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Friday, Nov 15, 2019

India won’t use Pakistan airspace for PM Modi’s Bishkek trip

The decision comes after Islamabad announced that it had decided, in principle, to let PM Modi fly over Pakistani airspace.

india Updated: Jun 12, 2019 22:19 IST
Rezaul H Laskar
Rezaul H Laskar
New Delhi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s plane will overfly Oman, Iran and Central Asian states instead of taking the shorter route over Pakistan to reach Bishkek for the SCO Summit
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s plane will overfly Oman, Iran and Central Asian states instead of taking the shorter route over Pakistan to reach Bishkek for the SCO Summit (REUTERS)

The VVIP flight carrying Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit in Kyrgyzstan on June 13 will not fly through Pakistani airspace despite permission for overflight from Islamabad, people familiar with developments said on Wednesday.

The government’s decision is a reflection of the frosty nature of bilateral ties since the standoff following the February 14 suicide attack in Pulwama by Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) that killed 40 Central Reserve Police Force troopers.

The external affairs ministry said the VVIP flight will use a longer route to Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, through the airspace of Oman, Iran and Central Asian countries.

The Indian Air Force conducted an air strike on a JeM facility on February 26 and this was followed by an engagement by combat jets near the Line of Control (LoC) the following day. Both sides closed their airspace because of the tensions, though Pakistan granted permission for former external affairs Sushma Swaraj to fly to Bishkek for the SCO foreign ministers’ meeting in May.

Though New Delhi had sought and received permission from Islamabad to use Pakistani airspace for Modi’s VVIP flight for the SCO Summit to be held in Bishkek on June 13-14, a decision was made by the Indian government to use an alternative route, the people cited above said.

Without naming Pakistan, external affairs ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said, “The government of India had explored two options for the route to be taken by the VVIP aircraft to Bishkek. A decision has now been taken that the VVIP aircraft will fly via Oman, Iran and Central Asian countries on the way to Bishkek.”

Pakistani officials, who declined to be named, confirmed permission for overflight was granted for the Indian VVIP flight. “There was a request and it was cleared. It appears domestic issues were behind this decision,” an official said on condition of anonymity.

The Pakistan government claimed even the new route would pass through the country’s airspace but people familiar with developments in New Delhi dismissed this and said Air India had confirmed the route would not cross Pakistan’s airspace anywhere.

The people said a number of considerations were kept in mind while deciding a VVIP flight’s route, including security and efficiency. The final decision was made “as per the standard practice and after a considered view of all the options”, a person said.

The people said the Indian decision was also an indicator that there was no plan for a structured meeting between Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan on the margins of the SCO Summit. A chance encounter between the two leaders is possible, though too much should not be read into this, they said.

Travellers from India, Afghanistan and Central Asian countries have been facing problems, including higher air fares and flights of up to 12 hours with a stopover, because of the closure of Pakistani airspace.

India removed all restrictions imposed on its airspace on May 31.