NEW DELHI: Overflight restrictions imposed by Pakistan over its airspace could be extended, though a month has passed since India carried out an air strike targeting a terrorist camp in Balakot, given Islamabad’s concerns of an exacerbation of tensions with India carrying out more such strikes, news reports indicated on Tuesday.
The latest ‘notice to airmen’—advice to international aviation on Pakistan’s ministry of civil aviation website—says ‘Pakistan airspace will remain closed for all overflying’ except along select routes till 26 March.
The bar placed by Pakistan on west-bound flights approaching from India has meant that these flights will have to make a detour by flying to Mumbai, crossing the Arabian Sea and entering Omani airspace before doubling back to Pakistan.
One of the flights having to take the circuitous route last week was carrying Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to Islamabad for the Pakistan National Day celebrations on 23 March.
Tensions between India and Pakistan have been running high since the 14 February suicide attack on a bus ferrying Central Reserve Police Force personnel in Kashmir’s Pulwama region. Pakistan-based terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) has claimed credit for the attack that killed 40 people. On 26 February, India launched an air strike on a JeM training camp inside Pakistan, prompting Pakistan to close its airspace. A day later, Pakistani air force jets targeted Indian military installations in Kashmir with India scrambling its fighter jets to thwart the Pakistani intrusion. In the ensuing dogfight, India and Pakistan have said they shot down one aircraft of the other side.
Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman of the Indian Air Force was captured by Pakistan. His return to India on 1 March seemed to cool tensions a bit.
A report in the Dawn newspaper on Tuesday indicated that the overflight strictures could remain in place till the end of general elections in India.
“The danger is not over. The situation will remain tense till forthcoming general elections in India. We are already prepared to avert any aggression from India," Dawn quoted Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan as saying.
Another report on Pakistan’s The News International website reported that Mahathir’s flight last week had been diverted because of India not permitting his aircraft to cross its air space en route to Pakistan, a claim that was dismissed outright by people in New Delhi familiar with the developments.