Pak airspace closed for PM’s flight to US

Less than two weeks after Pakistan denied permission for the Air India One VVIP flight carrying President Ram Nath Kovind to use its airspace to fly to Iceland, Pakistan has once again refused a request by India for permission to overfly Pakistani airspace for another VVIP Air India One flight that will take Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the United States.

Modi is due to fly to the US on September 21, in time to address the Indian-American community in Houston, Texas, in the presence of US President Donald Trump on September 22. The aircraft will now fly over the Arabian Sea and may be refuelled in Frankfurt en route to the US.

India reacted angrily, with the MEA saying: “We regret the decision of the Government of Pakistan to deny overflight clearance for the VVIP special flight for a second time in two weeks, which is otherwise granted routinely by any normal country. Pakistan should reflect upon its decision to deviate from the well-established international practice, as well as reconsider its old habit of misrepresenting the reasons for taking unilateral action.”

Earlier, Pakistan had said Wednesday it had rejected India’s request to allow Prime Minister Modi’s VVIP flight to use its airspace, citing “the current situation in Kashmir”. Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, announcing its decision in a video statement, said the Indian high commissioner in Islamabad had been informed of Pakistan’s decision.

“In light of the current situation in Kashmir, India’s attitude and atrocities there, we have decided to not allow use of our airspace for the Indian PM’s flight,” he added. India’s Air India One aircraft carry the country’s three top VVIPs — the President, vice-president and Prime Minister — on official overseas visits.

Curiously, however, Pakistan had given permission for an earlier VVIP flight carrying Modi to travel to France in August-end for his official visit to France, after which a hue and cry erupted in Pakistan.

After that, in the first week of September, the decision to deny overflight clearance for President Kovind’s plane had been approved by Pakistan PM Imran Khan in view of the “tense” situation in Kashmir, according to a statement issued then by Qureshi. The VVIP flight with President Kovind took an alternate route over the Arabian Sea, that meant more hours of flying time to Europe and other destinations westwards.

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