Pak. allows Jaswant to fly over its airspace

NEW DELHI, DEC. 22. Even as India stepped up diplomatic pressure on Pakistan by withdrawing its High Commissioner on Friday, it did not stop the aircraft carrying the External Affairs Minister, Mr. Jaswant Singh, to Kabul from flying over Pakistan airspace today.

The IAF Boeing 737, which departed from Delhi at 7 a.m., took the shortest possible route to Kabul as it headed north-west towards Amritsar before crossing over to Pakistan airspace. It then flew over Lahore, and touching the imaginary points Indek, Jabar, and Kandu, entered Afghan airspace.

The flight was, however, asked to stay away from the Sargodha military base near Lahore. It is understood that this was done following a problem which had cropped up when the IAF flight ferrying the newly-appointed Afghan Foreign Minister, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, to Delhi a couple of weeks ago was warned that it was flying too close to the Sargodha base.

Though flights carrying Indian officials have been using this route after the United States started its military campaign in Afghanistan, this was the first aircraft carrying important officials to overfly Pakistan after the December 13 attack on Parliament. Moreover, sources said, the diplomatic offensive launched by India could have resulted in Pakistan closing its airspace to Indian aircraft.

While none of this may have happened, there was talk among officials on Friday to change the route for security reasons. In which case an alternate route would have to be planned for Mr. Singh's plane. Security reasons had also prompted the circuitous route taken by the Ilyushin-76 that carried the first Indian diplomatic mission to Afghanistan after Kabul's fall.

About a month ago, this plane took a route that avoided Pakistan. Flying south-west from Delhi, the plane headed for Rajkot in Gujarat before crossing Indian airspace at Jamnagar. It flew south of Pakistan over the Arabian Sea towards Oman, then turned north into Iran and entered Afghanistan from the Iranian side. However, this route took about six hours more than it normally would have taken via Pakistan.

Meanwhile, it is learnt that Pakistan has also given clearance for Mr. Jaswant Singh's flight to cross its airspace during the return journey to New Delhi.