Can’t intervene in Pakistan denial of airspace: International Civil Aviation Organisation

UN body seeks Islamabad’s response.

November 03, 2019 12:03 am | Updated 01:27 am IST - New Delhi

 The ICAO has asked Pakistan  for information.

The ICAO has asked Pakistan for information.

The United Nations aviation watchdog, International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), is “not empowered to intervene” in the affairs of a country and will examine inputs from both India and Pakistan before it takes a decision to pursue the issue of denial of overflight to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s aircraft during his recent visit to Saudi Arabia, its spokesperson said.

The response is significant because Mr. Modi will fly to Brazil for the BRICS summit on November 13 and 14, when the government’s decision to apply for overflight permission again will come under scrutiny.

Nevertheless, following India’s representation last month, president of ICAO Council Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu has written to Pakistan, seeking information.

“The United Nations and other multilateral agencies ... are neither designed nor empowered to intervene directly in the affairs of national governments, which is why States are still ‘sovereign’ in the world today,” Anthony Philbin, Chief, Communications at ICAO told The Hindu  in an e-mail interview.

“Our goal in such matters as always is to help assure the safety and efficiency of international civil aviation,” Mr. Philbin said about the ICAO’s exchange with the two countries.

The emphasis on civil aviation is significant and raises questions about the grounds on which India had sought the Organisation’s intervention.

Article 3 of the Convention on International Civil Aviation signed at Chicago on December 7, 1944, clearly states that the treaty “shall be applicable only to civil aircraft, and shall not be applicable to State aircraft.” The treaty also underlines in Article 1 that signatories to the convention have to recognise that “every State has complete and exclusive sovereignty over the airspace above its territory.” 

An e-mail to the Representative of India at the ICAO, Shefali Juneja, for information on the grounds on which India approached the UN body remained unanswered till the time of going to print. The spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), though, has called Pakistan’s decision to deny permission a deviation “from well established international practice”.

Pakistan’s Air Navigation Order of 2016 on procedures for issuing of flight permissions, which is an essential reference for any country or airline seeking to fly to or via Pakistan’s skies, clearly lays down that the protocol for applying for permission for a VVIP aircraft is to make a request through diplomatic channels before every flight, unless a blanket permission has been provided. But in case of a commercial (or scheduled ) flight, airlines can directly write an email to authorised flight permission agents (AFPAs) for an approval of a schedule of at least six months.

Pakistan has been inconsistent in its policy on permitting overflight for Indian VVIP planes ever since it shut its airspace for all commercial flights from April to August this year following IAF strikes at at Balakot.

 It allowed former Minister for External Affairs, late Sushma Swaraj , in May and Mr. Modi’s plane in June to fly through its skies for the SCO summit in Bishkek . But in September, permission was first denied for President Ram Nath Kovind’s flight and then for the PM’s flight to the U.S. Last week, India’s request was again rejected for Mr. Modi’s travel to Saudi Arabia via Pakistan airspace.

So, why does India approach Pakistan for flying through its skies only to have its request turned down? 

“India is trying to build a pattern of behaviour to show that Pakistan is being unreasonable and given that we have had some success at the International Court of Justice (for counsellor access to Kulbhushan Jadhav) it is clear that the international community is receptive to India’s concerns,” an MEA official said on the condition of anonymity.

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