Agartala, Aug 21, 2021, Manas Pal
TRIBUTE TO A BENGALI HIJACKER AND ALSO TO A YOUNG PAKISTANI PILOT
August 20, 1971
Let’s remember one of the most daredevil incidents when a Bengali pilot attempted to hijack a plane exactly 50 years ago on this day. He was one of the greatest sons of Bangladesh, who made supreme sacrifice while trying to hijack a T-33 plane from Pakistani Airforce base at Masroor (Karachi) to bring it to India on way to Bangladesh- then East Pakistan- in the midst of Liberation War. Flt Lt Matiur Rahman of Pakistani Air Force would have succeeded in his attempt to hijack and fly the fighter plane to India—the expected destination being Jamnagor in Gujarat- but for an equally brave young Pakistani pilot Rashid Minhas the mission failed.
The story goes thus .
After the Pakistanis launched the infamous genocide in Bangladesh-then East Pakistan- on March 25-26 night, 1971 -Operation Searchlight- the war broke out. At the very beginning it was the Bengali military, paramilitary and police personnel, then came the Bengali guerrillas who took up the arms. The Indian support first came through the BSF under legendary K F Rustamji and his two brilliant IGs Golak Majumdar and Brig B C Pandey who extended wholesome support ( apart from of course the political, and civil administrations. The intelligence apparatus, mostly RAW under R N Kao, was already thick into the business).
Anyway, let me be confined to the main point—plane hijack with brief backgrounder.
Soon after the military crackdown in Bangladesh on March 25-26 night, 1971 , there was a spate of desertion of the Bengali military, naval officers from Pakistan to join the Liberation fight for their mother country. They risked their life, their family – many of who were in still in Pakistan . If captured , they would have faced summary execution after inhuman torture .Their family if in Pakistan or beseized East Pakistan would have faced the similar fate.
Among the great escapades right now I can remember and feel like mentioning here are -Commodore AW Choudhury and his seven colleagues -they were all submariners and naval commandos in PNS Mangro and were in a joint exercise with French Navy in Toulon – they were the first to risk and leave to join Liberation War via India..These submarine commandos were later engaged in one of the most important naval operations- a suicide mission of which one day we may discuss in details, - in fact this was perhaps the biggest suicide squad launched by Bengalis after Japanese Kamikazi operations. Comodore AW Choudhury led a 60 member team from Agartala itself. Four years ago I talked to him and he told me he never visited Agartala after August 2, 1971- the day he sneaked into East Pakistan territory on the suicide mission. We should oneday invite him here.
Then Major Shariful Haq Dalim–yes, one of those Majors who were involved in Sheikh Mujibar Rehman assassination and now absconding from the noose. He along with 2 others Lt Mati and Lt Nur Choudhury fled from Quetta on foot and reached India..Then there were many others. They were the first batches.( March 1971). And they succeeded to outwit the stunned Pakistanis in extremely daredevil escapades.
Time passed, and the situation in East Pakistan became complex. In an interesting episode even the CIA was planning to kidnap some senior NAM members including Tajuddin and others from a Kolkata safe house itself . They were stationed in –as I read somewhere in Hotel Kennilworth on Shakespeare Sarani near Tripura Bhawan and the safehouse was Auravind Bhawan opposite to the hotel. The plan was, the CIA operatives would kidnap them to Maidan (Kolkata ) where American naval helicopters would make dramatic landing and take them way to USA straight. This plan was authorised by US prez Nixon himself. The plan fell through as Golak Majumdar’s friend one Nihar Chakrabarty by chance saw the Americans with surveillance apparatus during a morning walk. And the BSF IG sent commandos to raid the hotel. The CIA men had fled being tipped off but left behind their surveillance gadgets etc.
Anyway by August situation not only culminated but got extremely complex . And in the meantime many a diplomat also deserted and in Kolkata entire Paksitani Deputy High Commission led by DHC Hussain Ali switched over side for Bangladesh Liberation war and hoisted Bangladeshi flag there ( April) . Again K F Rustamji and Golak Mumdar played the key role.
Quite expectedly, Pakistanis were worried that Bengali fighter pilots still in Pakistan might also try to do something spectacular like the Naval or military officers. Actually on August 15 the naval commandos under Commodore A W Choudhury had launched one of the most decisive naval operation in Chittagong, Mongla, Chandpur and Narayanganj sinking nine Pak ships making the entire sea area red for the world.
The Pakistanis were not wrong. The Bengali fighter pilots were really mulling the idea. They were planning to fly away with one or two F 86 sabre fighters from Pakistan to India. Quite expectedly, they were put under strict surveillance and most of them were grounded and assigned the jobs that would keep them away from fighter planes. So , what they did is simple. They stopped meeting in groups and maintained cordial relations with Pak officials and pilots and ground staff and maintained a happy look. But they were still meeting and discussing the condition of their motherland and contemplating to hijack the sabre fighters—they were convinced that any such thing would immediately bring the world attention to the Liberation war. They knew there would be deadly retaliation from Pakistanis, but they- those who would remain in Pakistan by this time --were mentally prepared to accept it. Ultimately , it was decided that Flt lt Matiur Rahman would hijack T-33 ( F 86 Sabre were closely guarded and became virtually impossible to reach by the Bengali fighter pilots). Besides to fly a sabre F86 the pilot would need ground staff support.. Flt. Lt. Matiur Rahman was eager to do something , and his position was slightly better than others. He was instructor pilot in No 2 Squadron.Besides being an instructor he was also in charge of ground safety. That meant he he had the clearance to check malpractices in aircraft maintenance and as well as operations. As such he had easy access to student pilots from Pakistan Air force who would go for learning sorties. It was felt that the students eager to fly out in solo sorties would be easily approached by an instructor and the student-pilot would obey whatever the instructor would say to him.
The final day was decided August 20, 1971-- five days after deadly Naval operations that had taken place right inside Bangladesh.
On that day, August 20, 1971. a young Pakistani fighter Pilot Rashid Minhas was excitedly ready to fly a T-33--- Named “Blue Bird 166” on runway 27 of Masroor. The time was 11.30 am. Flt. Lt Matiur Rahman by virtue of his position knew the details of the pilots and the flight plans . What he did ---at the face of it ---was simple. He drove down to the run way . Got down and gestured at pilot Minhas, who had by then already inside the T-33 – Blue Bird 166 and ready to fly. He stopped and Flt. Lt Matiur Rahman came to the plane and just jumped onto it and slipped into the rear cockpit through the open canopy. Flt. Lt Matiur Rahman was not in full control but he managed to fly the plane out of runway. Pilot Minhas was also a daredevil young man and as soon as he understood his instructor’s plan he started struggling with full might. He also managed to send a message to ATC that the Blue Bird 166 was being hijacked. The first message time was 11.28 am. It is believed that Flt Lt Matiur Rahman threatened Minhas with a fake pistol but it did not really deter the young man. The fight continued in the cockpit and also the plane went up in air in a very cumbersome way. Soon the plane took abnormal turn and went very low –out of radar surveillance and was flying haphazardly below mango trees. It went missing after 2 more calls of hijack from Minhas even as frenzied search by two other fighters and ground soldiers was by then launched. The ATC got the calls and noticed the sudden turn that the Blue Bird took abnormally. The Pakistani chase and search was launched by two F 86 sabre –first one by Wing Commander Shaikh Saleem and his junior pilot flt Lt Kamran Qureshi and the second one by Flt Lt Abdul Wahab and Flt lt Khalid Mahmood. . In the meantime the Sabre pilots also found another Pak fighters returning and mistakenly tried to intercept it. Time was lost. It was by then clear that the way Flt Lt Matiur Rahman hijacked the plane he would not be scared at F 86 fire at the hijacked plane or go to ground. So the F 86 fighters started instructing Rashid Minhas to eject. But there was no response. It was quite likely that Minhas was still then struggling with Flt Lt Matiur Rahman or he was by then already dead.
It was in the evening someone from Saha Bandar called and informed that a plane crashed and the two pilots were dead. The wreckage of the Blue Bird 166 were found in a muddy watery areas –about 64 nautical miles from Masroor air base and 32 nautical miles from Indian border. The experts believed the Blue Bird crashed at around 11.43/45 am.
Both were dead cold. Minhas was still strapped in seat but thrown out about 100 feet away from the main wreckage while Flt Lt Matiur Rahman was found at some distant from the plane. And his body was not strapped in seat like Minhas. He had severe scratch marks besides other fatal wounds that made it clear that he was flown out and dragged by force for some feet farther. It was believed that while Minhas could have him strapped in the seat properly –as he went inside the Blue Bird 166 beforehand, Flt Lt Matiur Rahman could not find that much time and was simply thrown out of the cockpit. Later enquiries found that the ejection could not really be done. They were thrown out at the massive impact as the plane with a huge speed hit the ground.
Flt Lt Matiur Rahman wanted to join Liberation war for his motherland , while Rashid Minhas was determined to stop the hijack of the plane to an enemy country.. Both were definitely Heroes in their own ways for their own country. While Lt Matiurn Rahman was accorded highest honour by Bangladesh government Bir Shresta, Minhas was also given Nishan e haidar by Pakstani government.
Soon after the incident Flt Lt Matiur Rahman’s wife and two children were arrested and jailed. They were released after the Liberation War was won by India and Bangladeshi fighters. Flt Lt Matiur Rahman’s remains were brought to Bangladesh in 2006 and were given a befitting burial in his motherland.
( This write up is not a tribute Only to Flt Lt Matiurn Rahman but Also to a very young Pakistani pilot Rashid Minhas. This piece is also written based several documents, books etc and information available in open forum as part of my 1971 Bangladesh Liberation war study. As I typed it hastily there could be some slips and typos. And at places it may sound a bit incoherent also. It is certainly not exhaustive as there many other side stories that I avoided. Manas)
Pic : Flt Lt Matiur Rahaman with wife Mili Rahaman and their Children. Pic taken from internet