Tuesday, April 15, 2003, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

‘Zia amended Act to favour hijackers’
Varinder Walia
Tribune News Service

Amritsar, April 14
Satnam Singh Paonta Sahib, one of the five hijackers who took an India Airlines plane to Lahore on September 29, 1981, to avenge the arrest of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale talked today about the hijacking and the four other hijackers who were directed by Switzerland to leave the country.

Two of the four hijackers — Jasvir Singh and Karn Singh Khalsa — were with Satnam Singh when the Srinagar-bound plane was hijacked by five activists of the Dal Khalsa led by Gajinder Singh. The conspiracy was hatched at Guru Nanak Nivas in the SGPC complex a day before the arrest of Bhindranwale and the killing of 20 of his followers in police firing. The meeting was attended by Gajinder Singh, Harsimran Singh, Jaswant Singh Thekedar and Satnam himself?

He said, before the hijacking, Gajinder Singh and he had boarded an Amritsar-New Delhi flight to know about the aeroplane as they had never travelled by air before. “We also studied the history of various hijackings worldwide before implementing our plan. The money was collected from the sympathisers of the Dal Khalsa and the Babbar Khalsa. Talwinder Singh Babbar gave away his gold ring for purchasing the tickets,” he said.

Satnam Singh said Zia-ul-Haq, the then military dictator of Pakistan, had got his country’s hijacking Act amended with a view to favouring the hijackers after Operation Bluestar. Before the amendment, the Act prescribed death sentence for hijackers. The provision for life imprisonment was added to it and 52 other hijackers on death row availed themselves of this relaxation.

Jasvir Singh and Karn Singh Khalsa, who may be deported by Switzerland, masqueraded apples as grenades, as they had only ‘kirpans’ for weapons. When the plane landed at Lahore in spite of no permission from Pakistan, Gajinder Singh was allowed to hold negotiations with Mr Natwar Singh, the then Indian High Commissioner in Islamabad. However, the government of Pakistan “ditched” the hijackers by undertaking commando action against them and getting all passengers released.

“After their arrest, the hijackers were not allowed to address reporters as promised by Pakistan during the negotiations”. For the first three years after that, they had to undergo rigorous imprisonment in the Lahore Cantonment jail. In these three years, they were not allowed to meet each other, but a special messenger sent by Bhindranwale to Pakistan persuaded Pakistan to soften its stand.

After 14 years in jail, all five hijackers were allowed to leave for the countries of their choice. “I was allowed to go to the USA, where I was put behind bars for three-years-and-a-half,” said Satnam Singh.

The reason for the hardening of the stand initially by Pakistan, he said, was that the hijackers were suspected to be “Indian agents” due to Pakistan’s past experience. The first hijacking of an Indian plane to Pakistan had resulted in the war of 1971.

“Our interrogators would ask us repeatedly if we knew Indira Gandhi. We were even made to take lie-detector tests repeatedly. I reached India in 1999 through Nepal by hoodwinking Indian agencies,” said Satnam Singh.

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