Islamabad made a rare exception for Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to fly directly through Pakistani airspace to attend the SCO meet in Bishkek last week, officials in New Delhi and Islamabad confirmed to The Hindu.
The permission for Swaraj came even as thousands of travelers continue to suffer flight cancellations, delays and soaring ticket prices due to Pakistan’s decision to close its airspace for flights to and from India after the Balakot strikes on February 26.
“The Indian government had requested us to allow Swaraj to fly over Pakistan to avoid the longer route, and we gave them permission,” said Mohammad Faisal, Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson.
Government sources in Delhi confirmed the development.
“The overflight permission was granted by Pakistan based on route permission filed by relevant [Indian] authorities. External Affairs Minister’s flight to Bishkek was over Pakistani airspace both ways,” a source said.
Swaraj had attended the SCO Foreign Minister’s meet in Kyrgyzstan on May 21 and 22, along with Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi. While the government denied that the two leaders held substantive talks on the sidelines of the conference, they had held a brief conversation in the special lounge where “pleasantries” were exchanged, the MEA had said.
Without the special permission from Pakistan, Swaraj’s flight, which took four hours to the Kyrgyz capital, would have taken nearly eight hours each way.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is also expected to travel to Bishkek soon, in order to attend the SCO summit on June 13-14, by which time, officials hope Pakistan will have lifted all its restrictions.
Following the Pulwama attack in February last, a ban has been imposed by the Pakistani government over the use of its airspace by the Indian authorities. The ban has meant that an estimated 350 flights have been affected every day for the past three months.