane and removed papers and postal bags they found in it. Eventually, upon the advice of the authorities, Hashim Qureshi burnt the plane down.

Aftermath

For some time, the Qureshis were lauded as heroes. After India reacted by banning overflight of Pakistani planes over India, the Pakistani authorities claimed that the hijack was staged by India, and arrested the hijackers and all their collaborators. A one-man investigation committee headed by Justice Noorul Arifeen declared the hijacking to be an Indian conspiracy, citing Qureshi's appointment in the Border Security Force. In addition to the hijackers, Maqbool Bhat and 150 other NLF fighters were arrested. Seven people were eventually brought to trial (the rest being held without charges). The High Court acquitted them of treason charges. Hashim Qureshi alone was sentenced to seven years in prison. Ironically, Ashraf Qureshi was released even though he was an equal participant in the hijacking. This is said to have been a deal made by Zulikar Bhutto, by now the President of Pakistan, who declared that he would convict one hijacker but release the other.

Amanullah Khan was also imprisoned for 15 months in a Gilgit prison during 1970-72, accused of being an Indian agent. He was released after protests broke out in Gilgit. Thirteen of his colleagues were sentenced to 14 years in prison, but released after a year. According to Hashim Qureshi, 400 activists of the Plebiscite Front and NLF were arrested in Pakistan after the Ganga hijacking. Abdul Khaliq Ansari, who was arrested and tortured, testified in the High Court that the Ganga hijacking had emboldened the people to question the corrupt practices of the Azad Kashmir leaders and, in reaction, the government arrested them and forced them to confess to being Indian agents.

References

1971 Indian Airlines hijacking Wikipedia


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