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India, Pakistan Resume Commercial Air Links - 2004-01-01


The first commercial flight between Pakistan and India in two years touched down in the Indian capital, New Delhi Thursday. India and Pakistan agreed to resume transport links as part of ongoing efforts to improve their tense relationship. The resumption of flights comes three days before the start of an important regional summit in Pakistan.

The Pakistan International Airlines jet left the city of Lahore Thursday bound for New Delhi with 42 passengers and little fanfare.

It is the first of six regular flights PIA is resuming between the Pakistani cities of Karachi and Lahore to the Indian cities of Delhi and Bombay. The airline says it hopes to resume all 12 of the flights it used to run to India in March.

India cut air links with Pakistan after armed militants attacked its parliament in December 2001. New Delhi blamed the attack in part on Islamabad, which it accuses of supporting Islamic militants fighting for control over the disputed region of Kashmir. It is a charge Pakistan consistently denies.

The reopened transport links between India and Pakistan are not confined to the sky. In a series of recent steps designed to ease tensions, the two governments have agreed to restart train services later this month.

On Wednesday, Indian officials also proposed expanding cross-border bus routes, and easing restrictions on diplomatic travel.

Analysts say by reopening transport links, Indian and Pakistani investors can do more business, and that could influence diplomacy.

Ram Upendra Das is an economist with the New Delhi-based think tank, the Research and Information System for the Non-Aligned and Developing Countries.

"I would see that as facilitating the movement of trade in goods and services," said Ram Upendra Das. "Going beyond economics in terms of people to people contacts, all these factors that would be facilitated by the resumption of air links would contribute to the peace process in the region."

The first Indian Airlines flight to Pakistan is scheduled for Friday, carrying members of an Indian delegation heading to Islamabad for the summit meeting of the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation, or SAARC.

The focus of the summit, which begins January 4, will be the likely signing of a free trade agreement for the South Asia region. But analysts say there will also be intense scrutiny on the leaders of India and Pakistan, even though officials say no bi-lateral meetings between India and Pakistan are scheduled.

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