Tuesday, January 29, 2002, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

India to start flights to Kabul
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 28
In a diplomatic coup of sorts, India would be starting a direct flight to Kabul very soon through the Pakistani airspace, beating Islamabad’s ban on New Delhi over the use of its airspace.

Iran’s Mahan airlines would be operating a bi-weekly Teheran —Kabul — New Delhi flight, well-placed sources told “The Tribune” today. There is a proposal to extend the flight to Amritsar as well at a later stage. The arrangement is likely to start by the middle of next month.

The development means a double diplomatic rebuff to Pakistan. One, it would be a mockery of Pakistan’s ban on the usage of its airspace by India. Second, India is doing this with the help of Iran, a Muslim country and a Shia-dominated one at that which Pakistan has been trying to keep in good humour.

It is going to be an airline-to-airline arrangement which has the approval of the Ministry of External Affairs.

To beat the Pakistani ban relating to the usage of its airspace, the Hamid Karzai government in Afghanistan is understood to have suggested to India that it could run Kabul-New Delhi direct flight provided India were to give on lease some planes. The handful of planes that are available with Afghanistan are hardly airworthy and need to be replaced immediately.

India explained to Kabul that it was unable to accede this request as it was not in a position to spare any planes. The Iranian alternative came up after this.

Meanwhile, in a related development, the Government of India has decided to drop its plan for disinvestment of Indian Airlines. Instead, it would provide Rs 5,000 crore to IA in the next five years. Eightyfive new planes would be purchased by the IA in next five years, 50 big and the rest small ones.

This was decided at a recent meeting here which was attended, among others, by Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha, Civil Aviation Minister Shahnawaj Hussain, Disinvestment Minister Arun Shourie and senior officials of the ministry and Indian Airlines.

It was also decided at this meeting that the Centre would be sharing the burden of IA losses in the North East which are to the tune of Rs 60 crore per annum. The Centre would be sharing Rs 35 crore of it. This is going to be formally included in the Union Budget to be announced next month.Back

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