By Zahid Hussain, Photojournalist at Freelance Press Photo Agency
worked with: Daily Jang and Reuters Pictures 

It was a cold day in Lahore. When I reached my office, our crime reporter Pervez Chishti (whom we called Baba Chishti) told me to immediately reach Lahore airport as an Indian hijacked plane had landed there.

I did not had a motorcycle in those days. Instead I used my bicycle to ride through Lahore streets. So I pedaled fast and reached airport. No security checking, no body frisking and no barricades were seen in those days. I reached at the runway where some news reporters were standing about 300 feet away from the plane.

They were exchanging their views on hijacking. I saw a Fokker plane with name Ganga written on its side sitting at the runway and some policemen were standing next to the plane.A reporter told me that there were two hijackers namely Hashim Qureshi and his cousin Ashraf Qureshi with passengers and crew members onboard.

I was told that they are Kashmiri mujahideen who hijacked Indian Airline flight from Jammu and forced pilot to land at Lahore airport. They demanded from Indian authorities immediate release of some activists of Jammu & Kashmir National Liberation Front (JKNLF) who were languishing in Indian jails. JKNLF was led by Maqbool But (Bhat) and he was in Pakistan in those days.

Because Z.A.Bhutto was very popular among Kashmiris, the hijackers also demanded to meet him. Bhutto was travelling from Dacca to Lahore after failed negotiation with Awami League chief Sheikh Mujeebur Rehman. The December 1970 general elections had created a political chaos and instability in East Pakistan and Indian intervention was on the cards.

Bhutto met hijackers while he was standing on runway and hijackers talked him from the window of the cockpit. Bhutto advised them to release all passengers and crew members or at least release women and children. After talks Bhutto addressed a news conference at the airport. Meantime hijackers released all the passengers and crew. They were brought to the airport lounge and served with tea and snacks. Later two buses took them to a Lahore hotel where they stayed a night or two and were taken by road to India-Pakistan border at Hussaini wala Sector.

From there they were handed over to Indian authorities.Back at Lahore airport crowds of people were visiting to see a glimpse of hijackers whom they (public) called Kashmiri Mujahideen.

Hijackers remain in the plane till the night of February 2, 1971 so did the journalists spending their days and nights not far from the plane. Covering hijacking is a unique event. You can not leave the place as anything can happen at any time. A commando action from authorities, hijackers could detonate the plane or anyother action. On February 2, 1971 at about 11 in the night, hijackers put the plane on fire and jumped from the plane but were arrested by security personnel.

The plane was seen into flames and hijackers were shouting slogans for Kashmir. I exposed a roll or two and rushed towards office (on my bicycle). Fortunately I managed to meet the press deadline and a couple of pictures of burning plane were published. Baba Chishti whispered in my ear in office ” both hijackers have some burns on their hands and arms. They are admitted in Services Hospital. Go and try your luck”.

It seemed very difficult to enter services hospital with your camera at about 2AM. But I decided to try for an exclusive. I reached services hospital. Went towards the information counter where a nurse was sitting. I asked her in which room those patients are who were brought from Lahore airport. She gave me the numbers of the rooms of both Qureshis.

I slowly walked towards the rooms which were a little far away and opened the door of a room. I saw Hashim Qureshi on the bed. I did not say anything to him. And aimed my camera and took two shots. He was silent and just looking at me. I returned silently, closed the door and went to the other room where Ashraf Qureshi was lying.

Took a couple of his shots and left for office. (Lucky you are). I have a theory from start of my profession. A newspaper photographer has 50 percent his efforts and 50 percent his luck. (I will explain this theory in detail next time I write something).

Meanwhile Pakistani public anxiously waited Kashmiri mujahideen to recover from injuries. When they were released from hospital, they were brought in a huge rally by thousands of Pakistanis. Next day they were invited by Punjab university vice chancellor Allama Alauddin Siddiqui where Hashim Quresh, Ashraf Qurshi and Maqbool But addressed a large number of students, journalists, intellectuals and others. The situation went suddenly wrong for Pakistan when India banned all flights from West Pakistan to East Pakistan over its air space. Which resulted in a longer journey by planes from Karachi or Lahore to Dacca.

It was obvious that Indian intelligence agencies had successfully completed their target by blocking Pakistan not to use India’s air space and that hijacking was an Indian conspiracy.

Pakistani authorities arrested Hashim Qureshi, Ashraf Qureshi and Maqbool But and they were tried in Lahore high court in Pakistan.After two years in jail Maqbool and Ashraf were released but Hashim Qureshi was remained in jail till 1980. After years, Maqbool But was hanged to death by Indian authorities in Tehar Jail. Hashim Qureshi lived in England while Ashraf Qureshi completed his higher education in Pakistan and taught in Azad Kashmir. He died in Pakistan side of kashmir in 2012.


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