‘Ganga’ hijacker passes away

Published February 3, 2012

MUZAFFARABAD, Feb 2: Prof Dr Muhammad Ashraf Qureshi, a renowned Kashmiri academician who had landed in Pakistan 41 years ago as one of the two hijackers of an Indian airliner died of cardiac arrest in the wee hours of Thursday and was buried in the lakeside city of Mirpur later in the afternoon in the presence of hundreds of mourners.

He was 58 and is survived by his wife and two married daughters.

Mr Ashraf Qureshi and his cousin Hashim Qureshi had hijacked Indian airliner ‘Ganga’ flight from Srinagar to Jammu on January 30, 1971.

The plane was brought to Lahore where they said in a statement that they had hijacked the plane - a Fokker Friendship – on the instructions of their leader Maqbool Butt and demanded the release of about two dozen National Liberation Front (NLF) activists from Indian prisons.

On February 1, 1971, all 26 passengers and 4 crew members were freed and sent back to India via Amritsar while the plane was set on fire.

Initially, the hijackers were greeted as heroes by the Pakistan government but when India suspended Pakistani flights over its territory and pressed Islamabad for action against them, the hijackers and hundreds of NLF activists, including Mr Butt, were arrested and interrogated in several infamous interrogation centres.

Six of the detainees, including the hijackers and Mr Butt, were later tried in a special court under the Enemy Act 1943 of the Indian Penal Code and the case lasted from December 1971 to May 1973. The court eventually exonerated all but Mr Hashim Qureshi from all charges, except dealing with weapons and explosives, etc.

Mr Ashraf Qureshi, who had passed his matriculation and FSc exams in Srinagar, stayed back in Pakistan and pursued his studies here, earning his BSc and MSc (Geology) from the Punjab University (PU).

He also clinched gold medals in certificate as well as diploma of Kashmiri language from PU. Later, he also earned masters degree in Kashmiriyat and doctorate in Kashmiri literature from the PU. He got associated with his prestigious alma mater as a visiting lecturer in the Department of Kashmiriyat in 1987 and rose to the position of its chairman, some four years ago.

In July last year, he suffered a brain haemorrhage and although he had regained consciousness after around three months, he was however on a medical leave ever since.

About two months ago, he had requested the varsity management to relieve him of the responsibilities and had moved along with his family to Rawalpindi, where he breathed his last at about 2am on Thursday.

He had made a will that he should be buried in Srinagar and, in the event of its impossibility, in Mirpur where he had spent several years in the past.His funeral prayers were initially offered in Rawalpindi, with AJK President Sardar Mohammad Yaqoob Khan among the mourners.

Later his body was taken to Mirpur where funeral prayers were again offered at 4:30 pm in sector F/1 following which he was buried in the adjacent graveyard.

Apart from local residents, a large number of his students and colleagues, including Dr Khawaja Haris Rashid, Dean Faculty of Science, had also accompanied his coffin to Mirpur.

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