1971 changed the course of subcontinental history in more ways than one. Far from the field of battle in Bangladesh, hijackers diverted a plane from Srinagar to Lahore, shaking up Pakistan’s Kashmiri community, and changing one family forever.

Hijacked by Tooba Masood-Khan; Illustration by Akshaya Zachariah for FiftyTwo.in

My mother, whom I call Ama, paints a vivid picture of her childhood. She remembers the house in the Kashmiri neighbourhood of Mohanpura in Rawalpindi, with the massive pantry and its shelves of dry fruit, honey, rice and bags of wheat. She remembers the wazwan with its six or seven courses, and how her grandfather used to bring her lunch to school. In winter, she says, they would dip syrupy jalebis in hot milk.

But she doesn’t remember her own mother’s face. She remembers her smell, her gentleness, her black silk-saree blouses, but her face is blurry. She was just five years old the last time she saw Nani. She is 56 this year, and Nani has been dead for 51 years.

Nana Abu, my mother’s father, doesn’t talk about Nani either. He has always behaved as if she never really existed, which is strange to me because they grew up together. They were first cousins. Their families had moved from Srinagar and Jammu and settled in Amritsar in 1940. In 1947, they migrated together to Pakistan as well. While Nani and her parents settled in Lahore, Nana Abu and his family moved to Rawalpindi.

Over the years, the families stayed in touch and visited each other often. Nana Abu carried on with the family trade of making quilts, and expanded it to carpets. Once Nani gave her intermediate exams, their mothers decided that it was time to wed. By the age of 20, Nani was running a large household and carrying her first child, my mother.

“Life was good, but then everything changed overnight in December 1971,” Ama told me, when I said I wanted to know more about Nani. “Ammi died. I felt very alone. My siblings were too young. The adults weren’t really there. My father wasn’t there.” I hadn’t heard of Nana Abu’s absence before. Where had he gone, I asked Ama. She gave me an astonishing answer. 

“He was in hiding, or he was in jail,” she said. “I think we didn’t see him for months. He came back after my mother died.”

I’d started to dig into Nani’s somewhat spectral story in the hope of piecing together my missing family history. I had some idea about what I might find about her. But I wasn’t prepared to stumble into a strand that would tie her husband to a chain of events that would change the map of the subcontinent.

When I emerged on the other side, it wasn’t with a rich portrait of Nani—what she liked to eat, what she wore, how she spoke—but with the knowledge of an incident that had overwritten and eventually obliterated the memories of her life. It was the hijacking of a plane in Kashmir.

The Hijacking


n 30 January 1971, two young Kashmiri men hijacked a Fokker F27 turboprop on the Srinagar-Jammu route shortly after the pilot announced they were about to land. Hashim Qureshi and his cousin Ashraf Qureshi, teenagers from Srinagar, made the pilot of the Indian Airlines flight take the aircraft to Lahore instead.

Their names didn’t ring a bell. I had heard of the hijacking during my time as a reporter, but hadn’t looked up the details. To know more, I dug into the archives of newspapers like Dawn, Star, Jang and The New York Times, and I made a list of people who could help me find more information about the hijacking.

Abid Hasan Minto, one of the lawyers who had represented the hijackers in court, is now in his nineties. I was refused an interview with him on account of his age, but his son shared Hashim Qureshi’s number with me.

Hashim, now 68, responded almost immediately to my WhatsApp message. He refused to give me an interview but shared two books and a pamphlet. He was the author of one of the books, Kashmir: Afsha-i-Haq, and the pamphlet titled Shaheed-e-Azam Mohammad Maqbool Butt aur Ganga Hijacking. The other book was titled Deewano pe Kya Guzra and its author was one Mohammad Syed Asad. [1] Hashim said I would find all the answers I need in this material.

When it was 16km from Jammu, they stood up and brandished a toy pistol and a grenade, while asking the 26 passengers and four crew members to hold their hands up in the air.

Hashim and Ashraf were in their late teens when they hijacked the Fokker, an Indian craft named ‘Ganga.’ Hashim had met the mastermind of the operation, the Kashmiri separatist leader Muhammad Maqbool Butt, at a family wedding in Peshawar in 1969. Butt wished to draw the world’s attention to the alleged atrocities committed by the Indian Army in the Kashmir Valley, and the Qureshi cousins wanted to join him in the fight to liberate Kashmir from the Indian state.

According to the pamphlet authored by Hashim, the cousins had taken the last seats in the Fokker when it took off from Srinagar. When it was 16km from Jammu, they stood up and brandished a toy pistol and a grenade, while asking the 26 passengers and four crew members to hold their hands up in the air.

I was unable to discover if the Qureshis had ever officially been part of Butt’s organisation. What is on record is that when the plane landed in Lahore, Hashim and Ashraf’s first demand was the immediate release of their comrades arrested in Kashmir. All passengers were off-loaded. After about 50 hours in Pakistan, they were returned to India via Amritsar. Seventy-nine hours after landing in Lahore, the Qureshi cousins jumped out of the plane, and set it on fire with a hand grenade. Dawn recounts that they “continued to stay near the plane until it had been completely wrecked.”

Hashim’s pamphlet attempted to provide context for the hijacking. Indian forces had tortured Kashmiri freedom fighters beyond comprehension, it claimed. His colleagues had had their nails pulled out. The troops had then sprinkled salt on his comrades’ wounds—literally. The question of Kashmir’s freedom could not be decided in New Delhi or New York or Rawalpindi, Hashim asserted. It would have to be decided on Kashmiri soil, by the Kashmiri people.

In the days immediately following the hijacking, the cousins were hailed as heroes in the Pakistani press. India responded by banning civil and military planes from Pakistan from flying over its territory, and demanded that the hijackers be returned to India to stand trial.

But, in a matter of weeks, the narrative changed within Pakistan, too. A judicial inquiry report declared that the hijacking was arranged by Indian intelligence agencies. One motive behind the incident was to “dislocate movement of people and supplies between the two wings of Pakistan, and thereby create a state of tension in various regions of Pakistan.”

This sentence, from an article published in Dawn in April 1971, is a reminder of what else was going on in Pakistan then. The country was on the brink of civil war. The Bengali-speaking eastern wing of the country was increasingly at odds with the hegemony of the political and military brass of the western wing.

It was a tumultuous time. A devastating cyclone had ripped through East Pakistan in November 1970, killing hundreds of thousands. In the general elections a month after Cyclone Bhola, East Pakistan’s Awami League won a massive victory in the region, but its leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was denied the right to form a government.

By March 1971, President Yahya Khan deployed the West Pakistani-dominated military to suppress dissent in the eastern wing. The conflagration that followed changed the history of this region. India got actively involved, Dhaka fell in December 1971, and the new nation-state of Bangladesh, led by Mujibur Rahman, came into being.

In 1973, Hashim was sentenced to 19 years behind bars on charges of being an Indian spy. (The phrase used in a Dawn article is “Indian agent.”) He was released in nine years and then took political asylum in the Netherlands. Now, he lives in Srinagar and is the chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Democratic Liberation Party. His pamphlet suggests that he was changed by his time in jail and political asylum: he is still committed to Kashmiri independence, but believes in non-violent resistance.

For the last few years, I’ve also been going through the newspaper archives of the period, researching an entirely different story. From October 1970 till 1972, major Pakistani newspapers in multiple languages were hot on the trail of Shahnaz Gul, the woman who had been accused of murdering her lover Mustafa Zaidi, a civil servant and poet. I had been so focused on getting to the bottom of the country’s obsession with the Gul-Zaidi story that I myself had failed to notice reports about the hijacking on those very pages. Often, these reports were adjacent to large blow-ups of Gul’s face.

I went to look at the pages once again when I heard about how my family’s history was entangled with those times. This time, I was looking for the name or photograph of Javed Butt, my own Nana Abu.

Full Blooded


y grandfather is no longer the man who used to eat raw eggs, walk from one end of Karachi to another at a go, and lift a motorcycle and throw it aside because it was blocking his way. He is now 80 and wheelchair-bound. But his memory is still sharp.

It was a busy year, Nana Abu said of 1971. Business was good. The family was well. For once, he said, he had the time and luxury to do the things he wanted to do. 

What did you want to do, I asked Nana Abu.

“I wanted to help my Kashmiri brothers in Kashmir.” [2]

I knew that my grandfather felt strongly for his birthplace. In 2006, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chairman of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, and Yasin Malik of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front were in Karachi to attend the World Social Forum. I was a student at the time, and considered myself a budding activist and Leftist. I’d gone up to them after their speeches and announced proudly that I am half Kashmiri.

When I recounted this to Nana Abu, he grew agitated. “There is no such thing as half a Kashmiri. You’re a full-blooded Kashmiri. Your father might be a Mohajir, [3] but you’re a Kashmiri.”

When Yasin Malik was sentenced to life imprisonment by an Indian court earlier this year, I had called Nana Abu to inform him. The news upset him, and he said he didn’t want to talk about it. Now, I probed Nanu Abu further to put his emotional responses in perspective. I felt like the answers would not be able to skirt around his own, indirect role in the hijacking of Ganga.

I asked him to take it from the top.

Back in Kashmir, his account began, his family lived in a neighbourhood called Butt Mohallah close to Srinagar. In the city, they used to carry out “ruffle ka kaam”—quilt-making—and “rangai ka kaam”—cloth dyeing.

After Nana Abu’s grandfather passed away, his father and his brothers moved to Amritsar. Soon after the move, his father was phased out by his siblings and had to start his own business from scratch. He got married to a woman named Sughra. Nana Abu was born to them in 1940.

Nanu Abu had fond memories of life in Amritsar until Partition changed everything. He remembered the fear and urgency with which his family had to pack up everything and cross over to Pakistan. When they were attacked by a mob on the train to Pakistan, Nanu Abu’s father had to conceal his 12-month-old daughter, Nanu Abu’s sister, in a basket of fruit.

His feelings for Kashmir grew stronger as he grew older, he told me. His blood boiled when he read the news, and got updates from friends and family in Kashmir. He claimed that he even crossed the border and returned a few times. He didn’t answer my questions about how he did this, and I’ve been unable to confirm how or whether it was possible for him.

When I felt we were warmed up enough, I dropped the question about the part that made me feel like my family had lived out history as if it were an action movie. 

“What was your role in the 1971 hijacking, Nana Abu?”

Maqbool’s Plan


t started at a chai stall outside Butt Brothers, Nanu Abu’s shop in Pindi’s Saddar area, next to the post office. The stall, run by an elderly Kashmiri man, was under a peepal tree, and served cup after cup of tea to the shopkeepers and traders of the area.

Muhammad Maqbool Butt was then the president of the Jammu-Kashmir Plebiscite Front. The group had been founded in the 1950s by Mirza Afzal Beg, soon after the first time India incarcerated the leaders of the National Conference. The Front and the people associated with it were targeted by Indian authorities after the release of Sheikh Abdullah, former prime minister of Kashmir and leader of the National Conference. In 1958, Butt ended up fleeing to Pakistan.

According to Nana Abu and Hashim Qureshi’s pamphlets, Maqbool had been involved with politics and activism since his student days in the late 1950s. After escaping to Pakistan, he had started studying for a Master’s in Urdu Literature at Peshawar University. He also wrote for Anjaam, a local newspaper. In 1961, he contested and won a local election in Peshawar, from a seat reserved for the Kashmiri diaspora.

Even as all this was going on, he was involved with the separatist movement in Kashmir. He became the publicity secretary of the Azad Kashmir Plebiscite Front. Some newspaper sources suggest that he wanted to set up an armed wing, but got no support for it. Eventually, along with like-minded colleagues like Amanullah Khan, Maqbool formed a sub-group called the National Liberation Front in 1965.

The next year, he was arrested for militant activities. In the popular imagination on both sides of the border, militancy in Kashmir—as we know it today—began to become a serious problem only after 1987, following the infamous “rigged” election that brought the National Conference-Indian National Congress alliance to power despite popular support for the Islamic parties. But the coexistence of democratic solutions with radical, even violent politics and dissent, has been a feature of Kashmiri politics from the start.

A Srinagar court sentenced Maqbool to death in 1968. But he managed to escape and make his way back to Pakistan. That’s when he became a regular at the chai stall under the peepal tree. In the early 1970s, Maqbool approached Nana Abu for help. He was raising money to help their people back home, he said. Nana Abu, impressed by Maqbool’s work, wanted to contribute. He even introduced Maqbool to other Kashmiri businessmen, who also started donating money.

Nana Abu told me that he didn’t know what Maqbool did with the PKR 1000 he gave every month. He never felt it necessary to ask. PKR 1000 was a princely sum at the time, and it left me wondering how Nana Abu was providing for his family. Was he giving money to his wife? Were they suffering already because of his decisions?

In January 1971, Maqbool told Nana Abu and a few others that he was planning to draw attention to the Kashmir cause by doing something drastic. He had dropped a hint about being inspired by how Leila Khaled, member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, had hijacked planes to highlight the Palestinian cause in 1969 and 1970.

Not long after, he laid out his plan. He had found two boys who he would train to hijack an Indian plane in Srinagar and bring it to Lahore. Nana Abu told me he was upset when he heard this. While he agreed with Maqbool on most things, he could not bring himself on board with the idea of a hijacking. But Maqbool was adamant.

Nana Abu and his friends didn’t hear anything for a few days. Then, one day, word arrived that a hijacked plane would arrive soon in Lahore. Nana Abu and some other businessmen rushed to Lahore. They wanted to tell Maqbool to call the whole thing off. But the situation had spiralled by then. The media was in a frenzy and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the man who was rumoured to be the next prime minister, was also making his way to Lahore.

After the incident, Nana Abu said, he started to distance himself from Maqbool and the rest. [4] He returned to Pindi and laid low for a few days. A week from the day of the hijacking, he went to open his shop in Saddar. But the police showed up and arrested him and his brother Parvez.

Nana Abu was scared but didn’t want to show it. “I didn’t know where they were taking me or what would happen to me.” He ended up as a prisoner at the Shahi Qila in Lahore. I corroborated this from the Dawn archives. At least 150 Kashmiri men, from all over Pakistan, had been arrested in connection with the hijacking and had been taken in for questioning to the Shahi Qila.

“When I realised that they didn’t have anything on me, I grew bolder and asked them if they knew the head of the Intelligence Bureau.”

Javed Butt

Parvez was released immediately, but Nana Abu wasn’t. He said they kept him there for a week or longer, and wanted to know why he was giving Maqbool money every month. Eventually, he was allowed to return home after Parvez bailed him out. “When I realised that they didn’t have anything on me, I grew bolder and asked them if they knew the head of IB”—the Intelligence Bureau. “I knew the head. I told them I had even helped him out a few times.” (I was not able to verify whether Nanu Abu knew the head of the IB.)

There was another twist in the tale to come. A few weeks later, Nana Abu was arrested again. Ostensibly, this arrest had nothing to do with Maqbool or the hijacking. It was related to a foreign exchange business that he had started with a friend. Nana Abu suspected that the business infraction was just an excuse—he was being targeted because he was Kashmiri. This time, his brother refused to bail him out.

Nani was diagnosed with breast cancer when Nana Abu was in jail. No one remembers if she went to a doctor or got any kind of treatment. By the time Nana Abu returned home, after the fall of Dhaka in mid-December 1971, Nani was already six feet under.

Memories of a New Home


ana Abu’s stories required me to confront what it might have meant to be Kashmiri in Pakistan. My connection to Kashmir, I always felt, was superficial but also the only one I knew: gushtaba, harissa, noon chai, the poetry of Agha Shahid Ali, carpets and shawls, popular Hindi cinema. Many Kashmiris who had crossed the new border at the time of Partition decided to settle in Punjab. But a fair few families moved down south to Karachi, where I live.

The conversations with Nana Abu had got me interested in the idea of Kashmiriyat. I had never before thought about how people of his generation and thinking—businessmen with at least some memory or connection to the homeland—thought of Kashmiriyat: the personal and familial vestiges of Kashmiri culture that went beyond food and language, and extended to an entire way of life.

So, I sought them out in Karachi, where I live. Ground zero for my search was Zaibunnisa Street, the location of once-thriving shops whose names still rolled off the tongue of those old enough to remember: Kashmir Corner, Kashmir Art Emporium, Bukhara Palace, Manchester House, Ilyas Carpets, Ahsan Faisal.

Ahsan Faisal is one of the only three Kashmiri stores that remain now. They deal in handmade wooden furniture with delicate Kashmiri carvings. The owner Mr. Faisal told me that his father had moved to Pakistan from Bangalore. “We used to sell carpets, shawls and furniture but over the years, this decreased,” he said. “Now it is next to impossible to bring anything here from Kashmir.”

As it is in India, but for different reasons, ‘Kashmiri’ is a loaded identity in Pakistan. Many families, I knew, dropped their distinctly Kashmiri last names once they crossed over. There were differences in how Kashmiris lived in the Punjab and Sindh provinces. For instance, Mr. Faisal told me that he doesn’t remember Kashmiri people in Karachi using the community name ‘Butt’ in their growing up years: that trend, he said, was confined to Lahore. [5]

“We stayed with the people we already knew or were related to,” Mr. Faisal said. “After Partition, most Kashmiris went into the carpet and shawl trade. Most of it is finished now. There are still some shops in Lahore and Karachi but very few.”

His children had no ties with Kashmir, Mr. Faisal said. “My father might have gone to visit a few times but it was really my grandfather who was from there.” He couldn’t remember the last time he had eaten Kashmiri food. “It has been years. Liaquat Sahib of Kashmir Art Emporium had recommended Qadir, a wazwan, to us,” he reminisced. “It would take all day to cook a feast.”

Next, I hopped across the street to speak to Yasir Ilyas of Ilyas Carpet Industries. When I walked in, he was sitting with his brother. The two men reminded me a little of my Nana Abu: they were tall and broad, and there was something similar in their faces.

Yasir was older than Faisal and remembered much more. They were Amritsari Kashmiris, like the families of Nanu Abu and Nani. His family had moved from Kashmir to Amritsar in the 1920s. His maternal grandmother told him they had migrated because of the great qaht—drought—in Kashmir.

His parents and his father’s siblings decided to move to Pakistan around the time of Partition. “When Pakistan came into being, everything disintegrated,” he said. “My father and his five brothers were all in the carpet business. Three of them decided to set up shops in Karachi while two of them went abroad. One of my uncles is still running a carpet shop in Nairobi.”

When Ilyas’ family moved to Pakistan, they brought several carpets along. These carpets were eventually finished in Lahore. “The artisans were Mohajirs from places like Gwalior, Agra, Jaipur,” Ilyas said. “They came to us and said we know the work, just give us the design.”

The place where Ilyas Carpets is located used to be known as the garh—fortress—of Kashmiris, I learned. “Opposite our shop was Kashmir Corner, there was Manchester House, Bukhara Palace, Kashmir Art Emporium. In the 1960 and 1970s, we used to sell carpets by the hour to visitors from abroad. One of our salesmen, a man from Shimla, had them eating out of his hands!”

Kashmiris have always been more business-minded than other Pakistani communities, Ilyas believed. “They were special, smarter than the locals. They knew how to make money.” Qadir, the legendary wazwan, came up in my conversation with Ilyas, too. He was, it seems, the last in an illustrious line of cooks who knew every family in the community. “Our freezers used to be stocked with his food for weeks,” Ilyas said of one particular wazwan. “After he died, his shagird”––disciple—“Hassan took over and then there was Qadir. But now there is no one.”

“In the 1960 and 1970s, we used to sell carpets by the hour to visitors from abroad. One of our salesmen, a man from Shimla, had them eating out of his hands!”

Yasir Ilyas

Ilyas’s descriptions of Amritsari Kashmiri life were much as I’d imagined, perhaps a testament to how closed its world had been, even to a child of the community born a generation afterwards. He said that the Amritsari Kashmiris led a rather restricted life and only socialised with each other. These relationships were further strengthened by marriage.

“We didn’t know many people when we moved here,” he said. “The Kashmiris didn’t interact that much with the natives and there was a big difference in the language, culture and traditions.”

It left me wondering about how Nani filled her time. Did she have a social circle in the Amritsari Kashmiri community in Pindi, too? I know Nana Abu would travel a lot, but what did Nani do? Did she have any friends? Or did she just spend time at home with her children and cousins?

“Leave it alone”


ani had no role in Nana Abu’s version of events. He hadn’t mentioned her even once, which made my heart bleed.

To find out more, I got in touch with Nani’s brother, Amjad, who lives in Lahore. Nana Abu didn’t keep in touch with them after Nani’s death, which had made us distant over the years. But Amjad Nana opened up to me, nonetheless, of the sister with whom he had spent so much of his childhood, before she married young.

She was the oldest of five siblings, and Amjad Nana was heartbroken when she had to move to Pindi. She had looked after him like he was her own son, he told me. “She was beautiful, soft-spoken and really loved me.”

Once, he said, he’d hit my mother playfully when Ama was a child. “Your Nani got very upset with me and asked me if she had ever hit me. I felt so ashamed. I apologised immediately.”

“We came from a privileged background, but the move to Amritsar had emptied our pockets,” Amjad Nana said. “Then came Partition. My father had to start all over again. He tried to make money as a contractor. He even made your Nana Abu’s Mohanpura house but it didn’t go well. When I was in my second year of college, your nani got very sick and I went to live with her.”

Those were the weeks of Nana Abu’s time in custody. No one knew if and when he’d be back. After Nani’s death, her parents and siblings wanted to spend time with her children. They were willing to take them in for good, and, or the very least, have them over for holidays. But Nana Abu refused. Over time, the relationship between the families soured further. Eventually, they stopped talking to each other. The next time Ama’s uncles saw her was at her engagement—15 years after Nani’s death.

When I asked Khalid, Nana Abu’s younger brother, about what happened in 1971, he repeated the words I was coming to be familiar with: he didn’t want to talk about that year. 

“Why are you getting into this?” he asked me. “Leave it alone. It is not going to change anything.”

The Grave


 must admit that when I started looking into the hijacking, I grew angry for entirely personal, prejudiced reasons. As I went through the books, the pamphlet and the newspaper archives, I couldn’t help thinking that these were the people responsible for my Nani’s death in a roundabout way.

If Nana Abu hadn’t been arrested, he could have taken Nani to a doctor, they could have caught the cancer earlier, she could have been treated—and I could have had a relationship with her. It also made me think about how I shared this experience with so many others on the subcontinent: a grandparent or family member, usually a woman, swallowed up by history, and lost to those who came after.

Nana Abu’s involvement with the hijacking and with Maqbool may not have been that significant in the grand scheme of things, but it changed my family forever.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the day Nani died. No one in the family actually remembers the date. All they remember is that it was in December 1971. No one remembers her date of birth either. Ama doesn’t remember the ghusl. [6] It’s unlikely that she was allowed to go to the graveyard.

But there was one person who recalled something of that day: Zakia Nano, my step-nani. Nana Abu had remarried a few years after Nani’s death. Zakia Nano was a cousin of both Nana Abu and Nani.

Zakia Nano was a teenager when Nani died. She told me that Nani’s sister Shad had come to their house in Railway Lines and begged someone to go with her. The two women got a tonga and hurried to the house in Mohanpura. They managed to get a quick glimpse of Nani before Nana Abu’s father took the body to the graveyard.

No one I spoke to remembered where Nana Abu’s other relatives were. Zakia Nano said that Nana Abu’s father did not want anyone involved.

“We got there just in time,” she said. “Your Nana Abu’s father was not at home, he had gone to get the headstone made. We ran inside, saw the body, said a prayer for the dead and ran out before anyone could see us. We just wanted to see her face before they buried her.”

Nani was buried without her husband or children around her. I try to keep her alive in my heart but I fear that these memories are not enough. In June, I went to visit her grave in Pindi’s Ratta Amral graveyard. It was caked with layers of dust and grime, and looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in decades. To me, it seemed like she was just lying there, ignored, just as she had been when she was alive.

In a few years, her grave probably won’t even be there. The faded and crumbling headstone has already sunk into the earth. All that remains above ground is her name: Asmat Sultana.

Tooba Masood-Khan is a Pakistan-based freelance journalist who writes about heritage, culture, women’s rights and everything Karachi. She is currently working on a book set in 1970s Pakistan with Saba Imtiaz, and a podcast called Notes on a Scandal.