Wednesday, Jun 25, 2003
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By C. Raja Mohan
The Foreign Office today called in the Acting High Commissioner of Pakistan, Munawar Saeed Bhatty, and conveyed the Government's readiness to hold talks at a mutually convenient time.
What should have been a simple matter after the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, proposed it on May 2, the restoration of air links has been held up by Islamabad's reluctance to grant immediate overflight rights to India.
Instead of restoring the status quo ante that existed before the terrorist attack on Parliament on December 13, 2001 and the Indian diplomatic measures that followed on December 31, Pakistan has been insisting on technical discussions about air links.
Pakistan's policy appeared to be premised on the fact that India would gain more by the resumption of overflights. Most west-bound flights of the Air India and the Indian Airlines have to overfly Pakistani territory. There are fewer east-bound flights of Pakistan International Airlines that traverse Indian territory.
Pakistan had calculated that in snapping air links, New Delhi had lost more than Islamabad. As a result it appears in no hurry to resume over flights while offering landing rights for Indian airliners on a reciprocal basis.
Pakistan is also aware that overflight rights would allow India to fly its own aircraft to Afghanistan. The sense of a competition with India in Afghanistan is also believed to be a factor in Pakistan's lack of enthusiasm in granting overflight rights to India.
The Government, irritated by the stalling tactics of Pakistan, has now agreed to hold technical discussions with Islamabad on the restoration of civil aviation links.
With some visible movement in the peace process with decisions in both capitals on the return of High Commissioners and an early restoration land links, the Government now has an opportunity to test Pakistan's approach on civil aviation.
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