Removing another irritant in normalisation of ties with India, President Gen Pervez Musharraf on Sunday announced that Pakistan would lift the ban on Indian flights over its air space.
This is necessary if Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is to attend the SAARC Summit in Islamabad in January 2004.
The announcement comes on the eve of the second round of talks on resumption of civil aviation links between the two countries in New Delhi where a Pakistani delegation has already arrived.
India on Sunday night welcomed the announcement. Ahead of the talks on Monday between the civil aviation authorities of the two countries, External Affairs Ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna said in Delhi, "We are looking forward to a successful outcome."
Addressing a delegation from the Pakistan and India Young Professionals Organisation in Islamabad, Musharraf said, "As a gesture of goodwill, Pakistan will agree to the resumption of overflights with India in the (two-day) talks being held in New Delhi" from Monday.
Musharraf, who made the announcement five days after the two countries started observing a ceasefire along their borders, also hoped that the recent thaw in relations would culminate in the resumption of a dialogue to resolve all disputes between the two countries.
"Pakistan is sincere in its efforts for peace in the region," the official APP news agency quoted him as saying. It, however, wants peace with "honour, dignity and sovereign equality" like all other nations.
Musharraf said the recent confidence building measures (CBMs) initiated by both countries culminating in the ceasefire was the beginning of a process to resolve all outstanding issues. He also spoke of the scope for India-Pakistan joint ventures in the future.
The meeting was attended by, among others, Indian High Commissioner Shivshankar Menon. Musharraf later shook hands with Menon and exchanged pleasantries. Over 130 Indian business professionals attended the meeting along with their Pakistani counterparts.
At the talks in New Delhi on resumption of civil aviation links, Additional Secretary in Defence Ministry Major General Mohammed Ashraf Chaudhry would lead the six-member Pakistani team. Others in the team include Joint Secretary (Aviation) in Defence Ministry Chaudhry Qamar Zaman, Air Vice Marshal Mohammed Abid, Air Commodore Javed Ishaq Khan of the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority, besides executives of Pakistan International Airlines.
The first round in Islamabad on August 27 this year had failed after Pakistan sought a guarantee from India on the issue of overflights.
The resumption of civil aviation links would pave the way for resumption of rail links as India had said it would agree to run the Samjhautha Express if Pakistan lifted the ban on Indian overflights.
In Srinagar, both factions of the Hurriyat Conference termed Pakistan's decision as a "welcome step" and said the focus should now be on resolving the Kashmir issue.
'But this is not enough and more steps need to be taken to resolve the Kashmir issue', Hurriyat chairman Maulana Mohammad Abbas Ansari told PTI. Rebel Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani said the focus should now be on resolving the Kashmir issue.
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