New Delhi: In a big surprise intended to be a curt veiled message to Pakistan, the special Air India flight with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on board will now avoid Pakistani airspace en route to Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan.
The Indian government announced on Wednesday that the special flight will now fly via Oman and Iran to Bishkek for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit that will take place there on June 13-14. Air India One will leave New Delhi on Thursday morning and will in effect avoid Pakistani airspace completely by using a detour instead of flying directly, something that will take at least three to four hours of extra time. This means the aircraft will not fly in a northwestern direction from New Delhi through Pakistani airspace, and over the Pakistani land mass.
India had earlier sought permission from Pakistan to fly via Pakistani airspace. There were also reports that the Pakistan government had agreed “in principle” to grant such permission. New Delhi acknowledged on Wednesday that it had considered both the routes - one that would fly directly in a northwestern direction to Bishkek, but had eventually decided in favour of the other one which would detour via Oman and Iran.
In a statement, the external affairs ministry said: “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.”
There could be a few reasons why the government decided to avoid overflying Pakistani territory. The Pakistan government had closed the airspace through the northwestern corridor for Indian commercial flights ever since the Indian Air Force carried out an aerial surgical strike at a Jaish-e-Mohammed terror camp at Balakot in Pakistan’s KPK province on February 26. Indian commercial flights now have to take a similar detour while flying westwards. If the PM’s flight had overflown Pakistani territory in such a situation, it may have sent out the wrong message to people in India even if it would have meant saving time. Another possibility is security considerations may have played a role, as Mr Modi’s aircraft would otherwise have flown directly over Pakistani territory....