Pakistan-India tensions ground Afghan travellers

Pakistan closed its airspace in February after a suicide attack in occupied Kashmir

Reuters April 02, 2019
Recent talks between Pakistan and India show that Pakistan is extending an olive branch

KABUL: Airspace restrictions in Pakistan due to simmering tensions with India have caused airfares to spike for Afghans who travel for medical treatment, education and business.

Pakistan closed its airspace in February after a suicide attack in occupied Kashmir.

The restrictions have forced commercial and passenger flights that connect Afghanistan with India, to double back west through Iranian airspace and then pass south of Pakistan into India.

The detour extends what is usually a two-and-a-half-hour Kabul-New Delhi flight into a five-hour trip, increasing fuel costs for airlines and fares for passengers.

Many Afghans seek what they see as superior medical care and university education in India.

Qasim, 37, a Kabul shopkeeper, travels regularly to India for treatment for diabetes.

The cost of a round-trip flight to New Delhi has doubled to $700, he said, well outside his means.

“All my medicine has finished and I have to go back to India as soon as possible,” he said, adding that some friends had remained in India because they could not afford to return home. “Can you imagine how difficult it is?”

Abdurrahman Mirzaie, 25, who is pursuing a masters degree in India’s Haryana state, is unsure whether he can afford to return home for the summer break.

“It’s a very bad situation for Afghan people and Afghan students,” he said. “Most of the students who have come to India are not rich and cannot afford to buy tickets.”

Most commercial air traffic has resumed normal operations in Pakistan and major airports have opened but some international routes that normally cross Pakistani airspace remain closed.

An official at Civil Aviation Authority said on Tuesday that airspace remained partially closed.

On Tuesday, Afghanistan-based airline Kam Air and Ariana Afghan Airlines still offered direct flights to India, spokesperson for the companies said.

Ariana, which offers four direct flights per week, has lost $550,000 in the past month, said customer service manager Sayed Edris Ziwari.

Kam Air has lost $1 million in the same period as costs rose and ticket sales fell, said customer relationship manager Muhammad Yusuf Zahir.



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