Pakistan optimistic despite impasse in air link talks
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan was upbeat ON Friday about hopes of restoring air links with India, despite the failure of this week’s talks to produce an agreement and an apparent snag over the issue of future over flight bans.
“There is no impasse,” Information Minister Sheikh Rashid told reporters.
“The talks to restore air links between India and Pakistan in Islamabad are not the end of the story, but the beginning of a process.”
Two days of talks between aviation officials and experts from Pakistan and India in Rawalpindi broke down when the Indian side reportedly refused Pakistan’s demand for guarantees against unilateral over flight bans.
The six-member Indian delegation had travelled to Pakistan to discuss lifting a 20-month suspension on air links imposed by India in 2001. Pakistan has set the guarantees as a condition for lifting its own ban on Indian over flights, which followed the Indian decision. Participants in the talks told local newspapers that India declined to meet Islamabad’s demand for a guarantee against unilaterally freezing over flights.
But a senior government official told reporters that the Indian delegates had “a limited mandate” from New Delhi and were not in a position to give the assurances Islamabad wanted. The restoration of air links is seen as the next key step in four-month old peace moves between the neighbours. It would follow the resumption of a bus service and full diplomatic links between the countries.
Rashid found hope in the decision to hold more talks on the topic, at a date to be decided. “There is no negative impact on the ongoing peace process between India and Pakistan as the next round of talks is going to be held in India,” the minister said. Train service has yet to be revived and no date has been set for official-level talks although Vajpayee has agreed to travel to Islamabad in January for the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit. The failure to reach agreement on withdrawing the over flight ban put a damper on hopes for more headway in the thaw. But ruling party senator Mushahid Hussain said the process was bound to be slow, while also defending the Pakistani demand for guarantees on over flight rights.
“It is not an event, but a process which is at times painful, tedious and slow,” Hussain told reporters.
“The good thing is that finally the talks have begun. The best thing is that we are talking to each other and not at each other.”—AFP