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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

The Ganga Hijacking in 1971

On 30 January 1971, an Indian Airlines domestic Fokker F27, also named "Ganga", flying from Srinagar Airport to the Jammu-Satwari Airport, was hijacked by two Kashmiri separatists belonging to the National Liberation Front. The hijackers were Hashim Qureshi and his cousin Ashraf Qureshi.

On 30 January 1971, an Indian Airlines passenger airliner named Ganga, flying from Srinagar to Jammu, was hijacked by six Kashmiris. The hijackers were Hashim Qureshi, his cousin Ashraf Qureshi, and four others. The aircraft was flown to Lahore. They demanded the release of 36 National Liberation Front prisoners lodged in Indian jails. Ostensibly, the hijackers succumbed to pressure from the airport authorities and ended up releasing all the passengers and the crew.

The aircraft lay on the tarmac for eighty hours, during which the Pakistani security personnel thoroughly searched the aircraft and removed papers and postal bags they found in it. This happened after the December 1970 general elections. However, the elections resulted in a Catch-22 situation for Pakistan In these elections Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s Peoples Party had not fielded a single candidate from East Pakistan. On the other hand, Sheikh Mujib’s Awami League contested only 7 out of 138 seats in West Pakistan.

Read more: Kashmir: The Counter Narrative

Were the two wings of Pakistan wittingly or unwittingly moving towards separation?

As a result of the 1970 general elections, Awami League emerged as the majority party in the parliament, but it did not have even a single representative from West Pakistan. Likewise, Peoples Party, the second largest party in the parliament, did not have any members from East Pakistan.

Eighty hours after the hijacking, as day turned into night, Bhutto visited the airport. Those were the 70s! There were no FSF and electronic scanners, and visitors could go up to the tarmac without anyone checking them. Bhutto met the hijackers at the apron. There was a short discussion. Minutes later there was a loud explosion and the Indian Airlines Fokker went up in flames.

The Ganga hijacking case is a classic case study of the Byzantine ways the murky world of secret warfare operates –it is hard to make out who is sleeping with whom.

As it turned out later, the hijackers, apparently belonging to National Liberation Front, were on the payroll of the Indian intelligence. Either the NLF was a party to it or was unwittingly playing into the hands of Indians. The hijackers, six in number, were tried in a special court of Pakistan under the charges of collaboration with the Indian intelligence services. All but Hashim Qureshi were cleared of all charges other than dealing with arms and explosives etc. Hashim Qureshi was sentenced to nineteen years’ imprisonment. The Pakistani authorities released Hashim Qureshi in 1980. After his release, Hashim, towing the Indian line, alleged that Pakistan had also occupied Gilgit- Baltistan and Azad Kashmir, where there is no democracy. He escaped Pakistan and fled to The Netherlands.

In December 2000, Hashim Qureshi returned to India after an exile of almost 30 years. He was immediately arrested at New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport and was produced before a metropolitan magistrate. In Kashmir, he was again charged for the 1971 hijacking with wrongful confinement, robbery, kidnapping, and criminal conspiracy. He was also charged with hatching a criminal conspiracy with hanged JKNLF’s founder Maqbool Bhat under a section of the Enemy Ordinance Act 3 which accused him of being a Pakistani agent.

Read more: A fight to the death!

The way forward

Hashim Qureshi spent a year in Hari Niwas jail in Srinagar and was released on bail in December 2001, because of health issues on the condition that he may not indulge himself in “anti-state activities”. He is still facing trial in the hijacking case and regularly has to attend court. He was the only separatist leader who attended two of the three Round Table Conferences organized by India and chaired by Indian PM, Minoan Singh.

Notwithstanding the vicissitudes in the Ganga hijacking case, Hashim Qureshi and his cohorts had served the purpose for which they had hijacked the Indian Airlines Fokker – India had retaliated to the hijacking and subsequent blowing up of the Fokker by banning overflights of Pakistani aircraft. The ban, occurring in the run-up to the December 1971 war between the countries, had a significant impact on troop movement into erstwhile East Pakistan.

Read more: Can India occupy AJK and GB?

Half a century on, the people of Pakistan have a clearer understanding of the events that led to the 1971 War. They are more aware now that the war was a synchronous effort by India, Bhutto, Mujib, and Fifth Columnists like Waris Mir (father of Hamid Mir), Malik Ghulam Jilani (father of Asma Jahangir), and the Pakistan Times Gang to dismember Pakistan through a contrived insurgency. It started when India closed its airspace to Pakistani overflights.


Saleem Akhtar Malik is a Pakistan Army veteran who writes on national and international affairs, defense, military history, and military technology. He Tweets at @saleemakhtar53. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.