NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi has decided not to fly over Pakistan and instead fly over Oman and Iran when he goes to Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, on Thursday for a regional summit, in a move that can described as a snub to Islamabad.
New Delhi seems to have decided on the more circuitous route to Bishkek, despite Pakistan giving “in principle" permission in response to an Indian request sent last week to allow Modi’s aircraft to use Pakistani air space. Modi is to leave on Thursday morning for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in a special Indian Air Force (IAF) aircraft, a government official said on Wednesday.
“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," foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said on Wednesday.
A person each from India and Pakistan also confirmed Islamabad had allowed Modi’s aircraft to use Pakistan air space. A third person said New Delhi’s decision not to overfly Pakistan “was independent of whatever position Pakistan took on the matter".
The latest developments could affect chances of a thaw in ties between India and Pakistan, which have been tense, especially since an attack on a paramilitary convoy in Pulwama on 14 February, which killed at least 40 personnel, and a subsequent airstrike by IAF on a terrorist training camp in Balakot.
In retaliation, Pakistan launched an air raid against Indian military installations on 27 February. Indian fighter jets foiled the attack but Pakistan closed its air space and has since allowed use of only two routes for flights travelling from east to west with a majority of air corridors still closed, a PTI report said.
However, Pakistan had allowed former Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj to use its air space to travel to Bishkek for an SCO foreign ministers’ meet in May.
The Indian move to not overfly Pakistan reinforces the idea that New Delhi is not keen on a meeting between Modi and Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, said former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal.
India may have done a rethink on its decision to ask Pakistan for permission to use its air space in recent days, Sibal said. “The thinking on our side could have been why seek a favour from Pakistan," he said.
“The thinking could also have been that if we accept the Pakistani offer, would it come with an expectation of reciprocity, that India agrees to a brief ‘pull aside’ meet in Bishkek or an interaction of any kind," Sibal said.
Modi and Khan will come face to face for the first time at the meet. This had led to speculation the two leaders may meet for talks that could pave the way for exploring re-engagement between the two nations, especially after the national polls which saw Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party return to power with a majority.
“India requested 2 overflight clearances for Indian PM & EAM. After requisite processing, permission was granted earlier today. It is up to India what route it decides to use," Pakistan foreign office spokesman Mohammed Faisal said in a Twitter post about permission for Modi and Sushma Swaraj. “Pakistan also granted flight clearance to earlier Indian request for EAM travel to Bishkek 21-22 May 2019," he said in a second Twitter post.
Rhik Kundu from Mumbai contributed to this story.
This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.