ISLAMABAD: Islamabad has turned down New Delhi’s request sent earlier this week seeking permission for Indian President Ram Nath Kovind’s flight to travel through Pakistani airspace.
The denial comes amid heightened tensions between the two nuclear armed South Asian neighbors over India’s decree to abrogate the constitutional special status given to its side of the disputed region of Kashmir.
After consulting Prime Minister Imran Khan, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told media outlets that “given the situation where India has taken a rigid position, unwilling to lift the imposed curfew, and depriving people (of Indian-administered Kashmir) of basic facilities, Pakistan has decided not to allow India and its President use of our airspace.”
He said: “The Indian President had sought permission to use Pakistan’s airspace to travel to Iceland, but we decided not to permit him.”
It is unclear if Pakistan’s decision has been formally conveyed to the Indian government but a senior foreign office official requesting not to be named told Arab News that the permission was sought for this Sunday.
Dr. Mohammad Faisal, the Foreign Office spokesman, earlier described the repeal of articles 370 and 35-A by the Indian government as a step from “occupation to annexation” and an attempt to turn the globally recognized disputed territory into a province, in violation of international law and UN Security Council Resolution 47.
Dialogue between Pakistan and India has been suspended since the first term in office of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Relations between the two countries have deteriorated over recent years, but India’s latest move puts regional peace at stake. New Delhi calls this an internal matter which it claims can be resolved bilaterally with Pakistan.
In reaction, Pakistan has suspended its Friendship Express train service to India, downgraded its diplomatic ties with New Delhi, expelled the Indian High Commissioner Ajay Bisaria, and suspended trade with its eastern neighbor.
In February Pakistan restricted Indian air traffic from using its airspace after a suicide attack by an alleged Pakistan-based militant group in Indian-administered Kashmir led to aerial raids attacking each other’s soil and a dogfight at the militarized de-facto Kashmir border known as the Line of Control (LoC).
All commercial flights entering and exiting Indian airspace were forced to take costly and time-consuming detours because they could not fly over Pakistan until July.
Bearing in mind the need to lobby and draw international attention to drum up support on the Kashmir dispute, Pakistan allowed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s aircraft to fly through Pakistani airspace to the group of seven summit in France last month, nearly three weeks after India revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s special status.
“It was diplomatic move for appearances as he was traveling to France to attend the G7 Summit, followed by visits to the UAE and Bahrain. The purpose was to garner goodwill amid the curfew in Kashmir and to send a message to the major powers that Pakistan wanted peace with India,” Dr. Raja Qaiser Ahmed, a foreign affairs analyst and an assistant professor at Quaid-i-Azam University’s department of politics and international relations said, adding that Pakistan’s “overture backfired” as the Kashmir issue was not raised during the summit.
“The latest decision (to deny airspace) was made in the light of the lesson learned from the previous decision,” Ahmed said as “Pakistan is left with limited options to change India’s intransigent behavior.”
Retired Air Vice Marshall Abid Rao believes the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir is a matter of “ego” for both sides which has led to Pakistan and India unable to “disengage honorably” to settle the seven-decade long dispute, despite the UN resolution and the loss of more than 700,000 lives resulting from armed rebellions by Kashmiris on the Indian side since 1989.
Foreign Minister Qureshi has made it clear in a strong message to India that “Pakistan will not rest or sleep, nor acquiesce or give up until India ceases its horrendous human rights violation in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir and Kashmiris achieve their legitimate right to self-determination as per the UN Security Council Resolutions.”