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Pak no-pilot plea hits Delhi wall
A Pakistani labourer unloads relief goods from India at the Wagah
check-post on Monday. (PTI)

New Delhi, Oct. 17: Islamabad tonight said it is ready to let Indian helicopters carry relief into Pakistan, but they cannot have Indian pilots and crews on board.

The rider that came with the Pakistani request evoked a predictable response. India made it clear it cannot possibly provide the helicopters without Indian pilots and crews.

India, however, offered to reach remote areas inside Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) to provide relief to earthquake victims and also allow Pakistan to undertake helicopter sorties close to the Line of Control (LoC).

Pakistan has not responded, but its silence is enough to show how sensitive it is about the LoC even at a time of crisis.

South Block sources suggested that the strange Pakistani request was prompted by the criticism Islamabad had been facing within the country.

Many had been asking why the government had not yet asked Delhi to carry out helicopter sorties inside PoK to reach areas that had so far remained inaccessible for Pakistani forces.

“By asking for helicopters from India without Indian pilots and crew, Pakistan made sure that the request would be turned down. This will let it tell the domestic audience that India has refused to help,” a senior Indian foreign ministry official said.

The request came from Pakistan foreign secretary Riaz Mohammed Khan, who activated the hotline to speak to his Indian counterpart, Shyam Saran, tonight.

Foreign ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna said Khan called up Saran to “convey that Pakistan would be willing to receive helicopters from India for relief work but without Indian pilots and crews”.

Saran replied that “it would not be possible for India to provide helicopters which are in service with its armed forces without pilots and crews”, Sarna added.

The spokesman said the foreign secretary reiterated India’s “willingness to undertake relief work in villages close to the LoC on the other side as they are more accessible from our side”.

As for helicopter sorties by Pakistan “to points close to the LoC”, the foreign secretary made it clear to Khan that “these can be undertaken, but information concerning the proposed sorties should be communicated as early as possible to the director-general of military operations on the Indian side”.

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