The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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August date for Indo-Pak flight talks

New Delhi, July 31: After dragging its feet for months, Pakistan has finally suggested talks with India on resuming civil aviation links between August 27 and 28. India, which had offered negotiations more than a month ago, readily agreed and announced that a technical team from Delhi would travel to Islamabad later next month.

The discussions could lead to resumption of air travel — snapped after the terrorist attack on Parliament in 2001 — between the countries, another in a series of friendly measures, but Pakistan’s attempts to slow down the pace of the peace process have not escaped the Indian establishment.

Pakistani high commissioner Aziz Ahmed Khan was allowed to present his credentials soon after his arrival in Delhi. Indian high commissioner Shiv Shankar Menon reached Islamabad 16 days ago, yet there is no word from the Pakistani foreign office on when he could present his credentials.

India, which took the initiative since Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee offered his hand of friendship to Pakistan this April, is not willing to engage with Islamabad on these issues. Sources in the foreign ministry feel Pakistan is indulging in one-upmanship.

Pakistan has been arguing that while it is willing to resume air links, it wants an assurance from India that in future it will not snap airline services unilaterally.

Pakistani foreign secretary Riaz Khokar recently said that India has done this time and again and now Islamabad wanted a categorical assurance from Delhi.

A senior Indian official pointed out that though he had seen media reports quoting Pakistani officials’ views on the matter, it has not been raised officially so far by Islamabad with Delhi.

“If Pakistan gives an assurance that they are willing to give up terrorism against us and adhere totally to the letter and spirit of the Simla Agreement, then we might also think of giving them an assurance of not taking a unilateral decision of snapping air links,” he said.

Pakistan has been dragging its feet on resumption of civil aviation services as it feels that India — since most of its international flights have to use Pakistani airspace — stands to lose more than Islamabad from the delay.

But as Delhi has made it clear that it is willing to send a technical team to Islamabad as soon as Pakistan finalises the dates for talks, the Pakistani leadership now finds it difficult to drag the issue any further.

Though India’s acceptance of Pakistan’s dates is a clear signal to its commitment to the peace process, Delhi has indicated that the talks for resuming flights between the neighbours should be on a “reciprocal basis”.

Delhi has also stressed that though it is keen to resume air links — which is part of the move to strengthen people-to-people contact between Indians and Pakistanis — the process would not be complete unless it includes overflight rights.

Having tasted success on the appointment of high commissioners and resumption of the Delhi-Lahore bus service, India is now keen that the two countries also make progress on resuming the civil aviation services.

Initially Pakistan had agreed to resume the civil aviation links, but on a point-to-point basis. But India is insistent that the resumption could not be meaningful unless the overflight rights are also part of the package.

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