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PM not to fly over Pakistan while travelling to Bishkek for SCO meet

twitter-logo PTI        Last Updated: June 12, 2019  | 22:25 IST

(Eds: Updating with more inputs) New Delhi, Jun 12 (PTI) Prime Minister Narendra Modi will not fly over Pakistan on his way to Bishkek on Thursday to attend a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, the External Affairs Ministry said. It said Modi's aircraft will fly over Oman, Iran and several Central Asian countries to reach the Kyrgyz capital. "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," MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said on Wednesday. He was responding to media queries regarding the route to be taken by the prime minister while travelling to Bishkek. If Modi would have flown over Pakistan it would have taken three-and-a-half hours to reach Bishkek and now it will take about seven hours for the journey, officials said. Even as India decided not to use the Pakistani airspace for the VVIP aircraft, Pakistan Wednesday said it will "specially" open its airspace for the flight of Prime Minister Modi to Bishkek to attend the SCO summit. On Monday, a Pakistani official told PTI that Islamabad has accorded an "in principle" approval to India's request. India's decision on the prime minister's travel route to Bishkek appears surprising as it had only requested Pakistan to let Modi's aircraft fly over its airspace when he travels to Bishkek. The decision also came over a week after Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi wrote separate letters to their Indian counterparts, pushing for restarting bilateral talks. Khan had also made a telephone call to Modi on May 26 and expressed his desire to work together for the betterment of people of the two countries. On his part, Modi said creating trust and an environment free of violence and terrorism was essential for fostering peace and prosperity in the region. India has not been engaging with Pakistan since an attack on the Air Force base at Pathankot in January of 2016 by a Pakistan-based terror group, maintaining that talks and terror cannot go together. Khan is also travelling to Bishkek to attend the SCO summit and there was speculation that he and Modi may hold a meeting on the sidelines of the multilateral forum. However, on Monday, the MEA spokesperson said no such meeting has been arranged between the two leaders. Last month, Pakistan had given special permission to the then external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj to fly through Pakistani airspace while travelling to Bishkek to attend a meeting of SCO Foreign Ministers. Pakistan fully closed its airspace on February 26 after the Indian Air Force struck a Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terrorist training camp in Balakot. Since then, it has only opened two routes, both of them pass through southern Pakistan, of the total 11. On its part, the IAF announced on May 31 that all temporary restrictions imposed on Indian airspace post the Balakot airstrike have been removed. However, it is unlikely to benefit any commercial airliners unless Pakistan reciprocates and opens its complete airspace. PTI MPB ASK ZMN

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