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'Gareeb no koi nahi'

January 13, 2002

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There are many unable to discern the difference between true religion and religiosity - a common failing. The jihadis' belief is that to go to war for the misguided version of the religion with which they have been imbued gives them a one-way ticket directly up to paradise.

The Hindus believe 'gunah kar, Ganga naha, pavitre ho', loosely translated as 'sin as you will, bathe in the Ganga, and all your sins are washed away'. Faith, and particularly that of the bigot, more often than not combats and defeats common sense.

Take the staged attack upon the Indian parliament on December 13 during which not one furl of one dhoti of one Indian legislator was unfurled, during which not one brick was dislodged from one pillar. As wrote Karachi's young Kamila Shamsie in The Guardian of January 2, ". . . . gunmen miraculously got through security checks, in a time of heightened alerts, and attempted to destroy the Indian parliament. In a further miracle, none of the ministers were hurt and the terrorists were killed.

The Indian government refused to show the faces of the terrorists to reporters, insisted that the terrorists were part of two groups fighting for the liberation of Kashmir (though that is not quite how the Indians phrased it), and that the attack was planned in training camps in Pakistan and involved the collusion of Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI. Pakistan offered a joint inquiry into the affair, and India refused."

This odd incident is in the mould of the hijacking of the Indian Airlines Fokker Friendship, the Ganga, named after the famed river. The staged hijacking of 1971 was not that long ago and there are many of us still around who remember it well. Then, as now, India banned the flight of all Pakistani aircraft over its territories.

The sad Chief Justice of Pakistan, Hamoodur Rahman, who hailed from East Bengal, was an even sadder man after hearing all the evidence whilst presiding over his commission investigating the East Pakistan tragedy.

On the Ganga hijacking he wrote in his judicious report of 1972: "On the 30th of January 1971, the Indian authorities staged the hijacking of one of their planes to Lahore, and its subsequent destruction by the hijackers who have been found to be Indian agents as a result of a judicial inquiry held by a Judge of the Sind and Baluchistan High Court. This incident was seized upon by the Indian government to ban flights of Pakistan's civil aircraft in order to increase difficulties and tensions between the two wings of Pakistan at a critical juncture in the political and constitutional negotiations between the Pakistan government and the leadership of the Awami League in East Pakistan."

G.W. Chaudhry, another good man of East Bengal, in his book, The Last Days of United Pakistan' (published 1974), described it thus: ". . India had banned all flights of Pakistani planes between East and West Pakistan as of February, 1971 because of an alleged hijacking of an Indian plane by 'Pakistanis' at Lahore ... A judicial inquiry conducted subsequently by the Pakistan government revealed that the hijackers were Indian agents from the Indian-occupied part of Kashmir. Mujib indirectly endorsed the Indian action by terming it as 'a conspiracy by the Pakistan government to postpone the transfer of power'."

Later, Richard Sisson and Leo E. Rose in their book War and Secession had it that "Bhutto . . . . was able fortuitously to dramatize his policy of confrontation with India and to encourage a perception in the west of Mujib's untrustworthiness with respect to their neighbour because of the 'Ganga incident' in which an Indian Airline flight from Srinagar to Jammu was hijacked by two young Kashmiri 'freedom fighters' on 30 January 1971 and forced to land at Lahore. Bhutto visited the hijackers, applauded their heroism, and supported their request for asylum.

"He declared that this heroic action was a sign that no power on earth could stop the Kashmiri struggle and the PPP would contact the Kashmiri National Liberation Front to offer its cooperation and assistance which would also be given to the hijackers. Mujib, in contrast, expressed his abhorrence of the hijacking and urged the government to 'take effective measures' to prevent interested quarters from exploiting the situation for their nefarious ends."

B.M. Sinha in his book The Samba Spy Case has dwelt in detail on the Ganga hijacking by Hashim Qureshi and his cousin Ashraf Qureshi which started a chain of political events leading to the dismemberment of Pakistan. His cloak and dagger tale has it that as a member of the Jammu and Kashmir Democratic Liberation Front (JKDLF) Qureshi had been sent to Pakistan by the Indian intelligence agencies to collect information on Maqbool Butt and other top leaders of the front.

While in Azad Kashmir he betrayed the Indians and defected to the Pakistani intelligence. Whilst crossing back over the LoC from Azad Kashmir he was arrested by the Indians, and during his interrogation disclosed that he had been trained in Pakistan to hijack an Indian plane piloted by Rajiv Gandhi. He was won over by the Indians, given a bogus official appointment as a sub-inspector of the Border Security Force and groomed for an Indian-planned hijacking. The aim was to check General Yahya Khan's attempts to assemble troops in East Pakistan. A landing in Lahore would provoke Pakistan and give India the excuse to ban all overflight facilities by Pakistan planes.

Qureshi's story to the Pakistanis, as instructed, was to be that he was a member of Maqbool Bhat's JKDLF, and had hijacked the plane to secure the release of 36 'freedom fighters' held in Indian jails. He was told not to hand over the Ganga to the Pakistanis unless Bhutto came to see him, as Bhutto's involvement would lend credence to the propaganda that the hijacking had been planned by Pakistan. After meeting him, he would then blow up the plane. All went according to plan.

Hashim Qureshi surrendered to the Pakistan authorities and was held in jail here, tried, and acquitted by the Supreme Court of Pakistan after being hailed as a courageous 'freedom fighter' and released in 1982. He subsequently denied Sinha's account. He claims that he has always worked for Shaheed Mohammed Maqbool Butt (executed at Tihar jail in New Delhi) and for an independent Jammu and Kashmir, and that until his dying day he will work for an independent Kashmir. He has also claimed that the charges brought against him in the Pakistani courts were part of a conspiracy by the Pakistan government against the movement for an independent Kashmir.

Now to Ground Zero, 9/11. Fortunately for us, though there are too many who think otherwise, we have a steady hand at our helm, the hand of a man with sound reflexes. President General Pervez Musharraf is not a politician by profession. He is so far clean. Time Magazine (January 14) has this to say of the two leaders of India and Pakistan: "On the surface, a long list of differences separate Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. One is devoted to Hindu nationalism, the other to a strong Muslim nation. One governs the world's most populous democracy, the other rules by dictat. India's leader is 20 years older and the frail veteran of 47 years in politics; Pakistan's is a fit career soldier whose political life began just two years ago in a military coup. Vajpayee is a master orator given to flights of poetry; Musharraf is a plain spoken man with a blunt forthright style. The first has succeeded adroitly sidestepping conflict and finessing confrontation, the second by cutting straight to the core of the problem."

So, an excuse has to be sought by the Indians. They opened the usual book and contrived December 13. The Tehelka website on January 11 carried an article by Shahid Scheik. In a paragraph headed 'Change of government in Pakistan' he writes: "This is India's top priority. Pakistan's favourably changed international circumstances are due not to established institutional policy but only to the direction taken by the General President Pervez Musharraf, who has done more in two years than all his predecessors in two decades to take Pakistani society on the path to moderation. India has now set impossible conditions to make it difficult for General Musharraf to continue with what he is already doing, i.e. taking action against internal militant groups.

"A change of government would suit India because Pakistani political governments need and use the armed militants as balancing factors in internal politics and, if they did not have unstinted backing from the army, would be unable to act against extremists. Ideologically different governments would of course attempt to protect the extremist groups. Neither would have the support of the international coalition, opening the country to a new set of security and economic vulnerabilities."

Warlike noises escalate from India. If India forces a war, the sufferers will be the vast majority of the hopelessly poor of the two countries. As the saying goes, 'Gareeb no koi nahi'.

The writer can be contacted at ac@xiber.com