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Resumed air link reunites relatives

New Delhi/Lahore, Jan. 1 (Agencies): The severed air link between India and Pakistan was restored today at 4 pm when a Pakistan International Airlines plane touched down at the airport here with 41 passengers from Lahore on board.

The improving bilateral relations got another boost when the green and white Boeing 737 landed, two years after flights were halted in the aftermath of the attack on Parliament.

“We are very happy that flights have resumed between the two countries. I am going to see my brother and sister in India,” said Zafar Ali Sabazwari, an elderly passenger, minutes before taking the 440-km flight from the eastern Pakistani border city.

India had severed air, rail and road links with Pakistan in January 2002 after the attack of December 13, 2001. Delhi blamed it on Pakistan-based militants, a charge denied by Islamabad. The resumption followed both countries’ recent series of confidence-building measures to help ease tension.

Yusuf Iftekar, 50, echoed the sentiments of several like him when he said: “The boundaries of doubt and conditions should fade and governments of both countries should relax visa restrictions, at least for elderly people to enable them to meet relatives on either side of the border.”

Iftekar, the principal of a Karachi school, reached Delhi with his 10-month-old granddaughter, Sidra, on their way to meet her father’s family in Bhopal.

“My daughter, Ayesha, was married into a family in Bhopal and her husband later settled in the US,” he said.

Iftekar had taken the last flight to Pakistan before the halt in December 2001.

Until now, people seeking to fly between the two countries have had to fly via a third country, usually the UAE.

“This 45-minute flight cuts down travelling time drastically. Earlier, I had to spend nearly 20 hours at the Dubai airport before coming here,” said Lahore-based Aamir Abbas, the owner of an air-conditioning firm.

The return flight was booked to capacity at 116, PIA (India) manager Pervez Ahmed Khan said. Indian Airlines will fly to Pakistan from January 9.

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