The suspense is finally over. It has been confirmed that Prime minister Narendra Modi will not fly over Pakistani air space towards Bishkek for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit on Thursday. Putting all speculations to rest, the government has stated that “the VVIP aircraft will fly via Oman, Iran and Central Asian countries on the way to Bishkek”.
Pakistan had shut its air space after the Balakot strikes in February. It gradually opened up two routes via southern Pakistan. Agency reports from Pakistan on Tuesday said that the Imran Khan-government had decided to, in principle, allow Modi's aircraft to fly over Pakistani air space for the meet. Khan, himself, will also be attending the event at Kyrgyzstan.
There were unconfirmed reports that India had requested Islamabad to open up its air space for Modi. However, when the spokesperson was asked about it last week, he neither confirmed nor denied that a request was made. A similar request had been sent when then external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj had flown to Bishkek for the SCO external affairs ministers meet in May. Pakistan had then honoured the request. This is the shortest route from Delhi to Bishkek. Swaraj had health problems.
“The government of India had explored two options for the route to be taken by the VVIP aircraft to Bishkek. A decision has now been taken that the VVIP aircraft will fly via Oman, Iran and Central Asian countries on the way to Bishkek,” stated the external affairs ministry. The government has not clarified which was the other route option it had explored.
There has been much speculation of whether there will be thaw in India-Pakistan relations now that the Lok Sabha elections are over and a new government is in place. Khan, during India's election season, had commented that ties with Pakistan was a domestic political issue in India. However, soon after the election results, he had written to Modi, congratulating him.
It is reported that he sent a second letter to Modi last week requesting a bilateral meeting in Bishkek, saying Pakistan required a solution for Kashmir and all other geopolitical issues between the two nations. A day prior to his letter, India had emphatically stated that no bilateral meeting, apart from those with China and Russia, has been planned in Bishkek. The MEA had said that while India had received requests from other countries, too, it had not decided anything yet, since the schedule was tight.
With the air route having been decided, chances of a friendly, 'impromptu' interaction between Modi and Khan are appearing to be rather bleak now. The government has not stated whether the same route will be followed for the return leg of the journey, too.