India’s 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, the foreign ministry said, even though Pakistan has granted overflight access.

Pakistan closed its airspace in February after a suicide attack by a Pakistan-based militant group in Indian-controlled Kashmir led to aerial bombing missions on each other’s soil and a fighter dogfight over Kashmir.

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, Indian and Pakistan sources said.

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.

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