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FLIGHTS VIA PAKISTAN

With Prime Minister Narendra Modi deciding to avoid Pakistani skies and deciding to take a circuitous route on his way to Kyrgyzstan to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit, a patently unacceptable scenario has been averted. India had, some days ago, sought Pakistan’s permission for the PM’s aircraft to overfly the Pakistani skies – the direct route to the destination. This, in a situation in which Pakistan has banned all flights to and from India over its skies since the Balakot air strike by the IAF fighter jets in February.

Prima facie, India should not have gone with a begging bowl to Pakistan at this juncture. While an “in principle” nod was granted by the Imran Khan government to this plea, better sense prevailed on the establishment here and an alternative, circuitous route is now decided on via Oman and Iran to reach Bishkek, the city where the summit takes place. Notably, India had already availed a nod for former external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj to fly over the Pakistani skies to attend a regional conference after the Balakot IAF hit. This too should have been avoided.

It emerges that Pakistan is purposely not lifting the ban on flights to and from India over its skies to teach India a lesson for the Balakot hit. Pakistan’s claim is that it banned such flights by way of a security step, so as to guard against another IAF attack. But, evidently, there is more of a play of mischief. The result is several airlines and passengers bound for India and those going out of India to destinations in the Gulf and Europe are seriously hurt by the Pakistani decision. There has been a huge cost escalation in fares, as flights from and to the western side will have to take a longer route.

The Indian government is duty-bound to address this issue in a broader format so as to facilitate a lift of Pakistan’s ban. The Lok Sabha poll campaign might have distracted the attention of the establishment here to attend to such serious matters forthwith. With a new government in place, it is high time the issue is attended to and resolved. Instead, the government sounded Pakistan for a relaxation of the ban for the PM’s flight, and earlier for the external affairs minister’s flight. India should not have gone this length for a minor favour. This has put India in a poor light, and its sense of self-esteem is irreversibly affected.

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