New Delhi: India will propose to start direct flights between New Delhi and Islamabad in the forthcoming talks between the commerce secretaries of India and Pakistan that are expected to be held in mid-September, India’s trade secretary S.R. Rao said on Wednesday.
Currently, the two capitals are not connected by direct flights. Only Karachi and Mumbai are connected by direct flights.
If the Pakistan side agrees, Rao hopes a joint working group involving the aviation ministry officials of both countries will be constituted. “We have so many direct flights from New Delhi to other South Asian capitals such as Dhaka and Kathmandu. We are trying to encourage direct flights between New Delhi and Islamabad,” he said.
Rao said though the Pakistan side has not yet finalized the dates for the talks, it is expected to be held towards mid-September after the external affairs ministers have met. India’s foreign minister S.M. Krishna starts his three-day visit to Pakistan on 7 September.
Nisha Taneja, professor at the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, said the move was a positive one.
“What is exciting is unexpected things are happening. Nobody expected a move to connect capitals of the two countries through direct flights,” she said.
Rao said one of the reasons why the meeting scheduled for May could not be held earlier is that some members of the Pakistan government felt that other parts of the dialogue between the two sides on issues such as Siachen and Sir Creek should take place.
India’s cabinet earlier this month reduced the South Asian Free Trade Area (Safta) sensitive list for Pakistan by 30% to 614 items. The list of the reduced items includes 155 agricultural items, 106 textile items and three petroleum products including aviation turbine fuel. “The finance ministry is expected to issue the relevant notification within a week’s time,” Rao said. India is expected to reduce the peak tariff rates to 5% within three years as per the agreed Safta process of tariff liberalization.
Pakistan has also promised that as the infrastructure is developed at the border transit points, it will dismantle the present restrictions on trade through land routes. Currently, it allows only 137 items to be traded through the land route.
“With Pakistan, the primary objective is not getting larger market access, but bridging the trust deficit,” Rao said.