Three months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi refused to fly over Pakistan’s airspace when it was closed for civilian flights, Islamabad on Saturday turned down a request by India to allow President Ram Nath Kovind to use its airspace for his flight to Iceland.
This was revealed by Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Saturday. “The Indian President had sought permission to use Pakistan’s airspace to travel to Iceland but we decided not to permit him,” Qureshi said in a statement, without giving further details. “The decision has been taken in view of India’s behaviour,” he said.
Qureshi told Pakistani TV channels that the decision was approved by Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan in view of the situation in Kashmir.
Responding to a query on the issue, the Ministry of External Affairs’ official spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said: “We regret the decision of the Government of Pakistan to deny overflight clearance for the VVIP special flight which is otherwise granted routinely by any normal country. We call upon Pakistan to recognise the futility of such unilateral actions.”
In August, Modi used the airspace over Pakistan on his way to France and back to India. But in June, when Pakistan had closed its airspace, Modi had to take a detour on his way to Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan — though Islamabad had granted permission for his flight.
Sources said the government had decided to approach Pakistan for Kovind’s flight. But, with Islamabad’s refusal, sources said the government is unlikely to approach Pakistan later this month, when Modi goes to the US to attend the United Nations General Assembly and other engagements in New York and Houston.
Pakistan had fully closed its airspace on February 26, after the Indian Air Force fighter jets struck a Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terrorist training camp in Balakot in retaliation to the Pulwama attack on February 14. On July 16, it opened its airspace for all civilian traffic.
But last month, following tension between the two countries after India’s decision to scrap Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, the Pakistan government said it was once again considering closure of its airspace for Indian flights. However, it is yet to announce its decision so far.
Kovind will embark on a visit to Iceland, Switzerland and Slovenia from Monday, during which he is expected to brief the top leadership in those countries on India’s “national concerns”, especially in view of terror incidents this year, including the Pulwama attack.
The latest round of diplomatic tit-for-tat comes at a time when India has put across its point to the international community that J&K is India’s internal matter and any issues between India and Pakistan will be resolved bilaterally between the two countries.
Earlier, Pakistan decided to downgrade diplomatic ties and expelled the Indian High Commissioner. It has also stopped all bilateral trade. Pakistan PM Khan has said that he will raise the Kashmir issue at every international forum, including at the UN General Assembly next month.
During airspace closure from February to July, Indian passengers and foreign tourists coming to India had to bear the burden of additional time and money, apart from inconvenience caused to them.
According to the government’s own admission, Indian airlines suffered losses worth Rs 548 crore due to airspace closure by Pakistan.