June 12, 2019 / 11:46 AM / 12 days ago

Modi to avoid Pakistan airspace despite getting permission

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Prime Minister Narendra Modi will avoid flying over Pakistan during an official trip to central Asia on Thursday, the foreign ministry said, even though Pakistan has granted overflight access.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks to the media after his meeting with President Ram Nath Kovind, to stake claim to form the new government at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi, May 25, 2019. REUTERS/Altaf Hussain

Pakistan closed its airspace in February after a suicide attack by a Pakistan-based militant group in Indian-controlled Kashmir led to aerial bombing missions on each other’s soil and a fighter dogfight over Kashmir.

Commercial and cargo airlines using Indian airspace have been forced to take costly and time-consuming detours because they cannot fly over Pakistan.

But Pakistan had cleared Modi’s flight to Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit beginning on Thursday, Indian and Pakistan sources said.

The Indian foreign ministry said the government had considered the routes for Modi’s travel and decided he would take the longer passage to Central Asia instead of the direct route over Pakistan.

The move follows calls in local media that Modi shouldn’t be securing an exception for himself while thousands of ordinary travellers were enduring the longer travel because of the tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals.

“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,” the foreign ministry said.

Modi’s move also suggests there is little chance of a thaw in ties even though Pakistan said it hoped to revive talks after elections in India ended in May.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan will also be attending the SCO meeting, but Indian officials said there were no plans for a bilateral meeting between him and Modi.

Vivek Katju, a former top Indian diplomat who dealt with Pakistan ties, said in a newspaper column on Tuesday that he was disappointed the Modi government had initially sought overflight permission from Islamabad.

“Would it not have been better for government to show solidarity with common travellers, including the great number of workers who live in the Gulf countries and make significant contributions to India’s economy?” he said.

Pakistan announced last month that the airspace closure on its eastern border with India would be extended to June 14. The country lies in the middle of a vital aviation corridor.

Additional reporting by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Nick Macfie

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