Modi to avoid Pakistan airspace despite getting permission

NEW DELHI (Reuters): Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will avoid flying over Pakistan during an official trip to central Asia on Thursday, even though Pakistan has granted overflight access.

Pakistan closed its airspace after the relations with India deteriorated following the February 14 suicide attack in occupied Kashmir. In the the aftermath two Indian fighter jets’ were downed. Islamabad also captured one of the Indian pilots but released him to defuse the impending crisis.

Commercial and cargo airlines using Indian airspace have been forced to take costly and time-consuming detours because they cannot fly over Pakistan.

But Pakistan had cleared Modi’s flight to Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit beginning on Thursday.

“India requested 2 overflight clearances for Indian PM & EAM. After requisite processing, permission was granted earlier today. It is upto India what route it decides to use,” Foreign Office spokesperson Dr Mohammad Faisal said in a statement.

The Indian foreign ministry said the government had considered the routes for Modi’s travel and decided he would take the longer passage to Central Asia instead of the direct route over Pakistan.

The move follows calls in local media that Modi shouldn’t be securing an exception for himself while thousands of ordinary travelers were enduring the longer travel because of the tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals.

“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,” the foreign ministry said.

Modi’s move also suggests there is little chance of a thaw in ties even though Pakistan said it hoped to revive talks after elections in India ended in May.

Prime Minister Imran Khan will also be attending the SCO meeting, but Indian officials said there were no plans for a bilateral meeting between him and Modi.