Lost Kashmiri History reproduces a chapter from the former R&AW Officer, RK Yadaw’s book – Mission R&AW (page 227) in larger public interest.
There was an agent of R&AW—Hashim Qureshi in Srinagar. He was working in league with BSF also at Jammu and Kashmir border. In Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK), a Pakistan sponsored terrorist organization, National Liberation Front was formed by one militant Mohammad Maqbool Butt for subversive activities in Jammu and Kashmir. This organization launched a movement Al-Fatah for the liberation of J&K from India and sent a large number of its members for subversive activities there. Thirty-six of their members were arrested by the J&K Police with the help of intelligence agencies. In order to get the inside information about this movement, R&AW decided to infiltrate Qureshi into this organization since he was having full knowledge about the terrain of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and was also aware of the intelligence activities of Pakistan. But Qureshi changed his integrity when he was sent to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and subsequently won over by the Pakistani intelligence to work for them in J&K. Qureshi himself had admitted that he was trained in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir by 1st operatives at the instance of Maqbool Butt. He was given training of hijacking by a former pilot of Pakistan. Qureshi was sent by Pakistani intelligence in J&K in the middle of January 1971 when he was arrested by BSF while he was crossing the border.
When he was interrogated by the Indian intelligence agencies, he spilled the beans and revealed that he was sent by Pakistani intelligence to hijack an Indian Airlines plane from Srinagar airport. The plane was to be hijacked when it would be piloted by Rajiv Gandhi, son of Mrs. Indira Gandhi, then Prime Minister of India, who was a serving pilot with Indian Airlines. When this startling disclosure was reported to the head of BSF and R&AW, R.N. Kao devised a counter plan to defeat Pakistani intelligence in their Owls game through this hijacking. This was approved by Indira Gandhi, the Indian Prime Minister. R&AW and BSF, persuaded Hashim Qureshi to work for them in order to save him from prosecution from Indian authorities, to which he agreed. A plan was devised that Qureshi would be allowed to hijack a plane of Indian Airlines from Srinagar airport to Lahore where he would demand the release of 36 members of Al-Fatah who were in jail in India in lieu of the passengers on the plane. He was directed not to give the control of the plane to the Pakistani authorities until he was allowed to talk to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party, who was the chief architect of instigating political turmoil in Pakistan at that time. It was planned by R.N. Kao that he would blow up the plane after his meeting with Bhutto to prove his credentials for the cause of Al-Fatah militants in jail, in the eyes of Pakistani authorities. In order to keep this operation a closely-guarded secret, Qureshi was sent to a safe house of R&AW in Bangalore for security reasons till the finalization of the final plan. This was not disclosed to the J&K Government and other security agencies by R&AW.
After the plan was given final shape, on January 30, 1971 Hashim Qureshi along with another operative Ashraf Qureshi, his relative, was allowed to hijack a Fokker Friendship plane Ganga of Indian Airlines with 26 passengers on board from Srinagar airport and forced Captain Kachru, the pilot of the plane, to take the plane to Lahore airport. R&AW allowed him to carry a grenade and a toy pistol inside the plane. Pakistani authorities at Lahore airport allowed the plane to land when they were informed that it had been hijacked by National Liberation Front activist militants of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.
All India Radio soon made a broadcast of this hijacking and the whole world was informed that the Pakistan Government was behind this hijacking. Qureshi, as directed by R&AW, demanded the release of 36 Al-Fatah members in custody of Indian Government in lieu of the passengers on the plane and asked the Pakistani authorities to arrange his meeting with Bhutto at the airport. Indian Government obviously refused to release the Al-Fatah detainees. Qureshi was allowed to move freely at Lahore Airport by the Pakistani authorities where he used a telephone and met media people while the second hijacker was guarding the passengers inside the plane. Bhutto met Qureshi on February 1, 1971 and they talked for sometime near the plane. Thereafter, the passengers were released and the plane was blown up. There are contradictory reports, but it was later confirmed that the plane was put on fire by the ISI operatives of Pakistan. This was admitted by Hashim Qureshi also after his release from jail. All passengers and crew members were sent back to India via Amritsar by road.
Pakistan Government initially gave him political asylum and hailed him as a freedom fighter. Most of the political leaders of Pakistan condemned this incident but Bhutto did not criticise this hijacking which further strengthened the claim of India that Pakistan was behind this hijacking with full knowledge of Bhutto. This was a masterstroke planning by the Chief of R&AW, R.N. Kao, which brought international criticism of this hijacking. Indian Government immediately banned all the flights of Pakistan from its territory. In Pakistan, the truth behind this incident was known to the general public that the hijackers did not belong to any freedom movement of Kashmir and, in fact, were agents of the Indian Government. Even Sheikh Abdullah, who was released in 1968 because of the internal and external pressures, also denounced the hijackers as the Indian agents. Pakistan Government appointed an Inquiry Commission in this case. The Commission came to the conclusion that the hijacking of the aircraft was arranged by the Indian intelligence agencies as the culmination of a series of actions taken by the Indian Government to bring about a situation of confrontation between Pakistan and India. Taking advantage of this situation, the Indian Government banned the flights of Pakistani aircraft over Indian territory in February 1971 and succeeded in its plans to create difficulties for over-flights to East Pakistan and also to inflict financial loss because all flights from Weft to East Pakistan were enrooted via Sri Lanka, Commission also gave opinion that the motive behind this conspiracy was to disrupt internal communications of Pakistan and to encourage separatist movements to disintegrate Pakistan.
This incident overtly gave India the right opportunity which was planned by R.N. Kao, to cancel the flights of Pakistan over its territory which hampered the plan of Yahya Khan to send its troops by air to curb the political movement of Mujib in East Pakistan. Later on, the USA Government offered to Pakistan clandestinely to supply their planes to transport soldiers to Bangladesh via Sri Lanka and Himalaya range. This hijacking ultimately slowed down the arrival of Pakistan Army through air route. This was a masterstroke of R&AW during the 1971 war for the liberation of Bangladesh which Pakistan Government did not apprehend and never denied the fact that Hashim Qureshi was not the member of Al-Fatah terrorist organization. He was an Indian agent, who meticulously executed this top secret operation of R&AW which enabled the Indian Government to create far-reaching problems in the deployment of Pakistan Army in East Pakistan due to the ban on over-flights from the Indian territory.
Hashim Qureshi and Ashraf Qureshi along with four others were subsequently prosecuted in a Special Court under the charges of working for the Indian intelligence services in this hijacking case. He was sentenced to nineteen years of imprisonment. He was later released in 1980 by the Pakistan Government. Hashim went to the Netherlands after completing his sentence in Pakistan.
Thereafter, R&AW did not let down its important agent, Hashim. The station chief of R&AW in Netherlands was asked by the R&AW authorities to trace him there. He was duly traced and provided all sorts of help for his rehabilitation in Netherland. Although R&AW used him as its agent in the hijacking in 1971 but the legal system in India did not pay any credence to that so-called secret operation and Hashim was arrested in December 2000 when he was brought to India by R&AW authorities. He was also prosecuted in India for the Ganga hijacking case under various sections of the Indian Penal Code. In this double jeopardy case, because he had already been prosecuted by the Pakistan Government in the Ganga hijacking case, Hashim is still facing prosecution on some charges in Srinagar Court. R&AW authorities are still taking care of Hashim except for a brief period in May 2008, when the then R&AW Secretary Ashok Chaturvedi stopped his regular compensation but it was soon restored by the next Secretary of R&AW, when past facts were brought to his knowledge. He is presently involved in the political streamline of Jammu and Kashmir and doing social welfare program for Kashmiri people.