Global Affairs Desk

Tue Jun 18 2024

1971 Hijacking, how R&AW fooled Pakistan

~ By Samidha Jain on 9/4/2023

1971 Hijacking, how R&AW fooled Pakistan

The 1971 Indo- Pakistan war which took place between 3rd and 16th December,1971 is a watershed event in world history. The 13-day war ended with the surrender of 93,000 Pakistani military men to Bangladeshi and Indian forces, which made it one of the largest military surrenders in world history. R&AW, Research and Analysis Wing is the intelligence agency of India and is credited with India’s decisive victory. In this article, I have tried to trace back to January of 1971 and how a staged hijacking saved us from a treacherous war.

The reign of terror which West Pakistan had unleashed on East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) caused immense disturbance in India. With lakhs of immigrants flocking in India and the genocide taking place, W-Pakistan knew India would not stay silent. In lieu of this, tensions between W- Pakistan and India had started building from 1970. W-Pakistan’s intensions were clear, use India to break it. They saw their internal issues as an opportunity to break away India’s Northeast and planed an air strike in February 1971. Indian airspace was presumably open to the forces of W- Pakistan and could be used without any restrictions. In January 1971, when R&AW became abreast of W- Pakistan’s vicious plan, they worked out various means by which they can block our airspace and escape from the impromptu war.

An airspace can be blocked only during the circumstances of war. Acts of terrorism are also considered as an act of war. With very limited time, R&AW decided to hoax a terror attack and orchestrated a plane hijacking. Two Kashmiri separatists, Hashim and his cousin Ashraf Qureshi belonging to National Liberation Front had decided to hijack a plane traveling from Srinagar Airport to Jammu-Satwari Airport. When R&AW got this intel, they tracked down the separatists and studied their actions closely. Ganga was one of the oldest aircraft in the Indian Airlines fleet and was already withdrawn from service but was re-inducted days before the hijacking. All the passengers were replaced by R&AW agents and had all the necessary details of hijacking in advance. The two hijackers flew Ganga to Lahore airport and demanded the release of two Kashmiri separatists who were kept behind Indian bars.

The Indian passengers were safely returned under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto administration and India retaliated by banning all Pakistani aircrafts from using its airspace. When demands of hijackers were not met, they decided to burn the aircraft down at Lahore airport.

The ban had a subsequent impact on breaking the flow of troops from W- Pakistan to E-Pakistan. West Pakistan reacted by charging India and NLF with conspiracy charges. The crackdown severely weakened the militant organisation and Amanhulla Khan, the handler of this hijacking moved to Britain to establish a new Kashmiri Separatist organisation, Jammu, and Kasmir Liberation Front.

The 1971 Hijacking was the first case of plane hijacking in India. With this incident India could easily escape from Pakistani air strike and R&AW affirmed and established itself.

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