The Pakistan government and officials of its Olympic association want their athletes to fly to Guwahati and Shillong in chartered flights for next month’s South Asian Games owing to security concerns.
They made this request to an Indian delegation that travelled to Islamabad and Lahore last week, saying they wanted to avoid “any ground route”.
The Indian contingent met officials from the Pakistan Sports Board and Pakistan Olympic Association during the three-day visit and assured them of “highest-level” security. Pakistani officials said they would “prefer to fly athletes directly to the host city instead of taking a long detour via Delhi or Amritsar”. Initially, 444 Pakistani athletes and officials were scheduled to arrive in India via the Wagah border and then take flights to their respective destinations.
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“Right now, Pakistani nationals are allowed to enter the country only via Delhi or Mumbai if they are taking a flight. But they are not keen on making long journeys during their visit here. They want to send their contingent in three batches via chartered flights, directly to Guwahati and Shillong. We are consulting the ministries concerned as visas and other logistical issues need to be worked out,” an official said.
India sent a four-member delegation, comprising Rajya Sabha MP Bhubaneswar Kalita from host state Assam, Indian Olympic Association (IOA) secretary general Rajeev Mehta and two officials from the Sports Ministry, to “officially invite” Pakistan to the Games. A member from the Indian High Commission in Pakistan later joined them for a series of meetings to confirm their participation.
The Pakistan government has cited security concerns following the Shiv Sena’s stance against its nationals. Pakistan’s chief of contingent for the Games, Mohammad Shafique, is currently in Guwahati, inspecting the arrangements for the Games.
Mehta said the IOA is confident Pakistan will send its contingent. “We had fruitful meetings with the Pakistani officials last week. We briefed them about the preparations for the Games and urged them to send their contingent without worrying about security. They want to send their contingent directly to Guwahati in chartered flights,” he said.
Security has been a key issue for the organisers and the government has nearly doubled its budget to ensure the Games pass off smoothly. The government has earmarked approximately Rs 60 crore for the security of the Games, besides Rs 165 crore set aside for the overall conduct of the Games.
Sporting relations between India and Pakistan have suffered after both countries failed to reach an agreement on the cricket series. In December, Pakistan’s beach volleyball team too pulled out of an Olympic qualifying event in Kozhikode, claiming they were denied visas.