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Pakistan airspace denial: students, diplomats urge India to end impasse

Denial of airspace by Pakistan is affecting Indian students and hindering the smooth conduct of diplomacy. Indian students based in Central Asia and diplomats of various countries have urged the Government of India to engage Pakistan on restoring airspace rights that were suspended after India hit targets in Pakistani territory on February 26.

“Earlier we paid around ₹30,000 but while returning in June, I had to pay around ₹60,000. We are students and cannot afford such high rates that airlines are charging us. We have reached out to former External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on social media but our complaints were not addressed,” says Ashutosh Kumar Singh, a fifth year MBBS student of the Kazakh National Medical University of Almaty.

Students say that apart from the hike in ticket prices, they also have to deal with the extra long distance that Central Asian airlines are forced to fly, as Pakistan remains out of bounds for India-bound flights. “We have to spend a day or more in airports of Central Asia or the Gulf region before boarding a connecting flight that will fly the elongated route,” says a student who studies in Kazakhstan.

Students who booked tickets months in advance were inconvenienced when Air Astana, the biggest Central Asian airline suspended its flights to India after Pakistan denied airspace. It restarted flights on June 29, but it is yet to start the earlier daily flights. At present, the flights are operated only on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Kartarpur religious corridor

Students say that despite the tense ties, India has managed to maintain dialogue with Pakistan over the construction of the Kartarpur religious corridor. “If government can hold talks for religious corridor project with Pakistan, why is it not discussing the air corridors that is the requirement of thousands of inbound and outbound air passengers,” asks Zubair, a medical student

Diplomats too are disturbed by the difficulties they are facing in travelling to India. A Russian diplomat pointed out that Moscow was waiting for the end of Pakistan’s airspace denial. “It’s a bilateral issue that is affecting a huge number of countries. All Central Asian countries are facing enormous difficulties because of this issue. We are waiting for the opening of the airspace,” he said, adding that the Delhi-Moscow travelling time now took eight hours, and often connecting flights were lost because of the long duration flights that airlines needed to fly because of Pakistan’s blockade.

A Ukrainian diplomat also pointed out that the flying time from Delhi to Kiev had become at least two hours longer, leading to cancellation of connecting flights.

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Printable version | Oct 22, 2020 9:58:18 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/pakistan-airspace-students-diplomats-urge-india-to-restore-air-corridor/article28281219.ece

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