New Delhi: India has asked Pakistan to grant overflight clearance for the Srinagar-Sharjah direct flight after Islamabad suddenly decided to stop it earlier this week.
According to government sources, Pakistani authorities had granted overflight clearance to GoFirst flights to operate in the Srinagar-Sharjah sector on 23, 24, 26 and 28 October. Subsequently, Pakistan put the clearance for the same flight on hold for the period 31 October to 30 November.
“This matter was promptly taken up with Pakistan through diplomatic channels and we have requested Pakistan to grant overflight clearance for this flight in the larger interest of the common people who have booked tickets on this route,” a source said.
On 3 November, Pakistan had unexpectedly disallowed its airspace for the recently resumed Srinagar-Sharjah direct flight, which began last month and was operating smoothly.
The first flight took off on 26 October after the announcement was made by Home Minister Amit Shah during his visit to Srinagar on 23 October.
The flight, operated by Go First, was running smoothly until Tuesday when it was forced to divert its flight path as Pakistan “suddenly” refused to let the aircraft use its airspace.
Official sources told ThePrint that some in Pakistan even said the service was in “violation of its airspace” by India despite the fact that the first few flights flew through their airspace.
Sources added that Pakistan informed India about its decision but did not give any particular reason for such a move.
The flight is now using another route through which it will now fly over Oman via Gujarat, which is making the route longer and will eventually lead to hiking of ticket prices, the sources said.
They added that Pakistan is likely taking such steps as the Imran Khan government has come under pressure domestically for not being able to come out with a comprehensive policy to counter India’s move to scrap Article 370, which turned the state of J&K into an Union Territory.
India has not yet officially issued a statement on Pakistan’s decision.
The decision by Pakistan to stop the flight from using its airspace came days after it rejected plans to send its National Security Advisor (NSA) Moeed Yusuf to participate in the talks to be hosted by India later this month. The talks are to be headed by NSA Ajit Doval.
‘A disappointing decision’
When the announcement was made by Shah to operate such a flight that is expected to boost tourism and industry in Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan’s civil aviation regulator did approve the use of its airspace.
In fact, when the flight began, former J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah hailed the decision, and said Pakistan’s approval gives “hope” to the fraught bilateral ties and that Islamabad showed a “change of heart.”
“Regarding the Srinagar-Sharjah flight that has been announced today — has Pakistan had a change of heart & allowed flights originating from Srinagar to use its airspace? If not then this flight will die the way the Srinagar-Dubai flight died during UPA2 … Good to see the refusal of airspace usage is a thing of the past. Perhaps there is hope for relations between the two countries,” Abdullah had tweeted on 23 October.
On Wednesday, however, he called the decision “very unfortunate”. He also said Pakistan did the same shifting of stance when it had decided to disallow the direct flight from Srinagar to Dubai in 2009-10.