Fi­nally, there are favourable signs of change in the Pak­istani mind­set that could her­ald a new era of co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the civil avi­a­tion in­dus­try of In­dia and Pak­istan

SP's Airbuz - - Front Page - — B.K. PANDEY

EVER SINCE THE PAR­TI­TION of the In­dian sub­con­ti­nent in Au­gust 1947, the re­la­tion­ship be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan has been ex­tremely tur­bu­lent both in the po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary do­mains. There have been four ma­jor mil­i­tary con­flicts be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan since par­ti­tion and de­spite some de­ter­mined steps taken by In­dia, the prob­lem of ter­ror­ism in Kash­mir con­tin­ues to fes­ter. How­ever, one seg­ment of the econ­omy of both In­dia and Pak­istan that has been badly af­fected on ac­count of the strained re­la­tions, is the civil avi­a­tion sec­tor. Given the per­pet­ual mil­i­tary ten­sion pre­vail­ing on the bor­der and fre­quent clo­sure of airspace, the In­dian civil avi­a­tion in­dus­try has not been able to fully utilise the airspace over Pak­istan to fly to the Mid­dle East and Cen­tral Asian Re­publics via the short­est route to save fuel which a ma­jor com­po­nent of op­er­at­ing cost of air­craft.

Apart from the prob­lems ex­pe­ri­enced by the air­craft of the In­dian civil avi­a­tion in­dus­try, even the spe­cial Air In­dia air­craft that was to carry Prime Min­is­ter

Naren­dra Modi to Saudi Ara­bia in the last week of Oc­to­ber this year to par­tic­i­pate in an in­ter­na­tional busi­ness con­fer­ence there on Oc­to­ber 29, suf­fered the same fate. Re­quest by the In­dian Govern­ment was turned down by the Govern­ment of Pak­istan and the Air In­dia air­craft was de­nied per­mis­sion to fly through its airspace. In­dia lodged a for­mal com­plaint in this re­gard to the In­ter­na­tional Civil Avi­a­tion Or­gan­i­sa­tion (ICAO) against Pak­istan for its re­fusal to let the air­craft car­ry­ing Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi to fly through its airspace to Saudi Ara­bia. The ICAO did ac­knowl­edge In­dia’s con­cern per­tain­ing to Pak­istan re­strict­ing its airspace and sent a re­quest to Is­lam­abad seek­ing fur­ther in­for­ma­tion on this episode. The ICAO pointed out that air­craft car­ry­ing na­tional lead­ers are not sub­ject to any re­stric­tions in the use of airspace if the in­ten­tion is to merely tran­sit through the airspace of another coun­try.

But the big­gest dis­as­ter so far in the regime of civil avi­a­tion on ac­count of the per­pet­ual hos­til­ity be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan has been the down­ing of a Beechcraft busi­ness avi­a­tion air­craft on Septem­ber 19, 1965 at the height of the Indo-Pak­istan war of that year. It was on this fate­ful day that a Pak­istan Air Force (PAF) jet fighter shot down the Beechcraft that was car­ry­ing Bal­wantrai Me­hta, Chief Min­is­ter of Gu­jarat, his wife, three mem­bers of his staff and one jour­nal­ist. The air­craft was pi­loted by Ja­hangir En­gi­neer who had re­tired from the In­dian Air Force. On that day, the Beechcraft car­ry­ing Chief Min­is­ter Bal­wantrai Me­hta was fly­ing in the vicin­ity of the Indo-Pak bor­der in Kutch af­ter stop­ping at Mitha­pur, 400 km from Ahmed­abad. Min­utes af­ter tak­ing off from Mitha­pur, the Beechcraft was in­ter­cepted by a com­bat air­craft of the PAF that was be­ing flown by a 25 year old pi­lot Qais Hus­sain.

With ap­proval from his su­pe­ri­ors, the PAF pi­lot fired at the Beechcraft that was wag­gling wings to in­di­cate that it was a harm­less civil air­craft. The Beechcraft ex­ploded in the air and turned into a ball of fire be­fore crash­ing into the ground. The Chief Min­is­ter along with his team and the two pi­lots on board per­ished in the ghastly episode. The Beechcraft was fly­ing well within In­dian ter­ri­tory and posed no con­ceiv­able threat to the hos­tile neigh­bour.

But there have also been some en­cour­ag­ing de­vel­op­ments in the re­cent past. On Septem­ber 23, 2019, a Spice­Jet air­craft fly­ing from Delhi to Kabul, was in­ter­cepted by PAF fighter jets. For­tu­nately, the air­liner was not harmed and was es­corted till it was out of Pak­istani airspace. Ap­par­ently, there was some con­fu­sion over the call-sign as­signed by the DGCA to the Spice­Jet air­craft that led to in­ter­cep­tion by the PAF. For­tu­nately the PAF pi­lots ex­er­cised re­straint and did not shoot down the In­dian air­liner that had 120 pas­sen­gers on board.

In the sec­ond week of Novem­ber this year, a Pak­istani air traf­fic con­troller guided an In­dian civil flight that had taken off from Jaipur for Mus­cat. The air­liner got into an emer­gency sit­u­a­tion on ac­count of ex­tremely bad weather. The Pak­istani air traf­fic con­troller re­sponded to the emer­gency call by the pi­lot and di­rected the In­dian air­craft through dense air traf­fic while fly­ing through Pak­istani airspace. These two in­ci­dents re­flect a change in the Pak­istani mind­set to one that is not hos­tile and in fact can be hu­mane. Fi­nally, there are favourable signs of change in the Pak­istani mind­set that could her­ald a new era of co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the civil avi­a­tion in­dus­try of In­dia and Pak­istan.

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