🎧The Hijack by (and Narrated): Owen Bennett-Jones

In 1981, PK326 was on a routine domestic flight from Karachi, Pakistan when it was hijacked and diverted to Afghanistan. The 148 passengers were then held at gunpoint for 13 days in what turned into one of the longest hijackings in history. The hijackers claimed to be fighting for democracy and demanded the release of political prisoners. But when Pakistan’s Military dictator General Zia refused, the killing began.

Veteran journalist Owen Bennett-Jones investigates what happened inside the plane, who the hijackers were really working for, and digs deep into the political crisis in Pakistan that led to the hijacking.

This series contains some strong language and scenes that some listeners may find disturbing.

FORTY years ago, a PIA plane flying from Karachi to Peshawar was hijacked by three activists of the Bhutto brothers’ Al Zulfikar Organisation. After the hanging of their father, Murtaza and Shahnawaz Bhutto decided the use of force to restore democracy was legitimate. They also wanted to avenge their father’s death.

I don’t know about you but when I think of planes being hijacked my mind automatically turns to 9/11. Perhaps this is showing my age for I know that there have been other hijacks through history that I’m simply unaware of. I was searching for something within my audible library while I was sitting in the bath and having to both pick and wash the healing surgical scar on my right hand. I didn’t want to get into something that was too long or meaty as the water in my bath tends to get cold rather quickly.

I turned to this podcast not because it was the first I came across but because it appealed to me in the moment. this podcast has 10 episodes, and each episode is 30 minutes long. it is narrated by Owen Bennett-Jones. There is much about the cultural and historical elements of places such as Pakistan and Afghanistan that I am interested in learning about. I think this stems from how often these places and others have been featured in the news when I was growing up.

Within the episodes that make up this audible podcast we get to hear first-hand accounts by the people who experienced the ordeal themselves. there are a lot of key players within the narrative that led to this hijack. the hijack took place in 1981 and came about From the PPP (Pakistan People’s Party) staging an uprising of sorts to take control from the current leader and dictator of Pakistan.

Upon starting to listen to this podcast I was startled by how quickly I found myself engrossed in what I was listening to. it is always different listening to the true accounts of an event through the eyes of those that were there. Aboard the plane were passengers of America and Pakistan And all had for one reason or another fear over the situation that was unfolding. It has been a little difficult to keep track of all the players as the story is being told because you are getting multiple point of views at the same time and for me personally, I find that hard to process.

it is fact that the people who boarded that plane we’re expecting a normal day and didn’t realise just how far from normal the day would end. The narrative explores the daily lives of the people who boarded the plane as well as shows what was going through their minds and how they acted throughout their time.

[insert facts about political parties and main players]

On March 3, 1981, Pakistan International’s flight PK-326 began as a routine domestic hop from Karachi to Peshawar. In mid-air three heavily armed men seized the plane, diverted it to Kabul, Afghanistan, and demanded the release of 92 “political prisoners” from Pakistani jails.

On March 4, twenty nine hostages including women, children and sick men were released in Kabul. The released passengers were flown to Peshawar by PIA Fokker F27 Friendship Mark 200 (AP-AUR) on March 5. Another sick male passenger was released by hijackers on March 5.

The hijacked Boeing 720B sat in Kabul, and when Pakistan’s President Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq refused to give in, the hijackers on March 6 shot a Pakistani diplomat Tariq Rahim in full view of the other passengers and dumped his body onto the tarmac.

On March 7, hijackers released two sick Pakistani men and also forced two American women who wanted to remain aboard to leave the aircraft. The two air hostesses were also offered freedom but both of them bravely decided to stay in the aircraft.

I cannot imagine what was going through the minds of those who are experiencing the situation as it happened. I cannot imagine the fear of those who were there all the fair of their families watching on. In the last couple of episodes I have learned that the number of planes hijacked between 1968 and 1981 equal more than 600. I suppose that there are many things I didn’t realise I would experience in my lifetime. I was 11 when the twin towers were hit, and I was 17 when the London bombing of the buses occurred. we have had two years of COVID and now many of us are watching on and feeling utterly helpless as the invasion of Ukraine by Russia is broadcasted across all our news outlets.

I have now listened and learned of the women and children being allowed to leave the hijacked plane. I have listened and recognised the three women who remained on board. one woman because she couldn’t leave her son and two American women who were not allowed to leave. At this time Afghanistan was part of the Soviet Union and the dictator of Pakistan was supported by America. So the American passengers with valuable assets to the hijackers but then the air control tower the hijackers were talking to was under Afghanistan control.

With three remaining women and all the male passengers on board the lead hijacker whose name was Salamullah Tipu, began to act with more aggression. one of the passengers aboard had been an aide to comp to the previous president of Pakistan who had been ousted and hanged by the current dictator. there has been many different accounts of weather Tipu singled this man out himself or whether it was via the orders of  Murtaza and his organisation Al Zulfikar. What is clear is that Tariq Rahim Was dragged to the back of the plane, shot by Tipu, and thrown from the aircraft.

What is been most clear while listening to this podcast is the unstable nature of Tipu. after all, Tipu was on the run after accidentally killing a student at a university protest. While listening to others who knew Tipu first hand, it shows that his tendency towards violence and his need to always be in action was not a sudden occurrence but a desire that grew from childhood through to his adult hood.

Finally the female Americans on board were allowed to leave as was the other lady who had stayed behind with her son. after the remaining women had been offloaded the hijacked aircraft was informed by the afghani air traffic control tower that they were no longer welcome, and they were to be given fuel and to leave as soon as possible. from here the plane had a couple of destinations that were declined at the last minute before landing in Syria. here the hijacked plane stayed until the hijack was officially ended 13 days after it had started.

as the world watched on in anticipation behind closed doors authority figures we’re arguing between each other as to what was to happen. with 20 minutes remaining until Tipu which carry out his threat to kill an American every hour the president of Pakistan finally caved to the demands unreleased 52 prisoners from Pakistani prisons and flew them out to be greeted by Tipu and the other hijackers gleefully exiting the plane in celebration.

At this point I really should have gone to bed as I finished episode 8 at about 11:00 PM. However, I was also struggling through an OCD compulsion, and I needed a distraction. by the time I finished listening to all the episodes it was half past midnight. As my sleep pattern it’s pretty erratic anyway I just decided to go with it.

Within the last two episodes there is more talk of potentially talking to one of the hijackers and we also get confirmation of how Tipu died  – as violently as he lived his life.

Listening to the hijackers who decided to talk was very difficult to make my opinion of. this is because this particular hijacker has suffered much in his life since the hijacking occurred, which of course makes him out to be a victim. yet he is also one of the men who willingly boarded a plane knowing he was going to take part in a hijacking and held a gun for 13 days in front of a plane full of people terrified for their lives. he lives in exile somewhere in Eastern Europe. He is now married and has two daughters and a son. his family don’t have a stable home. They lived in a refugee camp for over seven years.

The hijacker spoke it was easy to see that he was conflicted in how he viewed the hijacking because he realised that what they had done was horrific and unjust but at the same time he knew that he was acting because he was trying to save his country. when Owen talked to the survivors of the hijacking about the fact that two of the hijackers were still alive and living somewhere in Europe, they were all shocked I believed that justice had not been served if they were still living without consequence away from Pakistan.

1985’s Flight Safety Foundation (FSF) Heroism Award was presented to hijacked aircraft’s Air Hostess Miss Naila Nazir for her brave handling of tense and dangerous situation during 13 days of hijacking ordeal.

At the time of hijacking Naila was only 19-year-old and had joined the airline as flight attendant just two months ago. The hijackers offered Naila to leave the aircraft at Damascus Airport, but she decided to stay with the rest of passengers and crew members till the end of hijacking during which she took good care of passengers.

The FSF Heroism Award was established in 1968 to recognize civil aircraft crew members or ground personnel whose heroic actions exceeded the requirements of their jobs. Selection of FSF Heroism Award recipients is determined by the degree of personal risk involved in the heroic act; the nature of the courage, perseverance and other personal characteristics that were displayed; and the degree to which the heroism was outside normal levels of duty and ability.

I cannot imagine what it must be like to go from sitting on a usual plane journey to sitting in a hijacked plane and quite frankly it’s not something that I want to experience. it is very clear that the experience has had a lasting impact to all that were present and though the hijacking occurred 40 years ago, the trauma and the lasting PTSD is very much present in each individual. The fear is still present. The anguish is still present. The lack of justice is still present. And for Tariq Rahim, demands who was brutally killed and flung from the plane, his family left behind a grieving wife and a daughter without a father.

Links –

Quoted [in bold]: https://historyofpia.com/hijackings.htm

Owen [Article on Hijacking]: https://www.dawn.com/news/1626869

I give this listen: ✨✨✨✨✨

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s