The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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India lobs air-link ball to Pak

New Delhi, June 24: Responding to Pakistan’s proposal, India has expressed its willingness to send a technical team to Islamabad for discussing early resumption of civil aviation links between the two countries.

Delhi has sought dates from Islamabad for an early meeting of the technical team so that air links could be resumed on a “reciprocal basis”.

The air service between the two countries was suspended along with railway links and the Delhi-Lahore bus service after the attack on Parliament in December 2001 for which India blamed its neighbour.

However, their strained relations have been showing signs of a thaw after Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee extended his hand of friendship at a rally in Kashmir earlier this year. The two sides have since completed successful negotiations over resumption of the bus service. Indications are that the first bus will start on July 1.

There are also indications that Samjhauta Express — the only rail link between the two countries and another means of strengthening people-to-people contact — could start running again, but only after Pakistan responds favourably to resuming the air service with India.

The two countries have also agreed to re-appoint their high commissioners in each other’s capital. While the Pakistan high commissioner is scheduled to arrive here on June 30, India’s high commissioner to Islamabad, Shivshankar Menon — now the ambassador in China — will take charge of his new post in the middle of next month.

Although India’s willingness to send a technical team to Islamabad signals its commitment to the peace process, Delhi has made it clear that the links would not be complete unless they include overflight rights.

So far, Pakistan has not shown any inclination to resume the air service as it realises that snapping of links has been hurting India more, as most Indian commercial flights use Pakistani airspace. Initially, Pakistan had agreed to resume civil aviation links but on a point-to-point basis. But India insisted that resumption of air links could not be meaningful unless overflight rights were also part of the package.

Following pressure from various quarters, the leadership in Islamabad agreed to discuss the issue with India if it agreed to send a technical team to Pakistan. In response, Delhi decided to lob the ball in Pakistan’s court by announcing its desire to send a technical team to Islamabad at the earliest. It is now for Pakistan to decide whether or not it would like to convene a meeting of the technical team to keep the peace process on track.

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