Citing close proximity of Jammu and Kashmir with the Central Asian countries,Chief Minister Omar Abdullah today expressed hope that the new government in Pakistan will allow international flights originating from Srinagar to fly over its air space.
“One hopes with a new dispensation in Pakistan,one hopes with encouraging voices emerging from new Prime Minister of Pakistan about normalising the relations to some extent between our two countries,perhaps this (use of airspace) is one aspect that can also be normalised,” Omar said.
He was addressing a conference on ‘Cooperation,Development,Peace and Security in Central Asia’ at Kashmir University here.
Omar said the flight distance between Srinagar and some of the capital cities of Central Asian republics is shorter than the distance between Srinagar and some larger Indian cities.
“Unfortunately,because of the cussed mindset of our neighbour on the western frontier that does not allow a direct flight from Srinagar to overfly their airspace,we have not been able to take advantage of this connect that was available to us,” he said.
The chief minister said if Pakistan allows use of its airspace for international flights originating from Srinagar,the Srinagar airport can become an international airport in true sense.
“The international airport at Srinagar that currently exists only on paper,(will) become an international airport in operations as well. And one day,the direct flights to one of these Central Asian countries (will) originate from Srinagar,” he added.
Omar said Jammu and Kashmir is uniquely placed in the Indian set up to talk about linkages with Central Asia and to,possibly in future,derive advantages from those linkages.
“The policy of Ministry of External Affairs of ‘Connect Central Asia’ will be ideally suited for J&K because geographically we are the closest,spiritually we have a connect and almost every aspect of life in Kashmir,were you to scratch the surface,you will find a connection between us and Central Asia.
“Our heritage,language,culture,our architecture and the biggest connect is in our religion. Therefore,it is but natural that there will be an affinity between us and Central Asian republics,” he added.
Omar rued the fact that the neighbourhood of the state “has not allowed us to take advantage of the historic association that Kashmir has with Central Asia”.
He said the disadvantage for India is that there is no direct overland linkage to Central Asian countries and it passes through countries which at the best of the times can “give us some amount of difficulty”.
“Connecting to Central Asia through Iran,Pakistan and Afghanistan is not easy but it is a challenge that we have to face,” he said.
He said India made it known to the “powers that be” that while their concerns regarding Iran are well taken,they cannot dictate our relations with that country. “Their concerns cannot over shadow our concerns”.
Omar said the developments in Afghanistan over the months to come will be closely monitored in India in view of the withdrawal of the US and international troops from that country.
“In the days and months ahead,we will be looking very closely at the developments in Afghanistan. There are any number of people in my state who are saber rattling about the future of the move towards normalisation in Jammu and Kashmir in light of the 2014 withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan.
“What effect that will have is now compounded by the dialogue that is sought to be started between the Taliban and the international community. One hopes international community learns from its mistakes and stops using other countries as an extended playground for their sphere of influence,” he added.